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Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 16, 2000
PC Red Cross Chapter
By BRIAN BLACKLEY
The American Red Cross is most known for its work during times of national emergencies, but the work that the organization does to help individuals and families on a daily basis is what makes local chapters so important to the areas they serve.
Known to most people as an organization that provides assistance to people in need in times of national natural disasters, the American Red Cross is probably most important to communities for work it does that many people don’t see.
Currently, the Pike County chapter of Red Cross is working on its SHARE program, which operates through $17,000 in funding from the national organization to help people in need pay their utility bills.
"This is something that means a lot to a lot of people, though we don’t often think of winter utility bills as something that would fall under Red Cross," said Jim Roling, chairman of the board for the Pike County Red Cross chapter. "It’s really a tremendous effort to help a lot of people in need."
Red Cross chapter director Ralph Fowee said the SHARE program has been ongoing for several years and has helped many people in need.
"Though this does a lot of good, we still have funds left over from year to year," he said. "A lot of the reason for this is that people don’t realize that we can help them during the time of year when utility bills are high."
An applicant must qualify to participate in the program, Fowee said, based on a financial need and on Social Security dividends.
He said applicants may contact his office at 566-0632 for more information about the program.
But SHARE is still only a small part of the Pike County chapter’s local effort.
"We help fire victims and families, too" Roling said. "People who have lost their homes, their clothing, and their food may get assistance through Red Cross."
Anna Trefethen, field service manager for Red Cross chapters in the state of Alabama, said disaster services – something many people commonly believe is related to natural disasters – extends to individual disasters.
"Every day we are working with individuals in the community to help with family disasters by providing food, clothing and shelter on the community level," she said. "We also work to help educate people about disasters and the devastating effects they can have on those who are unprepared for them."
Carrying the program further, she said, Red Cross helps people with needs find the appropriate agencies or organizations to help them with additional needs.
"We act as a liaison for people by giving them referrals to other agencies when they need help," Trefethen said. "This is something of vital importance to a family that is trying to recover from a devastating disaster."
Recent speculation has arisen in the local branch’s quest to re-charter, and Roling said the loss of the local chapter would be terrible for the county.
"This local chapter helps get people back on their feet and going again," Roling said. "We are able to do that because we have an office here and because we have volunteers here. What would happen if this weren’t the case? Where would these people turn to for help? The people in Montgomery and other communities may help, but the loss of a presence here would have a negative effect on the services local folks receive."
The Red Cross also helps keep blood banks stocked with blood, though in recent years, the supply has been nearly exhausted by the demand.
"We don’t have as much blood as we once did," Roling said. "People don’t give as readily anymore, but that is an important part of Red Cross’s work."
Roling said the establishment of blood banks many years ago was a leap in the right direction from the days when a person in need of blood would have to find an individual with the same blood type to get the blood he needed.
"Blood banks eliminated the immediate concern because they had on hand what people needed, which saved time and lives," Roling said.
Still an important contributor to area blood banks, Red Cross’s presence is felt in the field of medicine.
Branching out farther, the organization works closely with the armed forces of the U.S. to help men and women in the service when there are circumstances that require their presence at home.
"When some sort of tragedy occurs, or when something comes up that is important to the person back at home, the Red Cross investigates the incident and reports to the military on whether or not there is a need for the person to be granted a leave of absence," Roling said. "Going beyond that, Red Cross has even helped service people fund transportation home when there is a need. That’s something that many people don’t realize."
Although the local community makes significant contributions to Red Cross, Roling said the funds that Pike County sends the organization don’t stack up against the funds the county receives.
"On an annual basis, the National Red Cross system sends more cash in to Pike County than we collect locally for disasters," Roling said. "I think this gets to the heart of the issue. Red Cross helps people here."