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Red Cross disaster relief fund hit hard

Numerous fires behind extra service calls

    When Beautine Smith's house caught fire in April while she was at work, she rushed home to see how bad the damage was.
    When she arrived, the house was engulfed in flames and one of the firefighters on the scene said he'd call the Red Cross to get her some assistance.
    Smith said that even though it was 3:30 a.m., Red Cross officials came to the scene and offered her vouchers for a place to stay and for food.
    "I lost everything I had," she said.
    When Smith's work schedule prevented her from picking up the food, then-Red Cross director Cindy Nevil picked it up for her and kept it at her office until Smith could pick it up.
    "They were so helpful to me and I appreciate things like that," Smith said.
    Smith's story is like that of several helped by the Red Cross each year. But so far this fiscal year, there have been an abnormally large number of house fires, draining the organizations disaster budget.
    "We've spent about $17,000 in about four months," said Mary Ball, director of the Bulloch County Red Cross. "Our annual disaster budget is $22,000 a year."
    Ball said since July 1, they've responded to 43 house fires in Bulloch and Toombs County, the two counties in their coverage area.
    "These aren't small-family fires either," Ball said. "These are five, six or seven people per family."
    Ball said the majority of those fires were total losses, leaving the families nothing to go back to.
    By comparison, last year Ball said there were probably 10 to 15 fires in Bulloch County at this time and none in Toombs County.
    "We didn't anticipate this many fires this year," Ball said.
    While funds may be running low, Ball said she hopes they can replenish their disaster fund with this year's "Heroes" fundraising campaign, which will kick off in December.
    "Our goal is to raise $35,000," she said.
    The Red Cross will ask people in the community to raise $1,000 each for the Red Cross though donations from friends, family and local businesses. All the money raised goes straight to their disaster relief account, Ball said.
    Smith said she deeply appreciated the Red Cross' response to her emergency.
    "If you're looking for an organization to give to, the Red Cross is it for me because I know what they did for me," she said.

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