The Red Cross is a reflection of America
Published 12:09 pm Thursday, May 18, 2006
Every year since 1943, the President of the United States has declared March as American Red Cross Month. What is it about the Red Cross that has earned the unanimous support of every president since Franklin Roosevelt? Maybe Ronald Reagan said it best when he said: "The spirit of volunteerism is deeply ingrained in us as a nation. The American people understand that there are no substitutes for gifts of service given from the heart."
He was right. From the beginning, America has been a place of humanitarian action and compassion-a place where people take care of each other, and are willing to reach out and take care of others in need, whether they live down the block or around the globe. Perhaps it is because most of us have ancestors from Europe, South America or Africa in our family history, but regardless of the reason, putting our compassion into action is deeply rooted in the American character. The American Red Cross is a reflection of that American character. It's a spirit that is very much alive in Berrien County and reflected in our own Chapter's history and services.
First and foremost, the Red Cross is humanitarian by nature-reflecting the compassionate character of people here in Berrien and all across America. The Red Cross exists to preserve life and alleviate suffering. And no word better describes our founder, Clara Barton, than humanitarian. She saw the terrible suffering of wounded soldiers during the Civil War, and simply could not stand by and do nothing.
She risked her life when she was nearly 40 years old to bring food, bedding, bandages, clothing and other supplies to the wounded on both sides - often working on the edge of raging battles.
She also provided comfort, reading to them, writing letters for them, listening to their personal problems, and praying with them. By the end of the war, Clara Barton was known across the country as "The Angel of the Battlefield."
Clara Barton became a bit of a celebrity, even known and admired by President Lincoln. She could have parlayed her fame into a comfortable life, but Clara continued her work as a humanitarian. And she wasn't alone.
In 1864, the International Red Cross was founded in Switzerland, to provide humane services to all victims during wartime, under a flag of neutrality. Clara Barton was inspired by this Red Cross movement and envisioned a Red Cross society here in America a an organization that would harness the basic American impulse of neighbors helping neighbors. So she used her influence and fame to establish the Red Cross in the United States. She tirelessly campaigned for the creation of a national society - The American Red Cross - and for the U.S. to sign the Geneva Convention protecting those injured in war. Both of these ambitious goals became a reality in 1882.
Barton also saw the need for an organization to provide relief and alleviate suffering beyond the battlefield - an organization that responded to disasters during peace time. In short, she saw what the Red Cross could achieve, and would become.
This decision meant Americans had someone they could depend on to be there with food, clothing, shelter and comfort following disasters both large and small. And for more than 122 years - from the Great Johnstown Flood through Sept. 11 and 2004's unprecedented hurricanes - the Red Cross has kept that promise. In fact, the very first disaster relief effort by the Red Cross was right here in Michigan: the September 1881 forest fires.
Clara Barton's vision of the Red Cross as a peace time relief agency would later be adopted by the entire Red Cross movement, and was known as "the American Amendment."
We've seen the work of the Red Cross, right here in Berrien County, responding to disasters like the 88-car pile-up on I-94 and the Sunset Landing Apartments fire. What's most remarkable, is that most of this work was done by volunteers - our own neighbors - who generously give their time to help others. These volunteers give up their time to be available around the clock each and every day to local people in emergency situations and … they enjoy doing it!