Local Red Cross chapters consolidate into one

vmannix@bradenton.comJune 30, 2011 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- That it is hurricane season was a fitting backdrop for Wednesday’s breakfast meeting of the newly aligned Southwest Florida Chapter of the American Red Cross.

One chapter now serves Manatee, Hardee, Sarasota, Charlotte, and DeSoto counties, combining resources, manpower and leadership. Previously, three separate chapters served the region.

What better time than now, said Jeannie Slater, the new chairman of the board and executive committee.

“Storms don’t know Sarasota County from Manatee County. They don’t stop at the boundary. So we’ve got to act like that and work like that as well,” said the retired career nurse.

Bruce Body, a new board member, agreed.

“We’re taking resources that have been at the three chapters, combining them into one and leveraging them to better serve the community,” said the Raymond James branch manager. “We’ve got to have those resources available now more than ever.”

Particularly when it comes to sharing donations.

“This is a response to using donor dollars better,” said Linda Carbone, the Tampa-based Red Cross regional chief executive officer.

Four years in the planning, the consolidation means there will be only one CEO and one board, instead of three of each.

“Right off the bat it simplifies things,” said Bobbi Larson, interim branch manager for the Manatee County Red Cross offices. “Our communities are so interconnected, businesswise we think regionally. It will make us strong to be looking at a bigger picture.”

It will also make it easier for clients to access Red Cross services, whether someone is in need of emergency assistance or wants to register for first aid training.

“Red Cross has a great presence in the five counties, but this will break down jurisdictional boundaries,” Larson said.

The same applies for financial donations -- the life blood of the agency.

For example, if a Red Cross representative from Sarasota and another from Manatee approached a regional business for a donation, that would require two separate checks.

Now one will do.

“We were competing against ourselves in many ways,” Larson said.

“We’re part of a bigger organization and all those boundaries have truly gone away,” Slater said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.

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