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Written by: David Haas

In 2017, the American Red Cross worked harder than ever in its mission “to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers.’

This year Red Crossers delivered more food, relief supplies and shelter stays than the last four years combined. Eastern Pennsylvania volunteers supported many of these efforts, including volunteer deployments for back-to-back-to-back-to-back hurricanes — Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate – the deadliest week of wildfires in California history, and the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas. Learn more about the value of your contribution to 2017 disaster work in this video.

As 2017 comes to a close, Eastern PA Red Cross leaders are preparing a response plan for the devastating and quick-moving wildfires in Southern California, ready to assist local Red Crossers who are opening shelters, and providing food, comfort, and a safe place for thousands of residents displaced from their homes.

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The 2017 National Red Cross statistics are staggering.  More than 56,000 disaster workers — 92 percent volunteers — provided help to people affected by 242 significant disasters in 45 states and three territories. This year, the need for emergency shelter soared, with the Red Cross providing twice as many overnight stays than it did during the past four years combined. The Red Cross:

  • Opened 1,100 emergency shelters to provide 658,000 overnight stays
  • Served 13.6 million meals and snacks
  • Distributed 7 million relief items
  • Provided 267,000 health and mental health contacts
  • Supported 624,000 households with recovery assistance

Altogether, Red Cross emergency response vehicles traveled 2.5 million miles to deliver food, relief supplies and support to communities affected by disasters. That’s the same as driving around Earth 103 times.

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“There was someone every step of the way with a red vest on letting us know everything was going to be okay,” said Houston-resident Tabitha Barnes, who received Red Cross services after Hurricane Harvey flooded her home.

As volunteers in this region know, the most common disaster is not a hurricane or flood, but rather a home fire. There were nearly 50,000 home fires in the US this year which required Red Cross assistance, and caseworkers helped 76,000 affected families to recover.  Eastern PA volunteers respond quickly to local fires, including multiple teams that responded to the November 17th fire at the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester where 140 people were evacuated. Dozens of people wrapped in blankets and sitting in wheelchairs were seen in news reports and being served by the Red Cross at a shelter nearby. The Red Cross House in Philadelphia is another unique resource available to help families and individuals get back on their feet after a house fire with temporary stays.

Eastern PA volunteers also support the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, working to help prevent home fires and save lives. Since the Campaign launched in 2014, 303 lives have been saved, more than 1 million smoke alarms have been installed, and 940,000 youth have been taught about the importance of fire safety. Hear from Rosie Saunders how having a working smoke alarm saved her daughter’s life: https://vimeo.com/229324955.

And if you have not done so yet, consider donating blood at year-end when donations decline because of the holidays. Also consider a year-end financial donation. An average of 91 cents of every donated dollar goes to providing food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support and other assistance, as well as supporting the vehicles, warehouses, technology and people that make help possible.

Written by: Samantha Antenucci

Months after the hurricanes wreaked havoc in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, local residents still face hurdles on the path to recovery. While most of us cannot imagine the devastation, local Red Cross volunteers who have traveled to the affected areas have had a first-hand look at the recovery efforts.

When the hurricanes first struck, Red Cross volunteer Heidi Dampman was originally intending to leave for a vacation. When she first heard about Hurricane Harvey, she postponed her plans and took of an extra week of unpaid time off from work to go down to Texas to help. She recalled, “Even if I was going to get fired for taking off, I still would have done it. If I would have lost my job, that would have been alright, because for the first time in my life, I knew I was doing something right.”

Hurricane Harvey 2017

September 1, 2017. Woodsboro, Texas An Emergency Response Vehicle delivers hot meals in the town of Woodsboro, Texas where there is still now power a week after the storm made landfall. Photo by Chuck Haupt for the American Red Cross

Dampman’s positive attitude was contagious during her time in Texas where she drove a Red Cross emergency response vehicle into damaged neighborhoods to provide families with hot meals and drinks. As she was setting up for her shift, she had an idea to lift the spirits of the community members. She turned up the music in the truck for the neighborhood to hear, and as soon as she did, young children to the elderly, came out of their homes and started dancing in the streets! Dampman was giving them more than just a hot meal, she gave them hope.

Even though there were some heartwarming stories, Dampman remembers the hardships of her deployment as well. She recalls an image of a family standing outside of their home with all their belongings sprawled out on the front lawn. With an estimated five feet worth of flood damage, their home was destroyed.  When she offered the family food and water, they started crying. Dampman said, “It was difficult. You really got attached to the people there.”

Unfortunately, home destruction is not uncommon. John and Jane Hoopingarner, both Red Cross volunteers, worked in spiritual care for victims of Harvey as well. The Hoopingarners were deployed for two and a half weeks to Beaumont and Port Arthur and volunteered to listen, encourage, and work to restore some sense of normalcy to the hurricane victims. When the Hoopingarners arrived, they witnessed “the miles of damage with homes that were flooded to the roof and so many people lost absolutely everything.”

 

They described how some people were able to return to work and began to start over, but so many people were left homeless and moving from shelter to shelter. While there, the couple lived in and worked in the shelter with other victims, consoling them as much as they could. Mr. Hoopingarner recalled how many were in an emotional and physical downward spiral and how they managed to escape the disaster on helicopters and boats.

Mrs. Hoopingarner shared some of the stories of the people she encountered at the shelter. She shared how a family consisting of a single mother, and her two children, a 12-year-old daughter with disabilities and her 16-year-old son, came to the shelter after the hurricane. The family was in turmoil and Mrs. Hoopingarner consoled the family every day, sometimes twice a day, until her deployment ended. Once she left Texas, Mrs. Hoopingarner described how the mother found a job and started working while the people at the shelter would look after her daughter while she was at work!

When asked what people can do to help the victims of the hurricanes, they emphasized, “Though the recovery is still raw, we ask people not to forget what happened to Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico once the news stops reporting on it.”

Though the damage is done and the news has simmered down, the recovery is still new, raw, and will take years to bounce back.

 

Red Cross Volunteer Spotlight

Michael McCall Highlight

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1-Can you briefly describe your volunteer role as a Disaster Dispatch with Red Cross, and the primary responsibilities of that role?

I act as a communication link; my primary goal is to connect individuals impacted by fires, floods, and natural disasters with Red Cross First Responders. I gather pertinent details regarding each client’s unique situation, and then relay this information to the appropriate local Red Cross team members.

Unfortunately, there is disconnect with the public regarding our mission, and the specific services that we provide so I often receive calls that are out of our purview. That being said, my second responsibility is to act as a human services referral system. I recommend emergency shelters, food banks and utility assistance programs when needed. We endeavor to help all callers, no matter what their reason for calling.

2-How long have you been a disaster dispatcher?

I’ve been a volunteer for the Red Cross since August of 2012. I’m currently volunteering approximately 15-20 hours per week.

3-What made you volunteer for the Red Cross?

I’ve volunteered practically my entire life. First as a Special Olympics Basketball Coach and then as Firefighter. I believe it’s important to give back to your community. I prefer getting my hands dirty versus writing a check, it’s all about sweat equity in my opinion. I was originally attracted to Red Cross because I liked the idea of deployment during an emergency crisis. However, my volunteer path took me in a different direction. During an introductory tour of the building during orientation, I was exposed to our emergency communications department. I was impressed right away and thought that this is something that I good be good at. Its five years later and I haven’t looked back. I love what I do and making a difference in the lives of our clients and the community.

4-What are things you have learned since volunteering for the Red Cross which you didn’t know before?

I always held the ARC in high regard, but since volunteering, what blows me away every day is the passion and commitment of my fellow team members.

5-What is your favorite part of volunteering?

Helping people is the best part of volunteering. Being able to tell someone, don’t worry, we’re going to get you and your family the help you need is an amazing feeling.

6-What is your least favorite part of volunteering?

If you asked me a year ago, I would have told you our technology, specifically our hardware and software. However, in the last 12 months, we’ve gone through several upgrades starting with a new software program, RC View, to new computers. Though there is still room for improvement, we’ve come a long way just in just one year.

7-How would you encourage someone considering a volunteer position to get information on the position?

I often suggest potential volunteers request informational interviews with a current volunteer or manager. I also urge new volunteers to be patient. The Red Cross takes pride in ensuring all new volunteers are vetted and properly screened. The application process takes time. This is done to guarantee the safety of our clients. First start with the on-line application process is very easy to navigate.

8-Can you describe a particular dispatch situation which influenced you most and why?

I signed up to work Christmas Eve last year and I kept receiving calls from parents that didn’t have any money to buy their children gifts. Not wanting to turn them away empty handed, I searched on-line for any local toy drive giveaways. Unfortunately, in many cases I was coming up empty. The last call of the day, was no different, the mother told me that she was desperate to find a way to buy her little girl something to open the next day and it was at this point I realized that I had a $50 Visa Gift Card that I received for my birthday from my sister just a week before was in my wallet. I told the caller that if she could make to the office that she could have the gift card. 30 minutes later the mother and daughter were at our front door. The mother was so thankful and appreciative. The smile on their faces was the best gift I could ever have received.

 

Written by: Lisa Tomarelli

Volunteer Spotlight

By: Elizabeth McLaren

Agnes Han, a senior at Downingtown East High School, knows a thing or two about initiative. With aspirations to become a physician, Han wondered what she could do about the lack of high school clubs available to her that focused on health and wellness.

So she created her own, founding Downingtown East’s Red Cross Club during her junior year to explore her passions and “to get myself and others more involved in helping others medically.”Agnes Han 1

Her vision produced results. “We started with about five people, but over the course of year, it grew to around 25 people,” Han says. “Officers do most of the work. Our teacher advisor, Mrs. Resnek, helps us when we need it and lets us know when we can hold meetings. Other than that, the students pretty much run the show.”

Han currently serves as club president, and is part of a five-member team of officers including fellow students Jordan Guistwhite as vice president, Megan Osterstag as treasurer, Ian Goodstein as secretary and Kate Dippolito as head of fundraising.

The next order of club business for Han was volunteer training for Red Cross Blood Services with the Tri-County Chapter. She became a Blood Donor Ambassador. “A lot of it was fairly straightforward and things I could learn on the job. I met once or twice with Blood Services to review safety protocols and such,” she says.

Han started doing registration at blood drives after she completed training. “The first thing donors see is us – registration – and it’s my job to get them all signed in and ready to go with a smile on their face,” she adds.

Her first blood drive was also her most memorable. “It was the WMMR blood drive that Preston and Steve hosted. I remember feeling at ease and not at all awkward because all of the other volunteers were so friendly. The one volunteer who I got a chance to talk to a little bit, loved mascots and chased around the man in the Blood Drop costume, wanting to take a picture. She was hilarious,” Han recalls.

With college applications on her agenda these days, Han recognizes that both the Red Cross Club and her volunteer role have helped prepare her for the future. “The Red Cross has shown me the joy in helping others through medicine and I’m glad I joined because I was able to learn a lot about the process of giving blood and the mechanics behind the different types of blood,” she says.

The idea of the club continuing after she graduates is something Han loves. For now, Han said that she and the Red Cross Club members are busy setting up a fundraiser for hurricane relief. They are also hoping to host a blood drive in the spring.

Han has a bit of Red Cross volunteer inspiration of her own, too. She adds, “Get involved early and become an active volunteer! Help out with whatever you can and don’t be afraid to ask questions!”

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By Caroline Hroncich, American Red Cross Volunteer and Villanova student

As a senior in college, I have come to think of this time in my life as a stepping-stone between childhood and adulthood. You are given freedom, but are not yet required to be completely independent. We often don’t realize how much we rely on our universities to provide us with essentials. Personally, I did not realize how much I relied on my school until Superstorm Sandy hit.

Until Sandy, I had never thought about what I would do in the face of a disaster at college. I have distinct memories of my 19-year-old self, perched atop my bunk bed, listening to rain pound the window. The lights flickered frequently, threatening to die; all I had to eat was a bag of tortilla chips. I was completely unprepared. The school lost power, the dining hall could not be kept open, and my friends and I found ourselves confined to our dorm rooms while the storm raged around us. After talking to my friends who attend other universities, I realized this was not an uncommon experience.

While universities are equipped to deal with disasters, it is equally as important for students to prepare. During my junior year, a major snowstorm hit, leaving me (I was now living in an on-campus apartment) without power. Being without light meant there was a mad rush to purchase battery-powered lamps, leaving many students without alternative options to light their apartments. I lost most of my refrigerated food. The school urged everyone to go home, but since I did not live a convenient distance, that was not an option. A few of my friends considered going to a nearby hotel for the night.

rco_blog_img_CollegePrepAs a freshman, I laughed at my parents when they insisted I keep things like a flashlight in my dorm room. Now I realize how truly important those things are. Keeping items like a flashlight, extra batteries and a small portable lamp in your dorm are essential when it comes to emergency preparedness. Even food is important to keep in your room, just in case the dining halls are unable to serve you. My experience has definitely taught me that as we go about our busy college lives it’s important to stop for a second and think about if we are truly prepared.

— Cross-posted from the American Red Cross of Greater New York’s Blog

 

 

 

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Although I’ve only been interning with the Red Cross Communications team for several weeks, I have already gained an entirely new perspective on both this community and providing assistance to those in need. The future of the Red Cross is dependent on volunteers who recognize the importance of this organization and then donate their efforts towards fulfilling its mission.

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During my time at the Red Cross, I have had the opportunity to assist outside of the office. One day, I hope to be part of the Disaster Action team and respond to local disasters. So far, the closest that I have come to disaster response is participating in Red Cross Fire Safety Walkthroughs. During Fire Safety Walkthroughs, Red Cross workers distribute fire safety materials, such as educational materials as well as a 9-volt battery for smoke detectors. The educational material comes in multiple languages and provides individuals with information on how to prevent a fire, making an escape plan and pet fire safety.  In the past several weeks, I’ve participated in Fire Safety Walkthroughs in the two communities surrounding the fatal fires at Gesner Street and North Sixth Street. When fire suddenly destroys homes and claims the lives of community members, the scene is always very sensitive.  It has been difficult to see the tremendous toll these disasters have on communities. As we made our way up and down the streets, I did my best to be respectful to people’s properties, especially the homes where the fires occurred.

Gesner St Fire picture of Laurel

When I am in the office, I work with both internal and external means of communication to keep the general public as well as Red Cross employees and volunteers informed about what is going on in the community and the office. I really value working beside and learning from my manager, Sara, and the rest of the Communications department. Our many responsibilities have so much purpose, which causes me to constantly look forward to my time here. This branch of the Red Cross employs many friendly and intelligent people. I’ve received nothing but a warm welcome to this team. The Red Cross never stops responding, so as long as I’m here I’m sure I will be kept busy by providing the community with the information they need to stay informed and safe.

~submitted by Laurel, a high school intern for the communications department

If you are interested in volunteering with the American Red Cross, click here.

Did you know every year on May 8th we celebrate World Red Cross Day? I am sure many of you, like me before I was a volunteer with the American Red Cross, have never heard of World Red Cross Day. Below are some facts to give you a better understanding of what World Red Cross Day is, how it came about and why it is so important.

What is World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day?

It is an annual celebration of the principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The seven principals are HUMANITY, IMPARTIALITY, NEUTRALITY, INDEPENDENCE, VOLUNTARY SERVICE, UNITY, and UNIVERSALITY. Each year about 97 million members and volunteers of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are honored on this day making it the largest humanitarian network of relief worldwide serving over 170 countries.

Why is it celebrated on May 8th?

May 8th is the birthday Henri Dunant who founded the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 1863 in the Geneva, Switzerland.

Henri Dunant

Jean Henri Dunant (May 8, 1828 –October  30, 1910), also known as Henry Dunant, was a Swiss businessman and social activist. In 1901 he received the first Nobel Peace Prize, along with Frederic Passay, for his role in founding the International Red Cross Movement and initiating the Geneva Convention. In 1903 Dunant was given an honorary doctorate by the medical faculty of the University of Heidelberg.

He died on October 30th 1910, and his final words were “Where has humanity gone”? The former nursing home in Heiden, Switzerland where Durant died is now the Henry Dunant Museum. In Geneva, there are numerous streets, squares, and schools named after him. The Henry Dunant Medal is awarded every two years by the standing commission of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It is its highest decoration.

How did Henri come up with the idea to start the International Red Cross?

During a business trip in 1859, he witnessed the aftermath of a battle in Solferino, Italy. He recorded his memories and experiences in the book A Memory of Solferino .  In 1862, 1,600 copies of the book were published and printed at Dunant’s own expense.  Dunant’s experiences at Solferino inspired the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1863. In his book, he described the battle, its costs, and the chaotic circumstances afterwards.  After the war, he visited with wounded soldiers and was shocked by the lack of facilities, personnel, and medical aid available to help them. He abandoned the original intent of his trip and spent his time helping with the treatment and care for the wounded soldiers.

 What is International Red Cross and Red Crescent  Movement ?

It is an international humanitarian movement with approximately 97 million volunteers, members and staff worldwide. The International Red Cross Movement was founded to protect human life and health, to ensure respect for all human beings, and to prevent and alleviate human suffering. The movement consists of several distinct organizations that are legally independent from each other, but are united within the movement through common basic principles, objectives, symbols, statutes and governing organizations.Red cross day

 When was the first World Red Cross Day celebrated?

It was first celebrated as the Red Cross Day on May 8th 1948. Later, it was officially named as the “World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day” in 1984.

When was the International Committee of the Red Cross Founded?

Their first meeting was held on February 17, 1863 which is considered the founding date.

What is the theme for 2014?

World Red Cross Day theme of 2014 was “Together for Humanity”

How can you celebrate World Red Cross Day

You can celebrate World Red Cross Day and World Red Crescent Day in a variety of ways:

  • Learn more about the Red Cross
  • Support Red Cross programs and efforts
  • Send a donation to the Red Cross
  • Donate blood today
  • Become a Red Cross volunteer
  • Thank Red Cross volunteers for their service

— Posted by Jennifer Ingram, SEPA Red Cross Communications Volunteer