The American Red Cross—Help When Disaster Strikes

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By Allison Mowatt

“We’re always ready to serve and we’re just a phone call away,” said Michele Baehr, Executive Director of the Eastern PA Region of the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross is a not for profit organization providing shelter, food, and emotional support to victims of disasters, nationally and internationally. Locally, the Wayne/Pike Chapter of the American Red Cross operated out of the Hawley Silk Mill in Wayne County until the end of last year when the chapter office closed in order to save money spent on rent and make better use of donor dollars. Now, these counties are sharing assistance with Monroe and Pike counties under the American Red Cross of the Pocono Mountains, which now encompasses all four counties. All administrative functions for Wayne, Pike, Carbon, and Monroe counties are handled out of the Pocono Chapter office in Stroudsburg.

According to Ms. Baehr, this restructuring has not affected the level of service or care. “It was a seamless transition,” she said. “We haven’t missed a beat in serving the community. Most of the work is carried out in the field. The main difference is the Red Cross staff utilizes space at the Northern Pocono Chamber of Commerce office for open houses seeking volunteers and holds monthly meetings at local emergency management centers such as the Pike County Training Center.

The American Red Cross does not receive any federal funding and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the public for monetary donations. “We rely solely on the goodwill of the community,” said Ms. Baehr. “This remains vital as emergency response can be costly with mass care services.”

Ms. Baehr said 100% of the funds donated by the community will come back to that community when it’s needed. If a mass disaster occurs and more funds are required, then the Red Cross helps out on a national level.

In the event of a disaster, the Red Cross provides immediate assistance with shelter, food, clothing, and connecting people with resources to help them get on their feet. “When we get that call, we go straight to the people and help out any way we can,” said Ms. Baehr. The Red Cross provides victims with a debit card, which allows them to pay for a local hotel and shop for food and clothing at nearby stores. “We give them the financial support they require right at that moment.”

About 95% of the organization’s manpower is comprised of volunteers. People can offer their time and skills in any capacity. “You don’t have to be a nurse of phlebotomist,” said Ms. Baehr. “You can assist at the canteens during a blood drive and give people a smile and a hug or hand them juice and a cookie to get their sugar levels up. People skilled in data entry can help with administrative duties. Another avenue of volunteering is representing the American Red Cross during community events through spreading awareness.

Volunteers can help where they live or offer assistance in remote locations. For deployment, the Red Cross provides specific training at a national and international level. Most recently, about five local volunteers went to South Carolina to aid with the flood victims through thirty-five mass care shelters.

With improvements in technology, it’s easier for volunteers to find out ways they can help.   Anyone with a smart phone can now download free apps, which alert them of local blood drives and emergencies occurring nearby.

In addition to emergency response for relief during a fire, flood, or other natural disaster, some services available to the community include classes and training in CPR and first aid, Automated External Defibrillator (AED) training, blood drives, baby-sitting seminars, programs about fire safety at local schools and elderly care facilities, and community events. The money from the training or classes helps fund disaster relief, so it all gets recycled and helps the community in all aspects.

Ms. Baehr said visiting local school districts is something the Red Cross plans to continue. Last year, the Red Cross educated over 400 area elementary school students about emergency preparedness. They helped them think of meeting places and escape routes and advised them not to hide. The organization also shows them how to stay calm with breathing techniques, thinking logically in an emergency, and educating their families.

Fundraisers also remain important. Anyone can hold a fundraiser and be hero for the American Red Cross. This past August, the Red Cross received $800 from the Paupack Sailing Club during the Sailboat Rides, which took place during Wally Lake Fest.

For information on volunteering or donating, visit www.redcross.org or call (570) 476-3800.

Upcoming Blood Drive: The Inn at Woodloch Pines on November 9th from 1 to 6 p.m., 731 Welcome Lake Road, Hawley PA 18428