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Roanoke Red Cross Stands Ready to Help Locally and Nationally

Roanoke Red Cross volunteers assist at the site of a tornado in Pulaski County.

by Melvin E. Matthews, Jr.

A fourteen-year veteran with the American Red Cross, Amy Whittaker, public relations officer with the organization’s Roanoke Valley chapter, is quite proud of the volunteers who contribute their time and talents to the organization’s mission of preventing and preparing for emergencies and, if need be, answering the call of help. “That’s what we’re doing here each and every day,” she says.  “I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Whittaker characterizes the volunteers involved with the Roanoke Red Cross as “just phenomenal.  They do so many great things for the community, and that really attracted me.”

Due to recent disasters (tornadoes in Southwestern Virginia, the South and Midwest, flooding in Mississippi), the Red Cross has been quite busy.  In such situations the organization’s mission is two-fold.  First, it meets the immediate needs—food, shelter, clothing, emotional support, and basic health necessities – arising from a disaster. Once those needs are met, issues involving long-term recovery and what further assistance families may require, are addressed.

Whittaker explains that in carrying out its mission, the Roanoke Valley Red Cross (based at 352 Church Ave. SW) concentrates first on the local area and then other parts of the nation when called upon:  “Right before the tornado struck in Washington County our mobile feeding unit was dispatched to Mississippi,” says Whittaker. “Two of our volunteers traveled to Mississippi and provided services there.” The Roanoke Valley chapter was also on site in Pulaski County when tornadoes struck there recently.

As for the current flooding in Mississippi and the Joplin tornado, Whittaker says the Roanoke chapter hasn’t received word from the Red Cross’s national office about sending additional volunteers from the Roanoke area to help out in those localities, “Should that occur we have people who can pack their bags and leave within two hours,” says Whittaker. “[But] there have been so many responses across the South.  They need additional people. If they request our mobile feeding unit, we’ll put that on stand-by.  We call on our volunteers just to assess their availability, and then we wait.”

In addition to its disaster relief and blood donation programs, the local Red Cross office teaches CPR and first aid courses in schools, churches, and companies. It will soon offer a Learn to Swim program that, while primarily directed at children, also attracts adults.

Another, lesser-known Red Cross program connects military service personnel with their families. “Our job at the Red Cross,” Whittaker says, “is to bridge the gap between servicemen [and] women.  They’re serving around the world, and their families are back home.  If there’s an emergency situation that comes up and communication needs to get to that serviceman or woman, that’s what the Red Cross is here to do.”

In one instance, several years ago, the home of a nine-months pregnant woman was flooded.  With everything in her husband’s name she couldn’t access their home insurance records.  The Red Cross reached her husband’s commanding officer and arranged to bring him home. “It’s a very critical bridge that we provide for the servicemen and women and their families back home,” adds Whittaker.

Those interested in volunteering for the Red Cross can call the 985-3535 or visit the Red Cross office.  “We have more than 800 volunteers just here in the Roanoke Valley that are providing services every day,” Whittaker says.  “This is a volunteer-led organization.  We can’t do what we do without [them]. They’re on the front lines.”

All training is provided Whittaker added, “Some may have great computer skills … [others] may prefer to [travel to] a disaster affected area.  Some might want to [teach] a health and safety type class.  There are many opportunities – it just depends on the talent and the skills of the volunteer. We certainly have a place for them.”




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