By Jessica Isaacs | [email protected]
Looking for a way to round out your year-end giving? Consider donating time or money to the local Red Cross, which needs help from the community after a busy year of responding to emergencies in the High Country.
Throughout the United States and around the world, the American Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross work diligently to respond to families in need. A large majority of its workforce is powered by volunteers, and it carries out roles in five key aspects of service around the world: lifesaving blood collection, health and safety training and certifications, service to the armed forces and military families, disaster relief and international services that include family reunification.
Here in western North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Piedmont chapter spans a 12-county area that stretches from Alleghany down to Gaston and covers in-between counties of Alexander, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Lincoln, Watauga and Wilkes.
“Everybody knows that we do blood collection, but the American Red Cross and the international Red Cross were both founded on battle fields,” said Brian Womack, disaster program manager for the Blue Ridge Piedmont chapter who’s stationed in the Boone branch office. “Ever since our inception, we have been close with helping the military with communications. Say your brother was overseas fighting with the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq and something happened with your family and you need him to come home. The Red Cross handles the fact checking so that by the time the information gets to his commanding officer, the CO knows it has been vetted and is true and we’re able to get soldiers home quickly in times of need.
“We do healthy and safety training, like CPR certification and babysitting classes. We do family reunification — people are being displaced all around the world, running from hot conflict areas, but just about every country has a Red Cross or Red Crescent society that works to reunite those families.”
A large portion of the organization’s work is in disaster relief and emergency preparedness and is carried out by volunteers through established local Disaster Assistance Teams.
“We respond to house fires, hurricanes, ice storms and other disasters, manmade or natural; but, no matter where you are living in the U.S., your biggest disaster risk is a house fire,” Womack said. “Even in the years of hurricanes and super storms, we spend more money helping victims of house fires. It’s a big part of the pie, and that’s what that DAT teams are set up for — they’re my frontline, go-to people who respond to these events. Even on national, large disasters, they start on a local level and pivots around those DAT teams.”
Here in our neck of the woods, DAT volunteers like Diane Waryold are ready and willing to help when a family is in crisis.
“We respond to situations in which people lose their homes or their homes are damaged, so it could be a flood or it could be a fire. Up in this area, especially in the winter, we’re pretty active because a lot of people heat by wood,” Waryold said. “We get called in from either the Emergency Services, the sheriff, the police or the fire departments and we’re on the scene. It’s usually a family standing there in their bare feet, so we get them short term accommodations for a couple of nights and then empower them to reestablish themselves, whether it be through a rental or another home.”
With a large number of residents living in remote parts of the High Country, many who face disasters at home are uninsured and rely on help from the Red Cross to move forward with their lives.
“There’s a lot of need up here. Sometimes they will lose a homestead that the family has owned for generations and they won’t know what to do the next minute. It’s rewarding because we get this all the time: ‘I don’t know what I would have done without you,’” said Waryold. “We’re a short term solution, but we refer to other agencies to help get people back on their feet.”
Like many of those who work for Red Cross, Waryold stepped up to help when she saw it’s good work firsthand.
“My family is from the New York area, and they said that for a month after the hurricane up there the Red Cross was the only way they ate,” she said. “So I thought, you know, I’m going to have to start looking into how I can help and pay it forward to pay back what they did for our family.”
Not only do local DAT volunteers respond to individual family emergencies, but they also work to serve the community at large in the event of major disasters. Their recent work has included feeding firefighters on the scene of this summer’s Valle Landing fire in Valle Crucis and assisting displaced residents there, as well as feeding the firefighters at the recent Horton wildfire and establishing an emergency shelter at Alliance Bible Fellowship in Boone.
Because the Red Cross is a nonprofit agency, fundraising is always important, especially in the wake of large-scale disaster response like the local chapter has seen in recent months. However, volunteer work is equally significant.
“My friend was a volunteer and she told me about what she was doing. I thought, I can definitely volunteer and help out,” said Kathleen Rowell, local business owner and a Red Cross DAT volunteer. “My husband and I both signed up and went to the meetings and got involved. My very first call was in the middle of the night. We got the address and realized it was a friend of ours. When we got there we were the only familiar faces that they saw.”
The local chapter also stays busy with the organization’s Home Fire campaign, which installs free in-home smoke detectors and provides communities with fire safety education. In fact, the Blue Ridge Piedmont chapter installed more than 1,000 smoke detectors in its 12-county region last year at no charge to the homeowners.
Whether you can give time or money this holiday season, consider supporting your local Red Cross. We can’t predict emergency situations, but we can always be sure the Red Cross will be there to help.
To make a donation, learn about volunteering or receive a free smoke detector through the Home Fire Campaign, contact Brian Womack in the Boone branch office at 828-264-8226 or by email at [email protected]
A branch of the organization’s office in Hickory, the local Red Cross is located at 331 Queen St. Ste. B in Boone.