When disasters hit, people turn to the American Red Cross for help.
It doesn’t have to be a massive catastrophe impacting multiple states like Hurricane Harvey or the wholesale evacuations that Hurricane Irma is prompting in Florida. Sometimes, it’s as small as the house fire next door.
In Centre County, the Red Cross responds to those smaller disasters on a regular basis. They are also on hand when the problems are less isolated. In October 2016, the American Red Cross was part of the solution when parts of Centre County experienced flooding.
“They are a very integral, important part of any emergency response,” said Centre County Emergency Management Director Jeffrey Wharran.
According to the nonprofit’s website, it responds to more than 70,000 disasters annually just in the U.S., while 13 million volunteers help people in 187 countries.
Now the organization is looking for two things to provide assistance to those impacted by the second historically catastrophic hurricane within a month: more money and more people.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said that about 57 shelters were established in Texas in response to the devastating flooding of Harvey. That takes both people to staff the sites and money to provide water, food and other needs.
That, says Kim Maiolo, is where Centre and surrounding counties can help.
“The biggest thing in terms of providing assistance to the Red Cross is financial donations,” said the director of communications and marketing for the central Pennsylvania region.
“I know a lot of times, people are looking for other ways to donate,” Maiolo said. “But household items, food, clothing, unfortunately when we have to collect, clean, sort, transport, it just becomes more costly and takes more manpower. Financial donations are so much more efficient. We can buy exactly what we need for that shelter.”
Speaking of manpower, the Red Cross is already sending volunteers south and training more to help as Irma bears down on islands in the Caribbean and south Atlantic and prepares to make landfall in Florida and impact other states such as Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“Centre County is part of the mid-central region,” Maiolo said. “One volunteer from that area has just deployed to Orlando yesterday. We have four others from the region going to the Carolinas. ... We are always looking for volunteers.”
What she does not suggest is going to help without the structure and support of an organization.
“I would not just go down to help,” Maiolo said. “When you go with the Red Cross or with some other relief effort, we prepare you, we support you. Going on your own? That just sounds scary.”
There is one more thing the Red Cross is known to do in times of need, and that’s collect blood. Maiolo said that at the moment blood isn’t needed in the hurricane-stricken areas. It is, however, needed closer to home.
“We are still under a blood emergency,” she said.
Blood reserves drop over the summer as people are traveling and doing other things that keep them from offering up a periodic pint.
“We are asking people to go to www.redcrossblood.org to find a drive or make plans to donate,” Maiolo said.
Other ways to help
The American Red Cross is not the only option for responding to disaster needs. There are other organizations that are collecting money and items to help those impacted by the disasters.
The criminal justice program at South Hills School of Business and Technology is taking donations of items including bottled water, cleaning supplies, non-perishable food, baby items and diapers, toys and more to ship to Houston. Those items, as well as cash donations, are being accepted at the State College location at 480 Waupelani Drive. The program will also pick up donations if arrangements are made by calling 234-7755 and leaving a message for Jen Stover.
Donations will be accepted until Sept. 15.