This November, the American Red Cross encourages eligible donors to give the perfect gift – a blood donation – to help ensure a sufficient blood supply throughout the holiday season.
A decline in donations occurs from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day while donors are busy with family gatherings and travel. However, patients don’t get a holiday break from needing lifesaving transfusions. In fact, every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.
The Red Cross encourages donors to start a new holiday tradition and bring family and friends together to donate blood or platelets. Donors of all blood types are needed this November to help ensure a sufficient supply for hospital patients. As a thank you for donating around the Thanksgiving holiday, all those who come to donate Nov. 24-28 will be invited to download a set of recipes from celebrity chefs.
The American Red Cross has unveiled the free Hero Care mobile application. It’s designed to help members of the military, veterans and their families identify and access both emergency and non-emergency Red Cross services from anywhere in the world.
“Whether you’re the parent of a child joining the military, a military member, a military spouse or a veteran, the Hero Care App will connect you to vital services and guide you to valuable resources that will help alleviate stress during emergencies and provide important information right at your fingertips,” said Jason Ramlow, director of Services to the Armed Forces for the 62-county Western Missouri Region.
“When an emergency happens, accurate information, easy access to services and time are of the essence, especially for military families. That’s why the Red Cross has designed the new Hero Care App,” he added.
Some the important features of the app include:
Request Red Cross emergency services including an emergency message or assistance with emergency travel or emergency financial aid.
Securely and easily access information about their service member in the case of an emergency, including updated information as they move or change duty assignments.
Access non-emergency Red Cross behavioral health assistance including financial assistance and free local workshops for military kids and spouses.
Find local resources and information provided by trusted community partners like Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Blue Star Families, Military Child Education Coalition, United Way, Goodwill, Easter Seals, and others.
Locate information on key government resources such as MilitaryOneSource, VA Benefits and Services, Department of Labor VETS, the VA Caregiver Support Program, and SAMSHA Community Health Support Services.
Content in the Hero Care App is available in both English and Spanish, and the call center is staffed 24/7 with multi-lingual translation services.
The Hero Care App is available to download for free in app stores, by texting ‘GETHEROCARE’ to 90999 or by clicking on the following link from a mobile device http://3cu.be/sharehc.
When members of the military return home from deployments, they may face fresh challenges as they reunite with their families. The initial elation at being together again can give way to frustration in confronting the reality that lives have changed during the months or years apart.
Through its free Reconnection Workshops, the American Red Cross can help returning military members and their families recognize and deal with difficult issues that may arise when they reunite.
A child may have taken on new responsibilities during a parent’s absence and fears losing that status, for example, or the returning service member may not recognize that a spouse or partner changed during their time apart.
And communication that once was easy may suddenly be complicated.
“Returning service members may not be sure exactly how they feel, so their body language may be at odds with their words and facial expressions,” says Barry Kramer, a Missouri Department of Mental Health professional and longtime volunteer with the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces division in Kansas City.
The Reconnection Workshops are open to all branches of the Armed Forces, including active-duty personnel, the Reserves and the National Guard. Led by licensed mental health professionals like Barry who receive special training on military culture in addition to their Red Cross training, the workshops address such issues as communicating clearly after long periods of separation and the effects of stress and trauma.
Barry describes the Reconnection Workshops – which are confidential — as concrete, practical and highly interactive. They include exercises in such scenarios as a mother returning from deployment and finding her toddler distant and afraid of her, or the parents of a young, single serviceman becoming estranged when he turns out to be far from the son they knew before his deployment.
“The workshops are not therapy,” says Barry, who entered the Army at 17 and notes that he was hardly the same person when he left active duty at 20. “Each one is truly a learning workshop – what to expect, how to deal with the reality of what’s coming in.”
With growing numbers of military members serving multiple deployments over the past 15 years, the Reconnection Workshops are increasingly attracting families with loved ones in the National Guard and Reserves.
And in 2015, Service to the Armed Forces expanded the workshops to include two designed specifically for young children and teens: “Roger That! Communication Counts” and “Operation 10-4: Confident Coping.”
“For families in regular active duty, kids go to school with others in their same situations,” Barry says. “With the Guard and Reserves, they may not even have anyone in the area to talk to and commiserate with about their experiences.”
Throughout the 62-county region of the Western Missouri Red Cross, Reconnection Workshops can be scheduled wherever they are requested and held at any convenient site, even in a private home.
That was the question asked of American Red Cross volunteers Walt Davis and Doug Bebee from the Greater Kansas City Chapter when Hurricane Matthew reached the East Coast.
Its trail of destruction included four states — Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina — and total damage was still being assessed. But they already knew a lot of help was needed.
Yes, they could deploy. After packing and making sure the Emergency Response Vehicle was good to go, Walt, a retired Army officer, and Doug, a retired firefighter, climbed into the ERV and drove two days from Kansas City to Savannah, Georgia.
As they approached Savannah, 26 other ERVs could be seen lined up at the highway.
“You get people that would pull over, wave, honk the horn as we passed. It was neat seeing all those vehicles lined up and ready to help,” Doug recalled.
But when they finally arrived to the ravaged area, reality struck.
“I didn’t expect the damage to be so bad. There were a lot of trees down, a lot of houses had damage, and a lot of people needed assistance,” he said.
The main mission for Walt and Doug was feeding those in need. For 10 days, they would wake up, get ready and receive their assignment. They mostly served lunch and dinner, either prepared meals from a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief field kitchen working with the Red Cross, or heater meals — precooked packages with a water-activated heater similar to the food served for the military.
The Baptists are long-time partners of the Red Cross, showing up at disasters with their field kitchens where they prepare and pack the meals to be delivered by volunteers like Walt and Doug.
On Georgia, Doug and Walt would either drop the meals off at fixed locations or drive to damaged areas bringing meals to where residents were working to salvage what they could.
“We would be moving around, honking the air horn and announcing on the loudspeaker, ‘Hey, this is the American Red Cross. We are here with hot food — if you’re hungry, come on down,’” Walt said.
Around 250 meals were served at lunch and dinner. Their work was not underappreciated. In some of the severely affected areas, people would approach the vehicle and thank them for their work, saying they were the first people to have offered to come by and help.
“And so we would tell them, ‘That’s what the Red Cross is all about. This won’t be the last time you’ll see us either.’ And they would have big smiles on their faces, probably the first time they smiled in a week because they had nothing to smile about. But we gave them something, and that was very rewarding,” Walt said.
Volunteering and helping people in need when a disaster strikes doesn’t come without personal sacrifices. This was Doug’s first Red Cross deployment, and not only did he use his vacation time from the distribution center where he now works to go to Georgia, but he also missed his 4-year-old grandson’s birthday party.
“He was wondering where grandpa was and, well, I was with the Red Cross,” Doug said.
However, his family understands the importance of his volunteer work, and supports and encourages him.
“I told my wife this was something I wanted to do, she agreed and let me go. She said she might be interested in doing this too, getting involved in it,” Doug said.
This was Walt’s third deployment – the first was to New Jersey to help with 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, and the second was to respond to the St. Louis floods earlier this year.
For Hurricane Sandy, Walt got a call the day before Thanksgiving. He spent Thanksgiving Day serving food and being away from his family. For the St. Louis floods, he was deployed on December 30, missing New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations.
“You have to sacrifice sometimes if you want to help, but it is worth it,” he said.
After a long day of helping communities recover from Hurricane Matthew, Walt and Doug would go back to a school gymnasium that served as a shelter for them and about 60 other Red Cross ERV volunteers.
Dealing with the stress of the day was not always easy, but volunteers quickly found that one way to cope was by playing volleyball and basketball in the gymnasium where they also slept.
“I can guarantee you it was not Olympic-level quality. Exactly the opposite. It was fun, though, it was a way to relax. And it helps establish camaraderie among the teams,” Walt said.
The volunteers tried to spend their free time playing sports, talking to their families and making jokes.
“You have to maintain a sense of humor when you’re on deployment. A laugh releases a lot of tension,” Walt said.
After 10 days in Georgia, it was time for Walt and Doug to return home to Kansas City. There’s no way to know when the next disaster will strike and when Walt and Doug will deploy again. However, one thing is certain: They are proud to be Red Cross volunteers and want to continue helping people recover after disasters.
If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer and help out in times of disaster, go to redcross.org and fill out the application.