The American Red Cross is not a building of bricks and mortar, but rather people volunteering their time in an organized effort to help others affected by disaster.
However, the sale of the Labette County Chapter’s Red Cross building at 1921 Crawford in 2016, and replacement of the county chapters with regional chapters, seriously impacted the number of volunteers.
“While it helped with overhead, it didn’t do anything for community awareness,” said Red Cross independent instructor and volunteer Jonathan Tower.
For Labette County, long touted as the most active chapter in Southeast Kansas since its beginnings in 1917, the number went from 21 volunteers to one, and now there are only three for all of Southeast Kansas. With the physical building gone, people perceived the Red Cross as gone from the area too, though it has continued its presence serving people to the best of one person’s ability the last couple of years.
Tower is working to change that, hoping to restore volunteer manpower to the organization in Labette County, which was heavily impacted by COVID-19.
Tower has devoted 44 years to volunteering for the American Red Cross, and has kept its mission alive locally through the American Red Cross of Southeast Kansas.
“I’m going to do this until I am physically at a point I can’t stand up. My personal goal is to beat Rhodelma Bell’s 70-year point. I’m at 44, that gives me a little less than 30 to go,” Tower said. “People didn’t used to quit the chapter. They either moved or they retired, kind of thing, which I thought was very nice. … Most Red Cross volunteers today have 10 years or less.”
In the last year, he said, he and the two other volunteers in Southeast Kansas assisted at more than 400 residential fire calls this last year.
“We could do more,” he said, but more volunteers are desperately needed, as there are many families and the three could not be there to help. Perhaps, he said, there are families who didn’t even know Red Cross help is still available.
Tower said the Red Cross still provides families with a prepaid card that will allow them to obtain a hotel room for a few nights, or purchase basic needs following a residential fire. If volunteers can be at the fire, they hand it to the families at that moment, rather than trying to connect a day or so later.
Tower wants to check with area fire departments in surrounding counties in Southeast Kansas and see if there are areas where there are residential fires, but no calls to Red Cross, so he can visit with their fire departments about help being available for families.
Old lists of volunteers are still at Tower’s disposal. Some have died. Some have moved, but there are a few who are still around and he is hoping to recruit them back, as well as new volunteers.
Most volunteer training is online nowadays. For people who are not computer savvy, Tower said he plans to have a class to assist, so anyone can get their training.
He has scheduled a Red Cross Volunteer Recruitment Event, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Labette Center for Mental Health Services Community Room, 1730 Belmont. Use the west entrance. If you cannot be present for the event, but are interested in volunteering, please call Tower at (620) 920-9404.
He has also continued to host CPR and first aid classes the second Saturday of every month in Labette City at the Labette Baptist Church. As well, he still provides that training on location at businesses, when requested, and he teaches BLS (basic life support), to the medical side.
Volunteers are especially needed to help should there be a need for emergency shelters due to a disaster. Tower said it could be up to 72 hours before outside disaster relief help would arrive and provide aid.
There is still a Red Cross emergency trailer stored behind the hospital to aid in response to disaster relief. The other trailer is stored in Coffeyville. There are supplies still stored in Coffeyville. Tower still belongs to the Labette Emergency Planning Committee, and stays informed of what the county is doing and is available to pull in supplies if they are needed. He said there is still a list of shelters, but they have not been visited for a number of years, so he will be going out and checking on facilities used as emergency shelters to ensure all are still available should there be a need due to flooding, ice storms, tornadoes or other disaster. The county has been fortunate in recent years to not be impacted by any major disasters. He wants to make sure the list is accurate and up to date. Still, they will need trained people to help in setting up shelters.
“The personnel supply part is what we are lacking, so what we want to do is build on that and try to recreate that so there are people to respond,” Tower said. “I will be there mentoring, to get people so they are comfortable. A lot of it is automated anymore, as far as how we do cases and provide the financial assistance.”
Tower said he plans to have a presence at Katy Days, Pecanfest, Oswegofest, the Labette County Fair, maybe Flag Day and others. He said he is also willing to get up and speak before groups when he can fit it into his schedule.
“I think the best way to remind people we are still here, is they need to see a physical presence,” Tower said. “I’ve always believed you need to engage with the entire county. … I’m not sure we will be as huge as when we had our structure, but we can start the presence so we can continue doing the services we do.
“If I get the backyard fixed first, then I will expand out from there, for us to do more.”
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