VALDOSTA -- Within the past year, the Valdosta Chapter of the American Red Cross has helped more than 3,500 people with various needs.
Over 150 of those were victims of natural and man-made disasters -- house or apartment fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hazardous material spills, transportation accidents, explosions, and other disasters.
"In the last couple of years, we have had to shelter evacuees from hurricanes," said Penelope White, chapter director. "We provide them with a safe place to stay and something to eat and drink."
White said chapter representatives have been busy training local churches to serve as Red Cross shelters.
"We want to have more space," White said. "We used to have only one shelter. Now we have four in Valdosta, which can serve about 1,000 people."
Valdosta's American Red Cross chapter helps displaced families with their immediate emergency needs of food, clothing, and shelter. They also assist these individuals with resuming their normal daily activities.
Equipped with the latest computer and telecommunications technology, the Red Cross offers 24-hour emergency communication services to active duty military personnel and their families.
"Often we verify and report information regarding births, deaths, family surgeries, and family hardship," White said. "For example, a woman may call us because she has just given birth to a child and her husband is either overseas or away at training somewhere. In that situation, we verify the birth and send a message to the military commanding officer about the birth. If it's possible for the person to come home, the commanding officer will make that decision."
White experienced this service firsthand when she gave birth to her son while her husband was in the Navy.
Red Cross officials also provide emergency financial assistance, counseling, veterans assistance and aid in the field.
More than 300 people affiliated with the military have been assisted by the Valdosta chapter of the American Red Cross this year.
In addition to serving the needs of those in difficult situations, the Red Cross is dedicated to teaching people of all ages about health and safety issues. Red Cross training ranges from first aid and CPR to swimming and lifeguarding to HIV/AIDS education to programs like the babysitter's training course.
White said more than 3,000 people received some form of health and safety or disaster training this year.
"The most frequent courses are CPR and first aid," White said. "We open those classes up to the public twice a month. We want to offer these programs because we believe that people respond to emergencies in a much calmer manner if they know something about what to do ahead of time. Training gives people more confidence in an emergency situation."
Finally, the Red Cross works with a global network to "restore hope and dignity to the world's vulnerable people."
White said last year an International Humanitarian Law training course was offered in Valdosta for those who needed to learn the principals of the International Red Cross organization.
"The International Red Cross organization is the group who assists prisoners of war and makes aid available to people in impoverished countries. For example, we are over in Afghanistan right now helping out the native people."
White said volunteers are a big part of their success.
"We have approximately 50 volunteers for every paid staff member," White said. "It is because of this large number of volunteers that the work gets done."
Of course, none of these programs would be possible without the help of the United Way of Lowndes County.
"This chapter would not be able to function if not for the United Way agency," White said. "About 75 percent of our budget comes from United Way funds. We would not be here without their help."
For information about volunteer opportunities with the Valdosta Chapter of the American Red Cross, please call 242-7404.
For information about the United Way of Lowndes County, please call 242-2208 or 245-1222.
onations can be mailed to the United Way of Lowndes County at P.O. Box 925, Valdosta, Ga. 31603.
To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.
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