BUCKHANNON — In 2020, the Allegheny Highlands Chapter of the American Red Cross assisted 130 area families that experienced home fires, with 14 of those being local residents, explained Executive Director Jason Keeling. As a chapter, they are made up of approximately 176 volunteers who cover 18 counties, including Upshur. In the last year, this chapter also collected over 11,000 units of blood, many of which came from Upshur County donors.
For the last 80 years, March has nationally been proclaimed as American Red Cross Month. “Red Cross Month is a way of promoting the work that our volunteers have done, continue to do, and also highlight the need for additional volunteers,” Keeling stated. Originally recognized by President Roosevelt, American Red Cross Month has since been recognized by states and local municipalities, including Buckhannon, Keeling noted. “The adjective ‘American’ in our name is essential, because it describes the nature of our collective ability to recruit and engage volunteers across the country,” he emphasized. The American Red Cross’ workforce is made up of 90% volunteers.
The number one disaster the American Red Cross responds to in rural communities such as Upshur County, is house fires, Keeling explained. “When a home fire occurs, we are here to be the best part of someone’s worst day,” he expressed. When a home fire occurs, the 911 center notifies the American Red Cross that a family has been displaced and is in immediate need of assistance. They work to make sure the family has a place to stay, clothing, food, and any medical items they may have lost, as well as offering emotional support.
The American Red Cross also responds to disasters such as flooding, wildfires, and hurricanes; however, these events, with the exception of flooding, typically only occur outside of West Virginia, Keeling explained. When flooding occurs locally, the American Red Cross is there to respond. During the 2016 floods in West Virginia, approximately 500 American Red Cross volunteers from across the country came to assist residents of the Mountain State.
Upshur County volunteer Allen Nash typically assists with blood drives across North Central West Virginia, but he has also been deployed twice to Louisiana to assist with hurricane relief from Hurricanes Laura and Delta. While there, Nash assisted with distributing supplies and volunteered in a shelter. “That was rewarding because they’ve just gone through a disaster and lost everything, so they’re very appreciative to receive food, supplies, plus get assistance financially. You can’t help but feel good about that,” Nash explained.
Nash said he became a volunteer following retirement, simply to stay busy. “I was attracted to the Red Cross because of their mission and reputation,” he said. He joined in April of 2019 and is currently working as a blood donor ambassador and a disaster response team member. Nash actively volunteers at the local blood drives held at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, located at 88 S Kanawha Street. He helps by checking donors in, screening their temperatures (since COVID), and handing out drinks and snacks to donors.
This aspect of volunteering is rewarding for Nash and he stated, “I know the blood is desperately needed. I appreciate everyone who comes in to donate. They want to help, and I want to help them. It is a good feeling knowing the blood is going somewhere where it is really needed.” Nash also participates in the American Red Cross “Sound the Alarm” campaign, which is providing education to 100,000 people nationwide about home fire safety, helping families create an escape plan, and partnering with local fire departments to install smoke alarms. All of this is done in effort to avoid home fires, which claim many lives each year. According to current statistics from the American Red Cross, home fires claim seven lives every day.
It is reported that in in the last year alone, nearly 900 volunteers in the Central Appalachia Region of the American Red Cross have supported over 1,110 families devastated by home fires, collected over 53,000 units of lifesaving blood, and provided over 4,200 services to nearly 1,800 military members, veterans and their families.
According to the American Red Cross, in 2021, volunteers have already reportedly provided emergency shelter, food and other assistance following disasters such as tornadoes and February’s record attack of winter storms, which covered some 70% of the central U.S. with snow, ice and historically low temperatures. They reported that this severe winter weather required the cancellation of Red Cross blood drives in more than 30 states, affecting more than 20,000 blood, platelet and convalescent plasma donations in February. In the Central Appalachia Region, the Red Cross reportedly supported shelters and provided assistance to families whose homes were damaged by these winter storms.
Individuals can help ensure that families don’t face emergencies alone, especially during a pandemic by donating and/or learning lifesaving skills. To support the American Red Cross Disaster Relief efforts, visit redcross.org/GivingDay. “A gift of any size makes a difference to provide shelter, food, relief items, emotional support and other assistance. Your donation will be part of our annual Giving Day on March 24 to aid families in need across the country,” according to the American Red Cross. Additionally, classes in skills like CPR and First Aid that help in an emergency are also available at redcross.org/TakeAClass.
Blood, platelets, and plasma is also desperately needed year around. Therefore, if you are healthy and feeling well, make an appointment at RedCrossBlood.org to donate blood. These donations can make a lifesaving difference for a patient in need. As a thank you, the American Red cross is providing those who come to give blood, platelets or plasma on March 15-26 with a Red Cross T-shirt, while supplies last.
According to Nash, the American Red Cross has lost volunteers since COVID-19. Therefore, if you’re interested in volunteering, visit redcross.org/VolunteerToday for the most needed positions and local opportunities. For more information, visit redcross.org or view them on Twitter at @RedCross. For the Central Appalachia Region specifically, visit redcross.org/car or on social media @RedCrossCAR. For local volunteer opportunities, visit the Buckhannon Volunteer Center (BVC) website. There are currently three volunteer opportunities in Buckhannon: a Disaster Action Team Member-On Call Response, Community Volunteer Leader, and a Volunteer Recruitment Team Member.
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters, supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood supply, teaches life-saving skills, provides international humanitarian aid, and supports military members and their families. It is a non-profit organization that is dependent upon volunteers and the generosity of the American community to perform its mission. It has been almost 200 years since the birth of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton. This March is dedicated to all those who continue to advance Barton’s noble legacy, and the American Red Cross is asking others to join in their commitment to care for people in need.