Red Cross offers a helping hand in times of disaster

By Jennifer Lassiter
star staff

  When disaster strikes our nation there's always someone in need. Whether it's a devastating event like Sept. 11, a category five hurricane or a two-car pile-up on 19E, when an emergency occurs, assistance is essential.
  The American Red Cross was established to relieve some of those needs and help people in times of disaster, but the true heroes are volunteers and donors who support the backbone of the organization with their leg and well ... blood work.
  If you begin giving blood at the age of 17 and donate every 56 days until you reach the age of 76, you will donate about 48 gallons of blood, saving three different lives each time you donate.
  For people in the Carolina Region of the American Red Cross, blood is needed every day. The Carolina Region includes parts of North Carolina and East Tennessee. Carter, Johnson, Washington, Greene and Unicoi counties are included in the Carolina Region.
  Donor Recruitment Representative Tom Hensley works at the Johnson City fixed site location and throughout East Tennessee. His goal is to obtain sponsors and inform the public of their much needed services. "Blood needs to be donated before a national disaster, so that emergency blood can be provided immediately," Hensley said.
  During emergency situations, such as Sept. 11, the Red Cross extends hours and allows for more availability for people to donate. "We send out special notices to encourage blood donation and the urgency of situations," Hensley said.
  Currently, the Carolina Region is at less than a 2-day supply of most blood types, but bad weather in the days to come could drive donations lower.
  "Less than five percent of the eligible population gives blood, and 97 percent of the population will need blood," said Hensley.
  The Red Cross showed a 65 percent increase in blood donation on Sept. 11, 2001 according to records. The numbers dropped off below pre-Sept. 11 in 2002.
  Ed and Barbara Mead and their two daughters, Kim Mead Semcho and Rebecca Mead Anderson, came armed with lots of blood and big hearts this past Labor Day. The Johnson City family has not always done this ritual together. It was Ed's first time.
  "I feel like I've accomplished something today," he said. "We challenge other families to come out and do the same thing."
  Semcho gave blood for the first time in January of this year and decided to make it a routine. "If I can't use it, someone else can," Semcho said.
  Their close knit family decided giving blood was something they could do together. "What's an hour of your time when you have the potential to save three people's lives?" said Ed.
  The Meads saved 12 lives on the Monday holiday, which most people spend sunning at the lake or relaxing in the shade.
  According to Hensley, during holidays there is always a need for donors because more people are traveling.
  John McDaniel of Johnson City has donated approximately 10-1/2 gallons of blood over the last 30 years. There was only a short five-year period that he did not donate due to illness.
  McDaniel is one of several donors who dedicates their time every 56 days to give blood to someone in need.
  The Johnson City Service Center's Hours are 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday; 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday; and every third Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
  The Red Cross also has mobile units which travel to cites in the area for local sponsors of a blood drive. These mobile units can set up at a local high school, churches and other community centers.
  Hensley stressed the importance of the Red Cross Blood Services, but he is working toward building a strong relationship with the Red Cross disaster centers as well.
  Hensley works with Bridget Hurt at the local Red Cross in Elizabethton. According to Hurt, the Red Cross can help with single family disasters. "Flooding and house fires can put people out of their homes," Hurt said. "The Red Cross can help."
  The Red Cross in Elizabethton can provide shelter at a local hotel, groceries and clothing if necessary.
  Hurt said, "We've tried to get the word out, but a lot of people still don't know we're out here."
  The Red Cross disaster relief recently helped the McDonalds, who fell victim to Hurricane Frances. Hurt coordinated their short stay here by providing them with a hotel room for two days and nights, and a meal voucher.
  The Red Cross in Elizabethton offers citizens basic first aid and CPR classes. They provide a health and safety course as part of the health curriculum at Elizabethton High School as well.
  On Sept. 21 the Red Cross will be offering an Intro to Disaster Course from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. for anyone interested in working on a local or national level. The series of classes will allow people to help other families in times of disaster. For more information, please call 423-542-2833.