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When the American Red Cross comes to mind, most people think of blood donations. But the Red Cross is more than just blood drives; they offer assistance in four other critical areas: health and safety, armed forces, international services and disaster relief.
Today, the American Red Cross offers many services that help people across the United States and the world. Clara Barton founded the Red Cross in 1881, in response to her experiences in the Civil War. In WWI, the Red Cross brought in nurses to treat soldiers wounded in battle. The organization was known for taking a neutral stand during conflicts and treated soldiers from both sides.
The American Red Cross of Central & Northern Missouri, the local chapter of the Red Cross, began in 1917. Today the chapter supports 29 counties.
The American Red Cross provides 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply. Each fall, MU partners with the local Red Cross to host the largest blood drive in the United States, a three-day event that takes place at the Hearnes Center. Each year, they collect about 5,000 units of blood.
The Red Cross brings in resources throughout the country to support this blood drive. When a donor gives blood, the Red Cross runs a total of 12 tests for diseases and other potential complications. After tests are run, the Red Cross sells blood donations to Columbia hospitals. The funding that the Red Cross receives from donations goes to support their other four lines of service.
The Red Cross trains individuals to be able to perform multiple life-saving skills, including CPR, first aid and proper use of an automated external defibrillator, or AED. The American Red Cross is actively working with the representatives in the Missouri House and Senate to pass a house bill, titled House Bill 457, in the upcoming session, which would require that high school students learn CPR. Students would learn how to keep a person alive until first-aid responders arrive to the scene. If passed, this bill would likely go into effect at the beginning of the 2017 school year, and the skills would be taught in a health or physical education course. This bill would apply to all 253 school districts in the state of Missouri.
The Red Cross also provides services to all branches of the military through the “Get to Know Us Before You Need Us” program. This program includes emergency communication; access to emergency financial assistance; information and referral; resiliency; coping; and reintegration, and all programs are free of charge.
The international service is most commonly used for assistance during physical disasters, such as typhoons, monsoons and earthquakes. A program that is commonly used in the United States is called “Restoring Family Links.” This program helps find family members who have been separated by crisis, conflict or migration. More recently, the Red Cross has provided measles vaccines to individuals in developing countries.
In central Missouri, people utilize the organization’s disaster services the most, aside from blood donations. The Red Cross responds to various single and multi-family fires daily. In October, the Red Cross responded to a house fire in Fulton, where an 89-year-old woman and her adult son lost everything inside.
The Red Cross helps begin the road back to recovery for disaster victims. The home preparedness campaign is an ongoing program to reduce single and multi-family fires by 25 percent within the next five years. To help reach this goal, the Red Cross personally visits homes to map out escape plans with families.
“We have found that families like having the discussion [of] escape plans,” disaster program manager Kath Mayne says. “It feels really good to watch families take measures to be safe.”
The Red Cross also installs smoke alarms in homes. In October, they visited 66 homes in Hallsville and installed 122 smoke alarms, executive director David Griffith says.
“I personally visited seven homes,” Griffith says. “It really gives you a sense of pride. We helped 66 families be safer than they were before.”
The Red Cross helps others in ways they could have never imagined. Carlos Graham, the director of campus and community relations at Lincoln University, received several alarming calls from students and staff on Sept. 2, 2006. “I will never forget this day,” Graham says.
Graham describes driving to campus and seeing a black ball of smoke coming from the tallest building on Lincoln’s campus. “My heart immediately started to rush,” Graham says.
Students and staff, thanks to training, were able to exit the building safely, but all of the students’ personal items had been destroyed. The building housed 323 students.
“The fire started on the sixth floor and smoke rises up,” Graham describes. “The main goal was to put out the fire, so with the water going down, the entire building was ruined, and all the personal items of students were gone.”
With all of the students safely out of the building, the biggest concern Graham faced was the placement of the students who lived there. The Red Cross turned Lincoln’s gym into a makeshift home for those students. They provided cots, blankets, snacks and gift cards to use at Wal-Mart and other stores.
“From that point, LU and myself have been big supporters of the Red Cross because of what they did for us,” Graham says. “I was very thrilled to become a board member, because they do so many wonderful things for people. After the fire, it opened my eyes to all the services that they offer besides blood donations.”