By ROB W. ANDERSON
When a fire, tornado or flood destroys a home, it doesn’t matter if the structure belonged to a wealthy businessman or a blue-collar family.
An unexpected catastrophe levels everything, displacing individuals and forcing families to seek temporary shelter, food, support and guidance.
That’s where the American Red Cross comes in.
March is American Red Cross Month, and the volunteer humanitarian organization has been providing emergency assistance, disaster relief and education since its formation in 1881, when it aided victims of Michigan forest fires. The mission is to prevent and alleviate human suffering by mobilizing the strength of volunteers and the generosity of people who have donated money to aid people faced with disaster, said Muskogee, Cherokee and Adair County Director Ryan Hardaway.
“Through July [of 2012] to February, we’ve helped a number of cases. We’ve had 61 cases in Muskogee, 17 in Cherokee County and 13 in Adair County,” he said. “That’s a number of families. As far as individuals we helped, there were 171 in Muskogee, 56 in Cherokee County and 36 in Adair County. The only reason someone is not receiving assistance from us is, either we’re not getting called to help that family or they’ve declined our assistance.”
Hardaway said the American Red Cross will respond immediately when called upon to do so, and Individuals or families experiencing home displacement will receive immediate emergency support. That could include food, clothing, shelter, storage container for salvaging personal items, and a toiletry or comfort kit, to name a few of the items.
“We try to provide some of the things people don’t think about having to deal with in an emergency,” said Hardaway. “We help them until they can answer the question has all your disaster needs been met. The Red Cross does not close a case until the client can answer ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Have all your disaster-caused needs been met?”
Hardaway said the organization will continue to respond to emergency situations when contacted, but noted the Red Cross’ need for more volunteers and donations.
“The Red Cross was chartered by Congress to respond to all disaster situations since 1905. However, we’re not a government-funded agency. We have to rely on donations and volunteers to get those dollars to those families who have been displaced,” he said. “Without those dollars and volunteers, there is no Red Cross.”
The Red Cross recently kicked off its Heroes Campaign, a fundraiser designed to raise funds and awareness by identifying an individual or group of individuals who have a goal of raising $1,000 through a bake sale or event of their choosing. The monies raised go to help fund emergency responses in the community or county, as well as the other counties shared by the local Red Cross.
Hardaway said that when fundraising goals are surpassed, the extra dollars to go to help the counties being served. The need for more volunteers, though, remains the agency’s biggest need.
“The Heroes Campaign is also used for awareness to help us recruit new volunteers. We don’t have enough volunteers. If we had a widespread disaster, we don’t have enough local volunteers to help,” said Hardaway.
“We would have to bring in volunteers from across the country. We have at least 30 job descriptions and would need at last 30 people at a minimum to fill each job description. Then you start thinking about how many people you need to make this job description work for this specific disaster, and you may need five or 10 people, if not more, in each of those descriptions per day. And if it’s anything like [the tornado in] Joplin or an ice storm, you’re talking two weeks to a couple of months. So you’re dealing with a lot of people.”
Hardaway needs 50 people per county to be ready to serve as volunteers.
“[People] look at me like I’m crazy [when I say that], but it’s true,” he said. “Not every volunteer is going to have the same interest in each area. We need accountants. We need registered nurses. We need mental health volunteers. Not everybody’s qualified to do that stuff. We need people who deal with logistics. We need people who have a CDL so they can drive our refrigerated trucks. You never know if FEMA is going to help. We’re chartered by Congress, so we’re going to respond, and then we’re going to worry about funding later.”