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Volunteers heart and soul of Red Cross disaster relief efforts

Photo courtesy of American Red Cross
Emergency response vehicle drivers receive training in this Red Cross file photo. These vehicles can serve as a canteen for safety forces responding to large disasters. Currently, all four emergency response vehicle drivers from the Northeast Ohio Region are deployed to Texas.

By KEVIN KELLEY
WESTSHORE

As of Friday, 40 workers from the Northeast Ohio Region of the American Red Cross had been deployed to the two sections of the country recently ravaged by hurricanes. Thirty-three are in the areas of Texas and Louisiana affected by Harvey, and seven are in Florida where Irma struck over the weekend.

Most are volunteers.

More than 90 percent of the American Red Cross’s workforce are volunteers, said Jim McIntyre, communications officer for the Northeast Ohio Region, which counts 1,400 volunteers and 41 paid staffers. Across the nation, 330,000 volunteers support the organization’s mission to “alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”

“We have a trained volunteer disaster workforce,” McIntyre said. Most volunteers who respond to disasters work at shelters, he said.

“We teach them how to operate a shelter,” McIntyre explained, adding that in addition to serving food and providing cots, volunteers provide comfort to people who have lost everything.

In response to Hurricane Harvey, the Red Cross and its partners have provided approximately 186,000 overnight stays in emergency shelters across Texas and served more than 906,000 meals and snacks.

One big Red Cross partner is the Southern Baptist Convention, which specializes in operating huge field kitchens, McIntyre said. Red Cross volunteers collect the meals and deliver them to people in neighborhoods.

Individuals from the medical, mental health, IT and logistics fields also volunteer to provide their expertise in times of disaster.

Since Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, the Red Cross’s Northeast Ohio Region received more than 350 phone calls from people wanting to volunteer, McIntyre said. The best way to sign up, he said, is to fill out an online application. Some training is online, and the Cleveland office is holding expedited training classes through October so new volunteers can relieve those now in the field.

Jim McIntyre

McIntyre, who joined the Red Cross two years ago, saw a shelter in operation firsthand when he assisted the organization’s public affairs efforts following the impact of Hurricane Matthew last fall. An experienced broadcast journalist, McIntyre was news director at radio stations WWWE and WERE in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. For 17 years, he co-hosted WDOK’s morning radio show with “Trapper Jack” Elliot.

While speaking with people staying at a shelter in North Carolina, the Fairview Park resident was struck by how grateful they were even though they had been displaced and many had lost their homes.

“I thought there would have been a lot of people grumbling,” he said, but there was none of that.

Disasters, of course, do not come according to schedule. So a significant number of Red Cross volunteers are retirees, whose lack of work commitments enable them to respond quickly.

“Often retirees have a compelling desire to give back,” McIntyre said.

While the recent hurricanes have placed the focus on natural disaster, most Red Cross volunteers assist victims of everyday disaster, such as house fires. Across the 22-county region served by the Northeast Ohio Chapter, an average of three house fires occur nightly, McIntyre said. Volunteers respond by providing immediate financial assistance, personal care kit and work toward obtaining long-term help for the affected family.

Besides volunteering, the most efficient way to help people in need is to give people the money they need to buy what they need, he said.

The Red Cross and other aid organizations incur costs to store even useful donations, McIntyre said.

People can sign up to volunteer or donate money online at RedCross.org/neo. Donations of blood will also be needed for use in areas where infrastructure has been devastated by the hurricanes, McIntyre said. Times and locations where blood can be donated are listed online at RedCrossBlood.org.

 

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