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Chicago Red Cross Plants Seeds for Citywide Service


Chicago is a city of diversity. A language other than English is spoken in 36 percent of Chicago homes—double the national statistic. And commercially, Chicago exceeds the national levels of businesses owned by Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians.

No organization knows about Chicago’s diverse community better than the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, and the resulting challenges of delivering Red Cross services to everyone.

The chapter has found innovative ways to increase its service delivery to the diverse ethnic groups throughout Chicago, expanding outreach to local Chinese, Indian, Haitian, Pakistani and Hispanic communities that have not traditionally been involved with the Red Cross.

American Red Cross Is Part of a Global Network

The United States might be new to recent immigrants, but the Red Cross is not.

Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are in more than 185 countries around the world, providing a range of services including disaster relief, health and social programs, and assistance to people affected by war. Working with the same trusted emblems, and united by common principles like neutrality, impartiality and independence, these societies mobilize more than 13 million active volunteers to help about 250 million people each year.

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago works hard to let the city’s robust international population know that the same Red Cross services are available in the United States.

“It’s imperative that we reach all the diverse communities so they can access our free services,” says Carrie Wall, manager of disaster and international services. “The collaborative opportunities and cultural exchange between the chapter and our various communities truly encapsulates the global network.”

Red Cross Service Programs Are for Everyone

To involve Chicago’s Hispanic community in the Red Cross, for example, the chapter launched an advertising campaign called “Mismas necesidades. Misma cruz roja.” (Same Needs, Same Red Cross). With nearly 200 million impressions on public transportation, the campaign has a huge impact and helps Latinos associate the Red Cross societies in Latin America with their local American Red Cross Chicago chapter.

Following the Haiti earthquake the chapter hosted 355 evacuees from Haiti. An old school and convent was transformed into a shelter with dorm-style sleeping and a kitchen in which to prepare meals.

Providing food, shelter, comfort and hope for so many evacuees required city-wide collaboration. The Red Cross worked with City of Chicago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, transportation giant United Airlines and others once Chicago was designated a recipient city.

The Red Cross also worked with community partners, including 15 Haitian community agencies. Partners guided the Red Cross on the kinds of food appropriate to Haitian diets. Partners also provided supplies—especially winter clothing for hundreds of people thrust from Port-au-Prince where the average January temperature low is 68° to a city in which the average January low is 15°.

During the Pakistani floods the chapter again found partnerships to be just the right conduit to reach local ethnic communities.

Following the devastating floods in Pakistan, the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago wanted the local Pakistani community to know that Red Cross services were available, including help in locating and communicating with loved ones, and mental health support. To spread the message that the Red Cross can help, the chapter worked through Pakistani-managed media, businesses and community agencies.

Another opportunity for coordination between the chapter and an ethnic community came with the Measles Initiative. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago engaged the local Indian community in hosting a fundraising event to support life-saving measles vaccinations for children, raising $3,500. That is enough money to vaccinate—and save the lives of—3,500 children. Around the world, three of four children who died from measles in 2008 lived in India.

National Recognition

Casting an inclusive net has won the Chicago chapter the prestigious American Red Cross International Humanitarian Service Award. Receiving the award puts the chapter in good company—past recipients include the Mexican Red Cross, Volunteers of the Lebanese Red Cross, workers from the Save the Children Federation, and more.

The chapter, however, works inclusively for not for rewards, but for results. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago gets a fantastic return on its investment because it is well-known and well-respected in all of the city’s neighborhoods. When disaster strikes, the Red Cross is positioned to provide services to those individuals who are most in need, regardless of what language is spoken at home.