Last fall, 100 Owensboro residents received an unexpected knock at their door from the Western Kentucky Chapter of the American Red Cross. With new smoke detectors in hand, the 11 volunteers hoped to raise awareness of fire safety.
As a part of a national home fire preparedness campaign, the Western Kentucky Chapter tested and replaced batteries in existing detectors and replaced over 100 detectors in under two hours. The national goal for this Red Cross initiative is to replace 200,000 detectors, which is estimated to reduce house fire fatalities by 25 percent. So far, it has been verified that detectors installed through this program have saved 28 lives.
It is for proactive causes like this that the American Red Cross recently reevaluated and overhauled its national structure. Prior to November 2014, eight chapters served the Western Kentucky area. Those have now been consolidated into one chapter, made up of 24 counties, an area stretching from the Mississippi River to Hancock County on the northern border and Todd County on the southern border.
With this consolidation came significant budget cuts. In fact, The American Red Cross as a whole is upside down $200 million in its annual operating budget.
“We have to make hard decisions,” said Western Kentucky Chapter Executive Director Evelyn Miller. “It is difficult, but necessary for the future sustainability of the American Red Cross.” But Miller says the service that the Red Cross offers is still the same. “Our response time is equal to or better than before,” Miller said.
The American Red Cross is a charitable organization, not a government agency. While the U.S. Congress has chartered the organization, requiring it to maintain a disaster relief system, it receives no federal funding. The Red Cross depends on volunteers and the generosity of individuals and their donations to perform its mission.
“We don’t want to be the best kept secret in town,” said Kasey Beckham, Major Gift Officer. “People recognize our vehicles, our blankets, see us on the news, in national media coverage with texting campaigns. But they don’t see our work every day and community involvement.”
Beckham and Miller estimate that the chapter – the 24-county area – has 500 volunteers, but only 10 percent of those volunteers are available for day-to-day efforts.
“We need four times that,” Miller said.
With more volunteers, the goal is to be more proactive, rather than reactive, expanding programs like the home fire safety campaign, which has proven to save lives. It was this need that helped create the “Ready 365″ campaign, a new initiative to help increase volunteers and raise corporate funding for our region.
“We are pushing to be regionally funded,” Miller said.
Martina Temple, who has been volunteering for the Red Cross for 10 years, is leading Ready 365 in the Western Kentucky chapter. “The money raised stays here, unless there is a need in another Kentucky chapter. We help our own,” Temple said.
And help is precisely what the American Red Cross does. Maybe the best local example of this was the 2009 ice storm that crippled the region. The American Red Cross set up 12 shelters in three counties. A total of 986 people stayed an average of three nights each in the shelters. Volunteers served 25,000 hot meals and 42,000 snacks.
More recently, the Western Kentucky Chapter assisted victims of the Mayfield, Kentucky tornado that touched down in May 2016. The EF-3 storm ripped through western Kentucky, devastating a section of Mayfield and leaving 25 individuals displaced. Graves County officials estimate $3 million in damages. In response, the Red Cross went door to door after the tornado to make sure all residents had the assistance and support they needed after the storm. More specifically, volunteers distributed vouchers for food, clothes and hygiene products to those affected.
While severe situations like this are exactly why the Red Cross was founded, it is not the only demand. “We want to engage around the whole calendar, not react in a time of extreme need,” Beckham said.
The American Red Cross has five points of service, disaster response being just one of those. Others include preparedness and health and safety programs, service to the armed forces, supporting military families with communication to their deployed loved one, international services, supporting a network across the globe, and blood services, supplying nearly 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply.
Even with budget cuts and chapter consolidation, American Red Cross services have remained the same.
“We are one Red Cross now,” Miller said. “Preparing for disasters and teaching life saving skills. The future is bright. Our clients are being taken care of. That’s the bottom line.”
By the Numbers:
- The Kentucky Region provides humanitarian services throughout the state of Kentucky and areas in Southern Indiana.
- In 2015, the Kentucky Region Disaster Action Teams provided emergency assistance to 2,229 families affected by disaster, the most common being home fires.
- The Service to Armed Forces Call Center, located in Louisville and one of three in the world, provided 30,700 emergency requests for military members and their families.
- Nearly 40,000 Kentucky and Southern Indiana residents learned lifesaving skills such as CPR and First Aid.
- The Kentucky region collected more than 100,000 blood donations. Just one blood donation can help save 3 lives. The Kentucky Region needs 600 blood donors per day to meet the regional blood needs.
Preparedness in Your Pocket
Red Cross mobile apps offer the vital information you need to prepare and respond to emergencies—big and small.
To download, visit redcross.org/apps