[UPDATE BELOW] The Red Cross has been roundly criticized for ineffectively using the hundreds of millions of dollars in donations they've received to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. If one were to distill the organization's disconnection from the people they're serving into a single image, it might look like a trash bag full of cooked, broken hamburgers.

On Monday, volunteers at the makeshift relief center on Beach 96th Street said a Red Cross vehicle dropped off a trashbag of cooked burgers, and another trashbag full of buns. "They told us that if we didn't take them, they were going to throw them out, so we handed out as many as we could," said Matt Calender, one of the organizers of the relief effort on 96th Street. "But this is the only time the Red Cross has dropped anything off to us—we already have hot food, why are they just arbitrarily dropping off hot food? With all their resources, isn't there a safer, cleaner way of doing this? The hamburgers were warm, who knows how that's affecting the plastic."

Calender added that the timing of the Red Cross' delivery was also poor: "They dropped them off at like 4, or 4:30. Most people start heading into their homes here at dusk, and we were shutting down. I would have rather them contacted us to say, 'We want to donate food, what is the best way to do that?' "

The Red Cross provided blankets to the relief center, which is now called Smallwater, several weeks ago, but volunteers had to pick them up at a distribution site. That has been the extent of the relationship between the giant, bureaucratic symbol of international relief and the makeshift volunteer hub.

We wrote about Smallwater's abundance of tasty, hot food for residents and relief workers, which exists in part thanks to volunteer labor, food donations, and a partnership between the Food Truck Association and the Mayor's Fund. We also tasted one of the Red Cross' hamburgers last month, which tasted identical to the fare in our elementary school cafeteria.

Neanna Bodycomb, a Bushwick resident who has been volunteering at Smallwater since the storm, says that while there is less need for emergency supplies like flashlights and diapers, there is still plenty of work left to be done by volunteers. "We're still doing a lot of cleanup—the company Swish Maintenance donated $16,000 worth of cleaning supplies, so we're working on distributing those, sending out clean up crews, getting residents' houses situated." Bodycomb added that the Red Cross, "which has millions of dollars," could help the Rockaways immensely by setting up shelters.

"The island needs a shelter, the fact that there's not a shelter is crazy," Bodycomb said. "On the 13th or 14th day after the storm, the family that lives next to [Smallwater] was living without heat or power, and they decided to go to a shelter. The closest one was in Nassau County, but when they got there, they were told it was shutting down because there wasn't enough need. I feel like there's a lot of ways they could be helping—they're the Red Cross!"

A spokesman for the Red Cross has not yet returned a request for comment. You can read the organization's recently-released progress report on their response to Hurricane Sandy here [PDF].

[UPDATE // 4:15 PM] Sam Kille, the regional communications director for the Red Cross, says that the volunteers who dropped the hamburgers off probably should have called first, but that they were "trying to do something good."

"After speaking with our volunteers, it seems that they were coming towards the end of their day, they had extra food, they happened to be feeling nice like our volunteers often do and dropped them off." Kille says that while the workers "usually should use a cambro," the bag holding the broken hamburgers was a "food-grade bag made to withstand heat, and the food was perfectly safe."

Asked if the Red Cross volunteers should have called Smallwater to better coordinate the food drop off, Kille says, "Yes, that is normally the policy. But these guys were just trying to do a nice thing." Kille added that the Red Cross is happy to speak with the folks at Smallwater to coordinate future drop-offs of food.