Red Cross is much more than bloodmobiles

Published 2:35 pm Thursday, June 1, 2006

By Staff
To many, the bloodmobile is synonymous with the Red Cross. Nationally, we collect and distribute just about half the nation's blood supply. But sometimes the impact of a blood transfusion received by one person really hits home. You may remember 12-year-old Kyle Zelmer to whom the Red Cross provided anitbodies from 20,000 pints of blood - to save his life from a virus he could not fight alone. Kyle is a healthy and active teenager today thanks to Red Cross blood transfusions. Someone in America needs blood every two seconds, and that every time someone donates blood, up to three lives are saved - all by volunteer donors. An easy way to start making a real difference right now is to become a regular Red Cross blood donor.
The Red Cross is staffed mostly by volunteers. Most people think of the Red Cross as responding to major disasters like the gulf coast hurricanes, or international disasters like the tsunamis. However, we also respond to the immediate human needs that result from smaller, local disasters each week - most of them single or multi-family house fires.
Berrien County averages about 75 single family home fires per year. Our local Chapter also helped 116 hurricane victims who evacuated to Berrien County after Katrina, Rita and Wilma struck in 2005. These stories did not make national news, but have great meaning to the people who are victims, their families and the surrounding community.
Today's Berrien County Red Cross touches so many people in so many ways that few understand our real scope and impact. They don't realize that the local Chapter quietly helped 173 people here in Berrien that were victims of house fires last year. They don't realize the American Red Cross does most of the first aid, CPR and Lifeguard training in the area. So when you see your local pool has a trained lifeguard on duty, and someone where you work or go to school knows CPR, you can probably thank the Red Cross. Almost 5,000 people completed Red Cross health and safety training here each year, in subjects such as preventing disease transmission, preventing workplace violence, First Aid, oxygen administration and automated external defibrillator (AED) essentials and CPR.
The Red Cross knows that suffering knows no age or borders, and from the very beginning it has worked to provide relief to suffering all around the globe. This was never more evident than following the deadly tsunami in Asia and Africa. A 186-member International Red Cross-Crescent Society, provided water, water purification equipment, family tracing services and food and supplies to tsunami victims.
The Red Cross is also working with various governmental and nongovernmental partners in a campaign to immunize millions of African children against measles, a disease nearly forgotten in America, but still a deadly killer in other parts of the world. When the current program concludes this year, we will have helped immunize more than 200 million children and saved more than 1 million lives.
Here in Berrien County, over 40 clubs, civic groups and churches have completed Together We Prepare training and committed themselves to being better prepared for local weather and other disasters. The Chapter now has 102 Red Cross disaster team volunteers that are trained and qualified to respond -not only to local disasters, but to national-level disasters like hurricanes.
We like to say that the Red Cross is always at its best when times are at their worst. This was true again last year, when the hurricanes came and the Red Cross was able to provide shelter for nearly 425,000 people and served more than 16 million meals. Fifty-four volunteers from Berrien County went to the gulf coast or Florida to work in the relief effort. They were trained and deployed by the local Chapter here in Berrien County. Disaster training for 102 individuals was provided free by the Chapter.
We always have a place for more volunteers. The Berrien County Red Cross disaster training is free.
In its 89th year, the Berrien County Chapter has much to celebrate - a high-quality team of volunteers, great strides made in training and equipping those volunteers, strong partnerships with public and private agencies who also have a responding role in disaster and unparalleled programs in training and blood collection to prepare for and prevent local emergencies.
The challenges are maintaining and building those two program areas which support those provided free to those in need. Blood collections and Health and Safety training are two areas from which the Chapter receives a small amount. Without this revenue, United Way funding partnerships and gifts from private individuals, the Chapter could not exist. Disaster relief and military services must be provided free in keeping with national Red Cross policy.
Like a mirror of America, our local American Red Cross shows us the best possible reflection of ourselves.