After the Storm

WAXAHACHIE, TX —  As the Dallas division of the American Red Cross celebrates its centenary in 2011, the Waxahachie affiliate’s busy staff and volunteers pause to reflect on their own contributions to providing disaster relief to communities near and far. Locally, the Red Cross aided victims of the January fire that destroyed three historic downtown structures, and

has helped families recover from the July fire that devastated 300 acres of north Ellis County. But the office has also responded nationally, supplying emergency personnel to tornado-ravaged Alabama and Missouri. “It’s been overwhelming this year,” admitted Shelly Campbell, manager of the Red Cross’ Ellis County branch. “From the [spring] storms to the flooding in Mississippi, we’ve been meeting the physical needs of those who lost their homes and loved ones, while looking after the emotional needs of our workers who have witnessed the devastation.”

Jeannie McCarty, emergency services specialist for the Red Cross in Waxahachie and Corsicana said the group could not have performed its role without the over 70 area volunteers, who devote themselves to comforting those affected by tragedy, whether at home or out-of-state. “Our volunteers are the best, both here and throughout the organization,” she said, “from the highest leadership levels to boots in the field.”

Shelly agreed. “About 93 percent of the Red Cross is made up of volunteers. The crux of the whole organization is volunteerism.”

This year marks another milestone for the Red Cross — the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. “Waxahachie volunteers will be part of the nationwide event to recognize and honor our first responders,” Shelly said. “We have plans to present a new collectors’ pin to honor those affected and those who served on 9/11.” A dedication to recognize the responders who played a role on 9/11 will be held at the Red Cross’ 4800 Harry Hines command center.

“I was compelled on 9/11 to be a part of helping people cope and recover from disaster,” Shelly explained. “I volunteered that week and started training.” On that infamous morning, Shelly was at home
in Rockett, safe and sound, but four members of her family were on national flights. Her husband was traveling on business, her mother- and father-in-law law had just left on vacation, and her brother-in-law was piloting the family Cessna. “They were all grounded across the country,” Shelly recalled. “It took my husband four days to get home. So September 11 was a very scary day for me.”

Working for the Red Cross restored her confidence. “The Red Cross is prepared,” she said, “and being prepared relieves anxiety. We know where we are going to shelter people, how we are going to bring food in, and we meet quarterly to determine how to effectively deliver other disaster services.”

Jeannie’s involvement with the Red Cross is also a testament to its efficiency. “I am a volunteer firefighter in Chatfield,” Jeannie said. “It’s an awful thing when the fire is over and you have to leave a family standing on the curb. That’s where the American Red Cross steps in, and seeing that motivated me to join.”

Shelly and Jeannie have been to hundreds of fires and other disaster sites over the years, and have learned to deal with each crisis on their feet, marshaling volunteers and supplies while quickly directing the 130-cot shelter trailer to wherever it’s required. “It’s very emotional helping families who have suffered,” Shelly confessed. “But it’s so rewarding.”

That’s particularly true in a season that has been so demanding for the Red Cross – currently over 40 disaster relief operations are ongoing nationwide. “Not since September 11 have there been so many,” Shelly pointed out. With shocking losses on the home front, like Waxahachie’s fire, work has only intensified. “That was a very traumatic fire,” Shelly said. “We were on the square all day, providing breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as water and Gatorade, to the many first responders.” Jeannie and Shelly agree that peace of mind also comes from knowing they can rely on a solid network of other relief agencies in Ellis County through VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) — a partnering team made up of RACES/ARES amateur radio, Salvation Army, Mark 9 Search and Rescue, Texas Baptist Men, Ellis County Christian Disaster Relief, Victims Relief, Texas Civil Defense and the Office of Emergency Management.

The women are proud of the work the Red Cross has accomplished over the decades, but especially during 2011, a record year for disasters internationally. Since March, on an anticipated budget of $51 million, the Red Cross has launched 42 disaster-relief operations across 29 states, has served 2.8 million meals, opened 260 shelters, funded 29,000 overnight stays, arranged 64,000 mental health consultations, distributed 1.3 million comfort kits and deployed 12,000 disaster relief workers from all 50 states.

Volunteerism is the focus of the Dallas chapter of the Red Cross’ centenary theme “History Builds Tomorrow,” and Shelly and Jeannie encourage residents to join the Red Cross and receive training at Navarro College for a variety of positions with the organization. “We have volunteers for every job,” Jeannie said. “Volunteers can be part of the on-call team that responds to every single family that suffers a fire, storm or is displaced by disaster. They can be a volunteer instructor, coordinator or trainer, or they can be assessors who survey damages in the field and report back.” Volunteers can also take CPR, First Aid and other lifesaving courses.

Donations are equally important, the women stress. “The most common misunderstanding is that the American Red Cross is a government agency,” Shelly said. “We’re not. We’re 100-percent dependent on donations.” Although guided by a Congressional charter, the Red Cross does not receive federal or state funds.

A special feature of the 2011 pledge drive is geared toward children and stars Piper the Puppy, the stuffed animal mascot for the Red Cross. “Kids often lose the most in a disaster,” Shelly said. “And Piper can help. For a $100 donation people can sponsor a child and their family as they recover from a disaster.” Donations ensure the child has food, a cot, a comfort kit (containing toiletries), a blanket and a Piper to cuddle. Jeannie noted that those sponsoring the kids’ drive will be notified when their Piper is delivered to a child who has suffered from a disaster.

“Whatever the need in an emergency, the American Red Cross is ready to help,” Shelly concluded. A lifeline for people in the Dallas area since 1911, the Red Cross, with the continued help of volunteers and donors, will remain a vital player in making the best out of the worst for another hundred years.

For more information on how you can help or volunteer visit www.redcrossdallas.org or call (903) 874-4551.

Written by Randy Bigham.