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When a natural disaster strikes in Cherokee County, one of the earliest responders is the local Red Cross.
However, the Red Cross district encompassing Cherokee, Adair and Muskogee counties desperately needs more volunteers.
“Currently, we have 44 volunteers,” said Ryan Hardaway, director of the Red Cross for the three-county area. “But only 11 are considered responders. The others are observers or volunteers training to become responders. Right now, we only have enough people for four or five response teams.”
The small number must respond to crises - often house fires - within a population of 120,000 in the three counties. Hardaway said the Red Cross would like to have 50 volunteers in each county.
“Last year, about $62,000 in assistance and funds went to help 117 families recover from home fires in our three counties,” Hardaway said. “Seventy percent of those families had no homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. The year before, we spend $71,000 helping 121 families recover from home fires. The year before that, when we had the floods, we spent more than $100,000 helping 155 families recover from flood, fire or tornado.”
Depending on qualifications, Red Cross volunteers may be involved with operating shelters, providing food, or distributing bulk supplies, cleanup materials and tarps. Volunteers sign up for hours and days they are available to respond, but during large-scale crises, they can expect to be called into action at any hour.
To be part of a Disaster Action Team, a volunteer must pass three Red Cross classes: an overview of disaster services, a six-hour training in client casework and a four-hour training in basic disaster assessment. Other courses useful to DAT members include a six-hour emergency response vehicle training and a self-study on defensive driving.
“If you want to get further involved in the Red Cross, you can dive deep,” Hardaway said. “We offer 18 classes which can enhance training and experience for our volunteers. To whatever degree a person wants to get involved, that is how involved we want them to be.”
Those who might not wish to volunteer can assist with monetary contributions.
“We have been able to help because people have donated funds,” Hardaway said. “There is no mission without volunteers, but there is also no mission without donors.”
While Hardaway urged locals to volunteer, he also wanted them to understand its challenges.
“It can be a lifestyle change,” he said. “People love volunteering, or they decide it isn’t quite right for them. It can be difficult, but you help people when they need it most.”