By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez
Many may recognize the American Red Cross logo on jackets and vehicles as the ubiquitous international symbol of help, aid and relief.
Though most readily known for disaster relief, the Red Cross also is an agency that gets important messages to loved ones faraway in the armed forces and trains people how to administer first aid to strangers, family members and even pets.
This is the 70th anniversary of March being designated National Red Cross Month in recognition of a declaration signed in 1943 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The national, humanitarian organization has a regional chapter, the Jersey Coast Chapter, located in Tinton Falls, which serves the 1.1 million people in Monmouth and Ocean counties and works closely with other New Jersey chapters, to enable countless volunteers to help keep area residents safe.
“We’re all about community and about our volunteers,” says Nancy Orlando, regional CEO. “As communities change and grow, we change, but the core mission never changes.”
Whether it’s disaster relief – providing help in the middle of the night to a family after a home fire or a widespread disaster like Super Storm Sandy – or military programs for service members, health and safety courses or running blood drives, the Red Cross is there.
“It’s a 132-year-old mission that becomes more relevant with changing times,” Orlando says. “The generosity of donors is important but volunteers are the driving force behind everything we do.”
Volunteers range from those who provide office help to emergency workers who train others and nurses who volunteer time in shelters. Regardless of their task or expertise, every volunteer completes American Red Cross training and learns the principles and mission of the Red Cross.
“Every one of our programs has a direct impact on our community,” says Orlando. “Whether you’ve taken a life-saving course that could save a life or donated blood that a hospital patient has received,” many people have been touched by the organization and its mission.
“It’s really about people wanting to help people,” she says.
The Jersey Coast chapter has had its share of disaster relief challenges. There have been dozens of people affected by floods, house fires and other calamities every day. During the past six months, the chapter has handled 39 cases, aiding 109 clients. During the same time, Super Storm Sandy resulted in 494 cases with 988 clients.
Red Cross staff and volunteers, trained in disaster relief, coordinate mass care, operate shelters for the displaced and distribute food, comfort and even cleanup kits. They coordinate follow-up disaster health and mental health services and help reunite families separated by catastrophes.
The organization depends on contributions to fund its mission. The Jersey Coast Chapter’s major fundraising event is its annual gala. This year the organization is hosting Red, White & Bling, its 30th annual Red Cross Gala at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at the Spring Lake Golf Club. Tickets are $250 per person and a variety of sponsorships are available.
Additional information and tickets are available at www.redcross.org/nj/tinton-falls.
This also is the first year the American Red Cross is a charity New Jersey taxpayers can support on their state income tax forms by selecting the Red Cross box to make a donation for Red Cross NJ.
While disaster relief may be when the organization is most visable, health and safety classes are some of the biggest components of the Red Cross. It offers training in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED). People of all ages sign up for training to be certified in everything from lifeguarding and emergency preparedness to babysitting and family caregiving for those caring for elderly or ill loved ones.
A popular class is pet first aid during which participants, usually pet owners or pet sitters, learn to care for cats and dogs in emergencies, including choking, poisoning and heat stroke, while practicing on cat and dog mannequins.
The Red Cross also offers aid to members of the U.S. armed forces and their families, providing emergency communication to service members, as well as connecting families to various community resources.
“Here in New Jersey there is a huge presence of military with the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Naval Weapons Station Earle, the 177th Fighter Wing (Air National Guard) in Atlantic City and a significant Coast Guard presence,” says Tim Settles, regional director, Disaster Services and Services to Armed Forces. One of the Red Cross’ priorities is providing emergency communication between service members and their families in case of a death, accident and even the birth of a baby. “We’re the emergency communication link.”
Other programs include a reconnection workshop for service members and families as they transition from deployment, and a program to support Wounded Warriors. Medical and mental health professionals, all of whom have completed Red Cross training, run the programs.
In addition, the chapter’s blood donation center holds two blood drives a month at its Tinton Falls location, helps schedule appointments at convenient places for individuals to donate and assists groups with hosting their own blood drives.
A youth council for those ages 11 to 17 gives the youngest volunteers a chance to learn the Red Cross ropes by helping with everything from setting up and working at shelters to acting as victims during training sessions.
Additional information about area Red Cross programs is available by visiting www.redcross.org/nj/tinton-falls or calling 732-493-9100.