A group of Scotland County veterans were briefed this week on current Red Cross efforts to assist victims of natural disasters.
American Red Cross of Scotland and Robeson Counties Executive Director Carol Ann Lentz spoke to a recent meeting of the Scotland County Military Retirees Association. Lentz detailed the extent of the Red Cross effort to help those displaced and left without power by super storm Sandy last week.
“This is the largest response the Red Cross has had in five years,” Lentz said. “We’re not sure if it’s going to surpass Katrina or not. In addition to responding to their immediate needs, we’ll help with the recovery. This is going to be a long time out, and we can’t say how long it’s going to be nor how much it’s going to cost, because we really don’t know the whole scope of it yet.”
The Red Cross has 320 emergency response vehicles nationwide, all of which have been pressed into service in the northeast. Over 5,300 volunteers are in the area manning shelter and feeding stations and providing transportation and care for those forced from their homes by the storm.
On Sunday , Lentz said, more than 9,000 people spent the night in 113 Red Cross shelters in the region. Throughout this week, Red Cross workers have been performing several duties: both assisting those left stranded by Sandy as well as preparing for a winter storm that hit the area on Wednesday and Thursday.
“In addition to what has already happened, there’s a nor’easter coming,” said Lentz. “It’s heading down the east coast and we’re preparing to respond to that. Volunteers are checking with folks who live in high-rises and can’t get down. You’ve seen on the news, some of them are in their houses and haven’t been able to get out.”
Lentz also stressed the Red Cross’ role as an immediate responder to those who wanted to know how they can help.
“One of the things that we’ve gotten a lot of phone calls about is people who want to send clothes, who want to send furniture,” she said. “If you’ve seen the news, some of these folks don’t have a house so they don’t have any place to put those things. And think about it, if each one of us brought clothes, how much is it going to cost the Red Cross to get those clothes up there where they’re needed, and how long is it going to take, and where are they going to put them when they get there?”
While donations of physical items create a logistical problem for the organization, monetary donations allow the Red Cross to provide immediate assistance where it is most needed. Clothes, furniture, and other items are best donated to local charities.
“We encourage people to give to Church and Community Services, to the hospital auxiliary, to the Helping Hand, to all of these different places,” said Lentz. “They do that and they do it well. What the Red Cross does well is to respond to these people immediately.”
Lentz mentioned that the severe weather in the northeast has forced the cancellation of hundreds of blood drives. Sgt. William Swift, a U.S. Army retiree, asked why many retired military members are barred from donating blood.
“I got back from Desert Storm in 1991 and I have hosted blood drives for 18 years in Marlboro County, but I can’t give any blood because I’ve been in Iraq and all the other countries,” Swift said. “When will somebody open up so that people like us can give blood? People like us who have been back for 20 or 25 years, and you still say that we can’t give blood.”
Federally-mandated restrictions on blood donors apply not only to the Red Cross, which does collect nearly half of the U.S. blood supply, said Lentz.
“We have to go by government guidelines, and the government says that anybody who has been over there from this date to that date can never give because of the mad cow issues,” she said. “And if we don’t go by the government guidelines, we’re fined, and it’s not a small fine.”
Lentz also encouraged the 15 military retirees present to get involved with the Red Cross’ Christmas care package drive. In partnership with American Legion Post 50, the Red Cross is collecting items to be sent to the troops in Afghanistan.
Suggested items include cookies, Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, granola bars, nuts, trail mix, snack crackers, gum, beef jerky, drink mix packets that can be added to a bottle of water, and other prepackaged snacks. In addition, toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, shower gel, shampoo, deodorant, lotion, reusable cleaning cloths, and lens cleaners are also welcome.
“Our guys in Afghanistan are not getting the care packages that they did at one time,” said Lentz. “There are lists of some of the things that they have asked for, that they actually need. One of the things that kind of shocked me was lens cleaners to clean their goggles and eyeglasses. That’s just something that I took for granted, but think about it when they’re over there what do they have plenty of: sand. And if they can’t see, they’re not safe.”
Items can be dropped off until Nov. 16 at the American Red Cross Office at 501-A Westwood Way or at the Scotch Meadows Country Club pro shop.