Red Cross volunteers work to deliver vital services, from providing relief and support to those in crisis, to helping people stay prepared to respond in emergencies.
“What we really try to do is prevent human suffering, and then when something happens, we try to alleviate human suffering,” said Clark Parker, volunteer and current chair of the board of directors. “So that’s kind of the two big catch phrases: prevent and alleviate human suffering. We do that through first aid training, through installing smoke alarms, through support for families who have someone on active military duty. So we’re working hard to make sure something bad doesn’t happen.”
By the numbers
The Northeast Tennessee chapter of the Red Cross provides food, shelter and comfort to individuals and families in need, as well as casework and recovery assistance for disaster survivors. From July to December of 2019, the local chapter:
• Was supported by 261 active volunteers, who worked 11,543 hours
• Responded to 131 disasters in the community
• Assisted 154 families following local disasters
During the last full fiscal year, the Northeast Tennessee chapter distributed slightly more than $200,000 in aid to families in 13 counties: Carter, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington.
What does the Red Cross do locally?
The most common disaster that local Red Cross volunteers respond to is home fires, Parker said. Through its smoke alarm program — called Sound the Alarm, Save a Life, or STASAL — the organization works with fire marshals to find neighborhoods with a higher-than-normal rate of residential fires and install free smoke alarms in those areas.
“Through the smoke alarm campaigns, the percentage of the deaths in the state of Tennessee has been reduced significantly by installing smoke alarms in homes throughout our region and across Tennessee,” said Jo Willems, a disaster response volunteer.
Local Red Cross volunteers also respond to flooding, wind damage or other situations that could make a home uninhabitable. The organization also provides food and drink to first responders and sets up shelters for hurricane evacuees from other areas.
One of the Red Cross’ lesser known offerings is its services to the armed forces, Parker said. Volunteers provide support for families of deploying soldiers, offer continuing psychological care through the VA and, in some cases, offer end-of-life support for veterans with no family.
“If there are vets who are in their final hours and have no local family, there’s a program called No Vet Dies Alone,” Parker said. “We have volunteers who go to hospice or go to the hospital or go to the VA and simply sit with the veteran during their last hours. Sometimes they know they’re there; sometimes they don’t, and that’s a service for vets who really don’t have anybody left.”
How does the Red Cross educate the community?
One way the Red Cross helps people prepare for disasters on their own is through its pillowcase project, which began after Hurricane Katrina.
“What they learned in the shelters, especially with college kids, they would show up in the shelter with all their stuff in a pillowcase. … Disney got involved at that point, and Disney helped provide the pillowcases themselves, and then the Red Cross teaches kids, ‘OK, you’ve only got two minutes; what are the things you want to put in your pillowcase?’ ” Parker said.
The Red Cross also offers community training in first aid; infant and child CPR and first aid; automated external defibrillators; babysitting; and disaster response. Parker added that pet first aid is in the works.
How can you help?
The Northeast Tennessee chapter’s largest groups of volunteers are in Sullivan and Washington counties, but more volunteers are needed in all 13 counties the chapter serves.
Parker said volunteers are needed in every capacity, including responding to disasters, following up with disaster victims and assisting with information technology and office work.
“You’re there to comfort people and give them some help for their recovery process,” Willems said. “It is very rewarding.”
Prospective volunteers can call (423) 765-4222 or visit redcross.org for more information.