Peninsula needs to help prevent possible disaster


Posted: Friday, June 30, 2006

When disaster strikes, it often catches us off guard. Sometimes it affects one, sometimes many. It’s all too common that no one saw it coming.

For once, there’s an opportunity to stop a disaster before it happens.

Joe Mathis says it’s not in the plans, but sometimes plans don’t go the way they’re supposed to.

Mathis is chief executive officer for the Red Cross of Alaska, an organization most of us are familiar with whether we’ve used it or not.

Since 1881, the American Red Cross has stood as a symbol of neutral humanitarian care. They are the people who take the sting out of disaster and replace it with hope. They are the essence of help.

Gail Bacarella of Nikiski can tell you how valuable they are. She and her family became a victim of fire last winter, and the Red Cross was there. They provided food and clothing, bedding and linens and replacement eye glasses for Bacarella and her oldest son, whose glasses were lost in the fire.

There are many stories across the Kenai Peninsula like Bacarella’s. Unfortunate accidents, bad timing, mishaps and Mother Nature have all play a part to create victims of circumstance. But the Red Cross was there to step in and say, “Here, let us help you.”

Now it’s our turn.

Now they are in trouble, and they need our help.

With one month’s cash at hand, one single disaster could put our local resources in danger.

Without a significant increase in donations, Red Cross of Alaska is facing a fiscal year with an estimated $150,000 to $200,000 deficit.

On the peninsula, that could spell disaster.

Annette Hakkinen, director of the Kenai Peninsula District of American Red Cross of Alaska, acknowledges the fact money is short, but says they’re not in dire straits.

“There’s always the possibility of closing this office, but we’re not there yet.”

So what can we, as a community, do?

Give. It doesn’t matter if it’s money or time, the Red Cross can use both.

Volunteers are needed, such as when the Cohoe Loop wildfire burned in May. A community shelter was set up at Tustumena Elementary School with 10 volunteers on hand. No one had to spend the night, but the agency made sure the service was available, and that costs money. The Red Cross paid to train the volunteers and had the expense of transporting supplies and equipment to the school — just in case.

Although fire is one of the more common causes the Red Cross get involved on the peninsula, they also offer a variety of services, including first aid training, flood cleanup assistance, food supplies. They’re even involved in relaying messages for Alaskans in the military service in Iraq.

While hurricanes in the Gulf Coast have grabbed the nation’s — and the world’s — attention in the last year, it’s just a small part of what the Red Cross does and has been doing for 125 years.

The Red Cross is asking for our help, and we need to step up to the plate and deliver the message that we will take care of our neighbors. There’s a fundraiser July 8 at Birch Ridge Golf Course in Soldotna, the 15th Annual Red Cross Golf Tournament. That’s one way to help, but donations of all kinds are welcome — even your time.

Hakkinen said the Kenai district has not been forced to deny help to anyone because of the financial situation, nor do they plan to. “As long as our doors are open, that won’t happen,” she said. “We never refuse services to anyone.”

Mathis echoes that sentiment: “We don’t want to leave the 70,000 people on the Kenai (Peninsula) unserved.”

People tend to take services for granted until they need them. In an area as volatile as the Kenai, it would take just one earthquake, one volcanic eruption, one flood or one wildfire to wipe out our peninsula resources.

We can’t let that happen. We can’t afford to allow the doors to close on an organization that has given so much to so many. That would be a disaster.

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