San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Red Cross Seeks Emergency Funds

THE Costa Rican Red Cross is in need of emergencyfinancial assistance in communities around the country, particularlyas the holiday season approaches.The festivities “bring an increase in accidents throughoutthe country,” said Orlando Esquivel, general manager of theRed Cross. The workload increase is funded by holiday emergencyaccounts that depend on donations, he said. The RedCross’ operational plan for the holidays also integrates studentvolunteers who help special units during the season.The extensive work of the Red Cross includes respondingto accidents and natural disasters, search-and-rescue operations,maintaining first-aid stations at events, accident-preventioncampaigns and recruitment programs to attract andtrain volunteers.Nine units, located in provincial capitals plus PerezZeledón and Ciudad Quesada, monitor 911 emergency phonecalls to their areas in case an ambulance or rescue team isneeded.Nationally, the Red Cross transports approximately 1,980 accident victims per month, covers anaverage 49,154 km (30,450 miles) per day,and provides more than 1,189 medicalassistance calls daily throughout thenation.MIGUEL Carmona, who has presidedover the non-profit organization for thepast 24 years, said 14 of the 119 Red Crosschapters in the country are facing financialdifficulties.Although none is as deeply in debt asthe chapter in the Caribbean port city ofLimón, which threatened to shut down earlierthis year (see separate article), the 14chapters with financial woes owe morethan ¢97.8 million ($219,360) to the RedCross headquarters in San José.The national headquarters frequentlyassists needy chapters with loans, Carmonasaid. However, “the accumulation of debtmay affect the work of all other chapters,”because the head office draws its loansfrom a common fund distributed among allchapters.CARMONA emphasizes motivationwithin each community is important inovercoming the organization’s financialstrain, since it runs mainly on volunteerism.He said Costa Rica’s Red Cross isstaffed by 900 paid employees and 6,500volunteers, including himself.Despite financial difficulties, Carmonasaid Red Cross workers will enter the holidayseason “full of joy and hope that theycan maintain and increase their currentstandards of service,” since the Red Crossearned first place in a November survey ofCosta Ricans’ trust in national organizations,conducted by researchers at theUniversidad Nacional.According to a 2002 survey byUnimer, the Red Cross is the mostrespected and satisfying institution onCosta Rica, with 80.7% satisfaction and90% trust ratings.RED Cross offices subsist with aidfrom their local governments, privatedonations and the Tico Bingo, a nationalfundraiser held four times a year (see separatestory). The organization also obtainsgovernment funds from cigarette and alcoholtaxes and traffic fines. Chapters aroundthe country raise money with bingo games,sales of telephone directories, concerts andfestivals.Carmona said careless administrationand lack of volunteer assistance are reasonswhy some chapters fall into debt.Several chapters have shut down within thepast decade, including the one in LaFortuna, near the active Arenal Volcano,which shut down more than eight years agofor lack of support.EVEN in prosperous areas, Red Crosschapters lack funding and volunteers.Carmona pointed to Escazú, west of SanJosé, as a chapter that could receive muchmore assistance from its relatively well-to-docommunity.Other chapters, however, are doingextremely well.The Red Cross in Belén, northwest ofSan José, receives an annual donation of$20,000 from Intel de Costa Rica inexchange for providing services to thecompany. The donation allows the chapterto pay the salaries of its two paramedics.In the community of Puriscal, in thehills southwest of Ciudad Colón, west ofSan José, the local chapter purchased anew ambulance and vertical rescue equipmentthanks to a $75,000 donation fromMichael Grace, a U.S. citizen who residesin the Puriscal area. The Tico Times contactedGrace for comment, but he declinedto be interviewed.NATIONWIDE, the organization has603 vehicles, including 485 ambulances,20 paramedic units, and eight special rescuevehicles. Of these, two paramedic unitsare destined for 24-hour service within theSan José metropolitan area.The Costa Rican Red Cross, first establishedby former President Bernardo Soto in1885, didn’t get off the ground until 1917,during the Tinoco brothers’ dictatorship.Rebels blew up the army’s ammunitionstorage warehouse next to the SanJosé penitentiary (now the Children’sMuseum). Caring for the 75 woundedprisoners and soldiers inspired MacabeoVargas to start what today is the CostaRican Red Cross.DONATIONS to the Red Cross can bedeposited in colones into accounts 100100-7 at the Banco Nacional or 176003-3 atBanco de Costa Rica, and in dollars intoaccount 204-6 at Banco de Costa Rica.

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