The organization was first established after the Civil War by Clara Barton for the purpose of alleviating human suffering concentrating at first on military families. After the establishment of the first local chapter in Dansville, NY on Aug. 22, 1881, volunteers with the organization jumped into helping people in Michigan due to devastation caused by major forest fires in that state., continuing through the years to help victims of fires, floods and hurricanes. However, their role in helping people grew when the Johnstown flood in 1889 occurred. During this time, large shelters which were used to temporarily house those who had to leave their homes.
Even today, to provide shelter and feed those in need are the largest responsibilities of the Red Cross after a disaster occurs.
According to Jamie Koehler, director of Emergency Services with the Southeast Missouri Chapter located in Cape Girardeau, Mo., after the disaster of the flood of Johnstown was when the organization expanded into health services, CPR, water safety and other services.
"We've really grown from the organization she established then but our roots are that its still based on volunteer services," Koehler said. The many services Red Cross has provided include first aid, life saving, swimming lessons, baby sitting training and of course, blood drives. The Red Cross is always in need of volunteers to provide these as well as other services in local communities.
"That's why we're looking for volunteers. Because without volunteers in a local community, then that community doesn't have access to Red Cross services. But, as long as we have active volunteers, then we can assist with fire cases for people who have lost their home because of a fire. We can offer community CPR classes. We can certify the swimming pools. We can have blood drives and all those kind of services."
Kennett does not at the present time have an active Red Cross chapter. The local chapter is based in Cape Girarardeau and covers Dunklin County as well as 10 other counties which includes, Bollinger, Butler, Cape Girardeau, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Perry, Scott, Stoddard and Wayne.
"There's only four of us there," Koehler noted, adding that the Blood Services Division is separate with a different office and a different staff.
"They even have a bigger area than we do because they are also trying to cover the hospitals in Southern Illinois, so they have a huge need they try to cover," she said.
Recently Koehler and Amber Moyers, recruiting and presence specialist, were in town meeting with the Kennett Ministerial Alliance to help get them more involved and to recruit more volunteers in the area. Another objective was to "engage them in becoming more prepared themselves, as a church and then also to approach their congregation and see what their church would like to do if there were to be a disaster." One such disaster mentioned was the ice storm of 2009.
For those who are interested in volunteering, there is specialized training that you do have to go through.
"For new folks, we have a new volunteer orientation and there they learn about the Red Cross, its' principles and values, its' history, [and] the services we provide. And then depending on what they want to do, we have additional training for specific jobs," Koehler said which could include CPR instructor, disaster volunteer, training on driving feeding vehicles, training on how to run a shelter, do damage assessment, etc.
"It just depends on what their interest is," she noted, continuing, "And then we'll add on the details after that."
Services provided include blood services, disaster emergency services, international services, health and safety which covers CPR, first aid, water safety, and wilderness first aid.
According to Libby Mobley, United Way chairman, Red Cross usually is allocated around $3,000 but sometimes it could be more, depending on whether United Way meets its goal and exceeds its amount.
When asked specifically what the funds from United Way goes toward, Koehler said, "It directly assists families here in this community. We provide a lot more than that. It's used for families who have lost their home because of a fire for immediate needs. So, food and clothing and housing on getting them back on the road to recovery after a fire. Off the top of my head, we usually do around 20 to 25 cases a year. Most of those average, if we help with rent, it could average about $1,000 a family."
Usually, if a family is in need of assistance, the local fire department will call them.
"They're very good about notifying us on any family. If they go to a fire and the family says they have no place to go or they see a need there, they call us directly and we'll respond. That's what we need those volunteers for, enabling us to get here quickly and respond to that family."
In closing, Koehler said, "Well, the one thing that's common between the United Way and the Red Cross is we're going to be engaged in every community in helping out on a local level and making sure that those needs are being met at a local level. And, I talk a lot about neighbors helping neighbors. And that's kinda of what both of us are all about is maximizing the power of us at a local level through volunteers, through fundraising, through activities and education and keeping it all right here local."
As far as fundraising efforts go, Koehler noted that they do fundraise throughout the Bootheel area they cover.
"That's used here," she said, adding, "We use other United Ways, also, besides yours." Some of the fundraisers have included a Halloween race in Cape where people dressed up in costumes and ran, fundraising breakfasts, auctions, as well as the 5k race the United Way in Kennett held last year. Not only businesses may do fundraising events for the organization but individuals as well.
When asked what qualifications there were to volunteer, Koehler noted that you need to be 16 years of age and up.
"I think the main qualifications is having the heart and compassion in wanting to do that," she said. She added that some will need to have transportation if they are going to respond to fire cases.
Continuing, she added, "I'd say the main thing is be willing to make time and having the heart and the compassion to do it."
For more information about the American Red Cross, please contact the Southeast Chapter at 2430 Myra Drive, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63703, or phone (573) 335-9471. For more information on the United Way chapter in Kennett, contact them at 1601 First Street P.O. Box 61, Kennett, Mo., 63857
By contributing to the United Way, people's lives are changed. Not only nationwide, but here at home.