Red Cross of the Chesapeake Region still serves Southern Maryland

Our primary thing when responding to disasters is to take care of people, no matter what. We want to make sure they have a place to stay, they have food, they have clothing.

Although the American Red Cross of the Chesapeake Region recently had to close the office of the Southern Maryland chapter in La Plata, Regional Executive Frank Miller wants to make sure the public knows that Red Cross services will still be provided in the area.

During a public meeting Tuesday at the Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant in Chesapeake Beach, Miller said the American National Red Cross is about $600 million in debt. He said the major reasons for the debt are a new FDA requirement that the Red Cross implement a new computer tracking system and the human services systems of the organization. Miller said the Red Cross realized it needed to change the way it operated.

Miller said the Red Cross chapters of Maryland and Delaware came together to discuss how the organization could raise more money while also make reductions in spending and costs, but no goal was ever met. In the end, the Chesapeake Region’s budget was cut and its fundraising goal was raised each by 28 percent.

“It got to the point where we just couldn’t keep the facility open and we couldn’t keep the staff, so we made that transition in September,” Miller said.

After the La Plata office closed, a new office that Miller said was donated to the organization opened in Prince Frederick. Miller said there still were questions raised about whether the Red Cross would still be able to provide services in the area. “We kept reinforcing, yes, we are going to provide services for the area.”

Miller said the Chesapeake Region now serves Western, Central and Southern Maryland. The three main services the Red Cross will continue to provide to those areas are disaster response, health and safety training and service to the military.

Miller said no matter what the disaster, there is going to be a Red Cross disaster action team volunteer who responds to the scene. “Our primary thing when responding to disasters is to take care of people, no matter what. We want to make sure they have a place to stay, they have food, they have clothing. We’re going to make sure that people are served directly.”

Health and safety training is the second priority for the Red Cross, Miller said, and CPR and first aid training will still be provided. “We’re committed to doing that,” he said.

The Chesapeake Region is now involved with helping families deal with the death of a family member who serves in the military. “We’re heavily involved in casualty support with families.”

Those are the three main areas of support the Red Cross will offer to the area until more volunteers are available to reinstate other programs and services, Miller said.

Miller said the main need to the area is more disaster action team volunteers. “The primary need is volunteers for the disaster action team. We need to recruit and train more people,” he said, adding that there is a strong core in the area that needs to expand because if a major hurricane or other disaster were to hit, shelters would not be staffed adequately.

Joyce Lloyd, a current disaster action team volunteer, said her main job when she responds to a disaster scene is to help the victims think.

“It’s hard for them to do that in a crisis,” Lloyd said. She said she helps them figure out what to do as far as contacting their insurance company if they have insurance, where they can stay, whether they should board up their house and where they can shelter their pets. She also helps them find clothing and food.

“I don’t leave the scene of a disaster until I make sure they have a place to stay and are taken care of,” Lloyd said.

Miller said Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties are also a “significant part” of the Red Cross blood program, providing more than 8,000 units of blood last year.

Red Cross volunteer Bob Fulton said he started giving blood in 1971 because he would get an hour or two off of work. One evening, he received a call that a 7-week-old infant needed a blood transfusion.

“I realized it was more important than just getting time off of work,” Fulton said. “It meant keeping people alive.”

Fulton said he continues to give blood now, and also teaches CPR and first aid for the Red Cross in Calvert County.

The Red Cross also offers training on pet first aid. Volunteer Ellen Bowie said she began teaching pet first aid in about 2003 because she has a passion for pets and animals.

Miller said more than 90 percent of the work done by the Red Cross is because of the volunteers who have “a passion for compassion.” He said he wants to keep the Chesapeake Region community based, so local volunteers can respond quickly to disasters in their area.

“We’re trying to get more people to know how to respond in emergency and disaster situations,” Miller said.

To volunteer for the Red Cross of the Chesapeake Region, call 410-624-2023, or for more information, visit www.redcross.org./cmd