In the hectic days and weeks following a natural disaster, the first response crews usually have their hands tied with a list of duties they must perform -- that's where the American Red Cross steps in.
The American Red Cross is an organization that works in partnership with people affected by disasters to help them return to living independently as quickly as possible. But such a mission is impossible without volunteers -- the heart and soul of the Red Cross.
"We are in recruiting mode right now," said Debra Holle, the branch manager of the Kenai Peninsula chapter of the American Red Cross. "There is no charge for volunteers to be trained, and we have training classes at least twice a month."
The American Red Cross, an organization founded on May 21, 1881, by Clara Barton, is dedicated to providing relief to disaster victims in the United States and abroad. With the month of March designated Red Cross month, the spotlight is directed at the need for volunteers and the reason the Red Cross is recruiting them.
"The volunteers we recruit are going to become a support team for the Kenai Peninsula's first response crews, a second tier," Holle said. "With the basic classes they take, the volunteers are going to become, in my opinion, true leaders of the community by showing that they care for their families and neighbors."
The classes that are required for a volunteer to become a member of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, or DAT, include Intro to Disaster, Mass Care, First Aid and CPR, Communications and Emergency Assistance to Families. There are more classes to be taken for those who strive to become DAT leaders and steps beyond that to become a member of the American Red Cross Disaster Services Human Resources System, which travels to exotic and not-so-exotic places.
"Becoming a volunteer for the Red Cross is no shallow commitment," Holle said. "When someone decides to volunteer for us, it requires dedicated work when a disaster strikes."
There are multiple jobs volunteers can look to do for the Red Cross, including office work, driving supplies or most anything to match someone's skills and interests.
According to Holle, there is more than one way to help the Red Cross.
"We need volunteers, that is for certain. But it is not the only way to do something to help the Red Cross," she said. "If someone takes one of our classes for first aid and CPR or buys one of our first aid kits, they are assisting us by supplementing our donated dollar."
People wishing to assist the American Red Cross can do so by volunteering, donating blood or giving a financial contribution. Businesses wishing to help the Red Cross can do so by offering assistance with donated goods and services, something that should be explored long before disaster strikes.
"A natural disaster is going to strike eventually," Holle said. "It is just a matter of when. It sometimes takes up to three days for assistance, and in Alaska it will be more along the lines of seven to 10 days. People can help themselves by preparing a family disaster supplies kit."
The kit guide, which outlines how to help cope with an emergency until help arrives and is available at the Soldotna Red Cross office, suggests that each family have items in a single container, such as a large covered trash container or a duffel bag. The items vary from one group to the next, but the guide suggests that there are six basics that should be stocked in a home: water, food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, tools and emergency supplies and special items.
"If each family had one of these (emergency kits), it would make the days following a disaster easier to survive," Holle said. "Just look at a strong wind storm. What if it knocked out the electricity for a day or two or even more? Right there you have a water shortage and sometimes a need for heat. Having a kit on hand would really make the difference."
The American Red Cross is a nonprofit group with a charter from Congress to be the leading organization in disaster relief programs. All Red Cross assistance is given to those in need free of charge, a possibility thanks to the contributions people make with their time, money and skills.
"Being a volunteer shows a person's true character," Holle said. "The (Kenai Peninsula Branch of the) Red Cross is really looking for volunteers, and anyone interested should call me here at the office (262-4541) and we will be happy to get them started."
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