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Red Cross sees difficult year

Local chapter hopes to recover through fundraisers

By Katie Demeria

The Top of Virginia Chapter of the American Red Cross is seeking donations from the community after a particularly draining winter -- which was followed by a potential scam.

According to Executive Director Chris Scott, some Stephens City residents went to the chapter seeking assistance, claiming there had been a fire at their home. But neither the Stephens City Fire Department nor the Frederick County Fire Marshal's Office had any record of a fire at the residence.

Scott said this is the first potential scam the chapter has seen in a while, and that he's disappointed with the attempt -- especially because it comes when the chapter's resources are already stretched thin.

"What we do here is important," he said. "There are a lot of high quality nonprofits in the area that can help people, but we really are the only ones that provides the help we do."

The Red Cross assists those at the end of their ropes, he said, when they have lost all their possessions, or even their home.

"We provide emergency, immediate assistance, so that people can take that breath, and take that pause, so they can focus in on what their next step might be," Scott said.

He said that, though the Red Cross is known for large scale recoveries, such as responding to hurricanes, the most common disasters are house fires.

This year, the chapter has responded to 52 house fires, a significant increase from previous years, he said.

The number of individuals seeking help from the Red Cross has increased by 12 percent this year. The amount of direct assistance they have provided, such as food or clothing, has increased by 27 percent.

"It's been incredible, it has been a tough year," Scott said.

Fundraising, he added, also has been an issue this year.

"Basically, at this point, we are way over budget," he said. "It's kind of the perfect negative storm. It's been a tough year for fundraising, and donations are down by 20 percent."

Because fires are more likely to take place in the winter, when residents sometimes use alternate heating sources like fireplaces or wood stoves to warm their homes, Scott is hopeful the chapter will see a reprieve now that it's spring.

"We're hoping that we will see less in the next few months," he said. "It does put a strain on our finances, yes, but really it just disrupts everyone's lives, and we want to do all we can. We are trying to do more with less for these people."

The chapter will host a number of fundraisers throughout the spring. The next will take place on May 10 at Veramar Vineyards in Berryville.

All funds donated to the chapter, which serves Shenandoah, Clarke, Warren, and Page counties, along with the City of Winchester, stay in the area.

"We have some amazing folks here who have helped us out in amazing ways, even though this has been such a busy year," Scott said.

Those interested in donating or attending a fundraising event can learn more by going to www.redcross.org/topofva.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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