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Red Cross scrambling for funds

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PROVO — A higher-than-expected number of disasters in the first seven weeks of 2007 has left the local Red Cross chapter in dire financial need — and looking for help.

"Our plea is reaching out to all segments of the community; businesses and private donors," said Garr Judd, executive director of the Provo-based Mountainland Chapter of the Red Cross.

Chapter volunteers have already responded to 13 disasters this year, all of them house fires, which resulted in the chapter running a $13,000 deficit for January. At that pace, without extra funding, the chapter won't be able to function much longer.

"It's a scary (question) to think about," Judd said. "In this business, you can't really plan or budget because you never know when a disaster will happen."

But at the current pace, Judd said, the chapter only has maybe another month left before it runs out of funds; two months at the most.

Judd said donations to the local chapter are down possibly because most donations recently have gone to high-profile national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and, more recently, the ice storms that ravaged the Midwest.

With all the attention given to disasters of that nature, Judd said, it's easy to forget about the smaller disasters that happen locally; disasters that don't always draw media attention.

"But for the family sitting on the curb, watching their home go up in flames, it's just as devastating as a family that loses its home in a hurricane," he said.

In those situations, Judd said the Red Cross' job is to make sure the basic needs of the victims are met. That can mean clothing, food, a hotel room for a few days while they make plans, and even counseling for especially traumatic events, as was the case with a home that blew up in Saratoga Springs earlier this month.

The Sterling family is the most recent to receive help from the Red Cross. The Sterlings are from Mississippi but are here to work on the new power plant in Vineyard and were staying in a mobile-home park in Provo until their trailer burned down on Sunday night.

Debra Sterling was just getting back from a trip to Mississippi and entered the park to find her home going up in smoke. Her husband and two children were unharmed, but the family lost everything else. She said a Red Cross representative arrived just after the fire department to provide the family with a care package that included basic toiletries, as well as money for a place to stay that night and some new clothes.

"To have someone come out that quickly, be that pleasant and have everything you need, but probably wouldn't think about, it was unbelievable; wonderful," Sterling said. "You can't think in a situation like that. You're just grateful that no one was hurt, but you really can't think past that."

There is a 5K fund-raiser event planned for March 10, but any other donations are welcome. The Mountainland chapter, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary in Provo this year, is responsible for 14 counties in Utah, which include about 600,000 people, with a paid staff of six.

"We've learned how to take each dollar and stretch it," Judd said.

E-mail: jtwitchell@desnews.com