Red Cross has record year, deserves support more than ever

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The end of the world supposedly predicted by the Mayans turned out to be a non-event, and we've avoided $8-a-gallon milk and a plunge over the "fiscal cliff" -- for the time being, at least.

But that doesn't mean we avoided every disaster in 2012, just ask the American Red Cross, which experienced a record year last year.

According to a news release from the Omaha office, Nebraska and Southwest Iowa had more than their share of the record 113 large relief operations in 42 states.

"Hurricane Sandy dominated the news coverage, but it wasn't the only disaster that disrupted lives in 2012," said Tina Labellarte, Region CEO. "Here in Nebraska and southwest Iowa, the Red Cross responded to an early-season tornado in Thurman, Iowa, and wildfires across Nebraska that damaged many businesses and homes."

An EF2 twister ripped through Thurman, Iowa, on April 14, destroying nearly 75 percent of the small town's buildings. Thirty-five Red Cross volunteers and staff provided more than 3,000 meals and snacks, an emergency shelter was opened and Emergency Response Vehicles made sure affected families received the food, clothes, shelter, information and referrals they needed.

Nebraskans may have been more familiar with the lightning-sparked "Fairfield Creek Fire" that engulfed almost 100,000 acres and was only the largest of several fires that struck north-central Nebraska.

With the help of the Oregon Trail Baptist Association, 21 Red Cross staff members and volunteers opened a shelter in Ainsworth and provided 103 overnight stays to more than 70 residents and responders. For eight days, the two groups provided and prepared 6,100 nutritious meals and snacks to more than 500 men and women on the front line, as well as other residents, volunteers and emergency responders.

And the disasters didn't let up come cold weather. Just five days before Christmas, a wicked winter storm dumped more than 8 inches of snow on most of Nebraska and southwest Iowa, coupling with strong winds that stranded travelers and knocked power out for thousands of residents.

The Red Cross opened shelters in Holdrege, Geneva and Omaha, serving 46 stranded motorists and thousands of people in Omaha who were without electricity and heat.

It's almost a routine part of local news stories that the Red Cross was contacted to help provide shelter for families who lose their homes to fire or find themselves stranded by bad weather or travel mishaps. But, it's the major disasters like Hurricane Sandy, and events like the mass shootings in Connecticut, the shopping mall in Oregon or the theater in Aurora, Colorado, that get the most attention, and after the emergency response officials, the Red Cross is often the first to arrive to help those affected.

In 2012, the American Red Cross helped almost 3 million people, at 13 disasters in more than 20 countries. That included Bolivia, Peru, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Panama. Assistance was also sent to Senegal, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mauritania, Mali and Malawi to help people affected by food shortages, as well as a drought in Paraguay.

We haven't even mentioned the vital role the Red Cross plays in collections and distributions to make our blood supply the safest in the world. Clearly, the Red Cross deserves our support. You can do so by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767), texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or donating to your local Red Cross chapter or by mail to P.O. Box 37243, Washington DC 20013.

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