Claim:   The American Red Cross charges a fee to persons whom they assist.


FALSE: The Red Cross charges disaster victims for the assistance they receive.
TRUE: During World War II, the Red Cross charged American GIs for off-base food and lodging.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2005]

We heard that the red cross was charging people in New Orleans 70 for a cup of juice and a cookie? Assuming we donate money to pay for the aid could this be true?

I’ve recently heard the Red Cross & maybe the Salvation Army sends bills to the people they help. Say it isn’t so!!


Origins:   The Red Cross has long been dogged by the persistent belief that it extracts payment for its services from victims of disaster. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, that notion surfaced again, this time asserting those left homeless and desperate were being charged for coffee, cups of juice and cookies.

The rumor is false. The Red Cross does not solicit payment for services rendered from the folks it is called upon to assist during times of emergency. The American Red Cross says on its page about disaster preparedness for seniors: “All American Red Cross emergency services are provided free of charge.” Southeast Michigan Red Cross web site’s Ask Us page says:

Q: How much does American Red Cross disaster assistance cost?

A: All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by the voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. Disaster assistance is given free-of-charge without judgment or a promise of support.

The current rumor about the service’s turning a profit by selling to the needy items it had been supplied with via donation dates back to World War I. George Creel, Chairman of the Committee on Public Information at that time, offered the opinion that vilification tales aimed at the Red Cross bore unmistakable signs of enemy

origin. Such backfencing was begun in hopes the negative stories would turn people against the organization. In WWI, and again in WWII, the slander took the form of cautionary tales about sweaters knit by volunteers as gifts for men serving at the front being instead sold to them by the Red Cross. The altruistic knitter, it was said, afterwards received a letter from the sailor who had come to be in possession of her work both thanking her for the garment and asking if she thought it fair he’d had to pay

six dollars for it. Also rampant in WWII was scuttlebutt that soldiers serving in the Pacific were forced to pay five dollars for cardigans that had Red Cross labels in them. The sweaters the Red Cross collected from volunteers and sent to servicemen were, of course, never sold to GIs; they were always provided for


Similarly, the Red Cross was said to be selling to servicemen cigarettes that had been donated by major tobacco companies.

The Red Cross blood donor service was also a target of rumormongering in WWII. Whispers swept along that blood donations had been accepted from the Japanese, thereby (it was said) making it likely the offspring of those receiving such transfusions would display Japanese characteristics. Similar concerns were raised about blood from African-Americans being added to the pool. Rumor was also used to discourage those inclined to donate blood: stories were spread that those who gave ran the risk of contracting infection or disease from unsterilized instruments.

The Affairs of Dame Rumor, a 1948 book about rumors rampant in America, recorded the following:

The Red Cross rumors illustrate that the enemy rumor mill was designed to sabotage anything the American people might do to help their own war effort. If they were asked to lend aid by contributing their money to this organization, there was a lie that the Red Cross money was terribly mishandled and their books unaudited. If they were asked to become volunteer workers, there was a canard about men in the army saying there is no need for it. If they were being enlisted as consistent blood donors, there was a prohibitive fable about how blood plasma could be kept for only two months and if not used by then was thrown away. If American ladies persisted in knitting sweaters, the falsehood to discourage them was that garments sent to England were being ripped up and the wool sold to the British people. And lies of inefficient practices and waste dogged the efforts of the Red Cross throughout the war.

There is truth to one of the rumors, however. During WWII the American Red Cross did indeed charge American servicemen for coffee, doughnuts, and lodging. However, they did so because the U.S. Army asked them to, not because they were determined to make a profit off homesick dogfaces.

The request was made in a March 1942 letter from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson to Norman H. Davis, chairman of the American Red Cross. Because American soldiers were fighting as part of the Allied Forces, matters had to be considered on a Force-wide rather than a solely American basis. The Red Cross was asked to establish

club facilities for U.S. servicemen overseas where Allied troops would be welcome, and because English and Australian soldiers were being charged for the use of such facilities, it was deemed unfair that Americans were to get similar benefits for free (especially in light of the fact that their pay was higher than that of their Allied counterparts). For the good of the alliance, the American Red Cross was persuaded to exact nominal charges from American GIs for off-base food and lodging.

This act resulted in the Red Cross’ coming to be regarded by numerous GIs as having profited off them. Bad feeling exists to this day over the decision to charge American servicemen for these services, with any number of such soldiers and their families carrying long-lasting resentments against the service. Yet while that ire might have been merited, it was misdirected: the culprit was the U.S. Army, not the Red Cross.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chief of Staff, United States Army, addressed the controversy surrounding this issue in a statement to the press on 10 April 1946:

I am surprised to learn that one of the reasons [for Americans not contributing to the American Red Cross] is the complaints being leveled at the organization’s overseas operations by returning servicemen. For the most part these criticisms have grown out of a Red Cross policy of making nominal charges to our forces for food and lodgings in fixed Red Cross installations abroad. These complaints are distressing to me since this particular Red Cross policy was adopted at the request of the Army, so as to insure an equitable distribution among all service personnel of Red Cross resources.

I know the Red Cross. I have seen it in action. Overseas it performed with the precision of a well-trained army. It would be grave injustice to the splendid work of the Red Cross if its campaign should be retarded anywhere by mistaken criticisms.

Even after World War II, the Red Cross continued to be dogged for years by false tales about their imposing fees on military personnel for basic humanitarian services, such as the following 1952 rumor that claimed the organization had charged a U.S. serviceman interest on money he borrowed from them to attend his mother’s funeral:

A recent rumor to the effect that a serviceman had been loaned money by the Red Cross at 6 per cent interest so he could attend his mother’s funeral was revealed by the local chapter.

When the rumor proved to be unfounded, said a local Red Cross official, the serviceman wrote to deny the story: “I have not been asked to pay 6 per cent interest on this loan nor has it ever been suggested by anyone employed by the American Red Cross that I pay interest,” he said. “It was through the joint effort of the Hartford Chapter and the office of the field director that I was granted a leave …”

The story of the interest charging went through a nearby summer resort “like wildfire,” reported the official.

The Red Cross’ version was this: the local serviceman had just been inducted and was beginning his service at an Air Force base. The Red Cross notified him of his mother’s death, and since the serviceman was without enough money for the trip, the chapter advanced him more than $100 which he agreed to pay over a prolonged period — without interest.

Barbara “president and accounted for” Mikkelson

Last updated:   28 January 2014


    Jacobson, David J.   The Affairs of Dame Rumor.

    New York: Rinehart & Co., 1948   (pp. 356-359).

    Landers, Ann.   “Ann Landers.”

    11 March 1989   [syndicated column].

    Associated Press.   “Red Cross Charged for Food, Lodging at Army’s Request.”

    The Milwaukee Journal.   10 April 1946.

    The Hartford Courant.   “Serviceman Who Borrowed Money Denies Red Cross Charged Interest.”

    23 August 1952   (p. 7).