Union City Mayor Brian Stack, the host of this year's event, applauded the Red Cross for helping residents during the recent fires in Union City, and praised current Red Cross Executive Director Robert M. Turberville for his services.
"I'll always be there for the Red Cross," said Stack, who was one of six mayors present at the luncheon.
About 200 people attended the March 22 event, which raised approximately $5,500 for the agency. Even though it was not meant to be a large fundraiser, the money will go to pay for the organization's outreach programs and operating budget, Turberville said.
In addition to their well-known disaster services and blood drives, the county branch has launched new initiatives, which include family assistance services, armed forces emergency service, shopping assistance for the elderly and disabled, and mental health services.
"We offer trained volunteers and professional advice for those individuals who need help coping with the recent World Trade Center disaster or any disasters in general that occur in a person's life," Turberville said.
The luncheon was also an opportunity for Turberville to embark on a public relations campaign to erase the negative stigma left on the chapter. Last year, an internal audit discovered that former longtime director Joseph Lecowitch and his bookkeeper, Catalina Escoto, allegedly embezzled $1 million of the chapter's funds.
After the audit, Lecowitch and Escoto were charged by Hudson County prosecutors with issuing checks payable to themselves between January 1999 and March 2001. If convicted, Escoto could face 10 years in prison, according to Hudson County First Assistant Prosecutor Terrence Hull. Lecowitch died of a heart attack in January.
"They were charged with misappropriation of funds," Hull said. "The case is still pending."
It was not going to be easy to regain the people's trust after the small chapter made national headlines, but Turberville said he is determined to "not dwell in the past and fulfill the mission of the Red Cross."
According to Turberville, the luncheon was a step in the right direction.
"The American Red Cross of Hudson County has had its share of problems, but there are no problems that can't be or haven't been corrected," Turberville said in a speech at the event. "The audit that was completed last March identified 51 areas of financial concern. All but a handful have been corrected, and we are in the process of correcting those."
The chapter is presently overseen by the Red Cross' regional office. In order to correct the chapter's remaining financial problems, Turberville has to create a financial development committee, a human resources committee and an audit committee.
"These are standard committees of the chapters and are necessary to be an effective and efficient delivery system for necessary services that are desperately needed in this community," Turberville said.
Last week, Turberville held the chapter's first-ever blood drive, attracting more than 50 area residents.
"The more involved we get in the community, the more we'll do," Turberville said.
Besides spotlighting the agency's activities, the luncheon honored longtime Red Cross volunteers Joe Fredericks and Sam Maffei.
"It is a great honor to be recognized by the Red Cross," Fredericks said.
The functions of the Red Cross are to provide immediate help to fire victims, store and distribute blood donations, and respond to disasters. Since Sept. 11, the local chapter has been stretching its duties, providing financial aid to those affected and issuing referrals to other agencies. The local chapter also has helped out fire victims with temporary housing numerous times.
In the chapter's 2001 annual report, Turberville wrote: "As you know, the Hudson County chapter is in the midst of a 'rebirth.' Red Cross services are in demand in Hudson County more than ever...Blood services volunteers continue to provide support to private and public sector blood drives."
The American Red Cross, founded more than a century ago by Clara Barton, is a humanitarian organization led by volunteers and is guided by its congressional chapter. The fundamental principles of the international Red Cross movement are to provide relief to victims of disasters and to help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies.
The Hudson County Red Cross chapter is located on 26 Greenville Ave. Anyone interested in volunteering or donating money may call (201) 433-3100. Their web site is www.geocities.com/hudsoncountychapter/home.html