VALDOSTA -- The financial crunch affecting the American Red Cross isn't leaving the local chapter unscathed.

The Valdosta chapter of the American Red Cross is responsible for servicing Brooks, Clinch, Echols, Lanier and Lowndes counties.

Layoffs are occurring on the national level. Locally, the Red Cross was forced to eliminate a full-time receptionist position that had been in place for more than five years. There won't be a replacement, said Bonnie Pfiester, member of the Valdosta chapter board of directors.

Fifty percent of the local chapter's funding comes from the United Way. It relies on the remainder from the local campaigns and contributions, Pfiester added.

The American Red Cross is responsible for providing food, shelter and clothing for its clients. One thing that Penelope White, executive director with the Valdosta chapter, would like to start is a mass care service that would supply food and drink for both natural disasters and man-made disasters, Pfiester said.

An example of how the financial cutback can affect the local chapter is a local fire that affected a family of six that included four adults and two children last Thursday.

The family was provided with three comfort kits that included toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, razors and other toiletries.

Another part of the American Red Cross Single Fire Service for the family included $75 each for the four adults for clothing, $25 each for the two children, $175 for two hotel rooms for three nights and a flat rate of $15 for the family for the food bank. The total amount to assist the family was $590, Pfiester said.

It's important and psychologically uplifting to replace items with new items as part of healing process and if funding is available, additional services could be offered, she said.

"In an average year, we manage 30 to 40 single family fires, and that is about 100 to 150 people a year," Pfiester said.

A common misconception about the Red Cross is that it's only a blood donor service.

It's much more, Pfiester said.

The Red Cross trains about 300 people a year to work in disaster shelters, and it also maintains a disaster trailer stocked in case of emergencies.

In addition, it also teaches first aid and other safety classes, she said.

The second misconception is the American Red Cross receives its funding nationally. "We're only as good as our own community allows us to be," Pfiester said.

There are two different services offered by the American Red Cross: The blood donor center located at 2517 Bemiss Road and the Valdosta Chapter located at 517 N. Patterson St. on the second floor.

To contact reporter Rip Prine, please call 244-3400, ext. 237.

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