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Other groups try to pick up for Red Cross

Filling needs

Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2007

The closure of a local office of the American Red Cross from the Kenai Peninsula is generating mixed responses from the community's charities.

Some view the closure as a shame, but don't think they'll have to make any major changes in the way they operate. Others are wondering how they're going to fill Red Cross' shoes. Still others say that the Red Cross hasn't left the peninsula just because their office is closed.

"I'm not sure that a lot will change," said Craig Fanning, the commanding officer for the Salvation Army. "I'm not concerned that the services they've been providing will change, they will still have local committees."

As an organization that offers resources to people as their need arises, The Salvation Army has worked closely with the Red Cross, Fanning said, by providing vouchers for the thrift stores and covering the needs the Red Cross doesn't meet. The only thing that will change about the Salvation Army's relationship with the Red Cross is the loss of a local representative.

Even though he says Red Cross' services won't change, Fanning will meet with local emergency services as well as representatives from the Kenai Peninsula Borough's Office of Emergency Management to cover all the bases.

"We'll still be providing whatever services we can as those needs arise," he said.

Ingrid Edgerly, executive director for Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC), said because the Red Cross provides services in emergencies, they haven't worked much with them in the past, but Edgerly is now looking to see how Love INC can help fill the void the local chapter has left behind. Love INC typically works as a clearinghouse, pointing homeless and low income people to the right churches and other organizations that could provide them with the services they need. For example, if someone needs glasses, but they can't afford them, Love INC will make sure the need is really there and contact the local Lion's Club chapter.

"The biggest issue we have in the community is housing," Edgerly said, adding that Love INC is in the process of setting up a transitional housing facility for individuals and families, but it won't be designed as an emergency shelter.

"We need to talk to the Red Cross and find out what resources they use, how they access those resources and see if the ministry can pick up where they left off."

Now that the local Red Cross chapter is no longer there, Edgerly said she suspects the volume of phone calls Love INC receives will increase, and she thinks the Salvation Army and other charities will see the same thing, especially as winter sets in. It won't change the way Love INC operates, she said, but the volume of calls will increase.

"We are going to have to look at how we are going to deal with this problem and right now I don't know the answer to that question," she said. "In the past when we've gotten calls for emergency housing, we've directed people to the Red Cross. We're going to have to see what we can do and I don't know what that's going to be right now."

Dee Gaddis, the president of the local St. Vincent dePaul, said the Red Cross hasn't ever called them and that she's not sure how the closure's going to affect them because the work they do is different from what St. Vincent dePaul does.

"We just help people in need with food, shelter, sometimes gas. It depends on the situation and we look at every case individually," she said, adding that they don't operate on as large a scale as the Red Cross and they don't deal with families and individuals in emergency situations. "The Red Cross has never called us."

Karen Ruebsamen, the homeless liaison for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, works with homeless families and school-aged youth who've been abandoned, but can't afford to live on their own. Ruebsamen is notified when a family in the school district is going through an emergency and she tries to get the family services the Red Cross doesn't provide, often meeting them in motel rooms if their homes have burned down.

If a family calls her from a motel room after they've lost their home and tells her their insurance won't call for another four days, but they only have the room for another night, Ruebsamen will ask the Red Cross to extend the family's stay.

"I act as a go-between sometimes," she said. "When I read that our Red Cross had closed, my heart sank. When there's a gap in services in the community it impacts all programs."

Ruebsamen said the closure of the local chapter could take a way the immediate response people are used to when it comes to the Red Cross. The Red Cross responds to the scene of fires, she said. Her office is only open five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"I don't go out to the scene of a fire. I don't go right away to meet with the family if it happened on the weekend," she said, adding that the loss of a personal touch will be felt by families too. "The Red Cross provided a caring. (They said), 'The community cares about you, you're not just folks whose place burnt down, you're somebody and we're here to extend that help.'"

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.



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