Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When Help Can't Wait

by Gordon Williams, Red Cross Volunteer

Look at just one disaster scene, work your way through one burned-out dwelling and you’ll understand why the Red Cross can’t wait in rushing help to disaster victims.

Until you see it first-hand, you can't imagine the devastation a fire can cause. A fire doubles in size every 30 seconds. As it spreads, it consumes everything in its path.

I've been in burned-out apartments where not a single piece of furniture was recognizable as such. What little that remained intact—clothing, a mattress, a child's beloved toy—was soaking wet and reeking of smoke. I have responded to hundreds of disasters in my seven years as a volunteer with the Greater New York Red Cross. A few responses stand out in my mind:

• A large family in Queens huddled on their back porch—the only part of their house not destroyed by fire.

• An elderly couple in Brooklyn, comforting each other as our Red Cross van pulled up. The husband had carried his disabled wife to safety but all they had accumulated over a lifetime—even the wife's wheelchair—was destroyed.

• A fire in lower Manhattan that spread over a city block and left hundreds of people homeless.

The Red Cross doesn't respond only to fires. We're on the scene at building collapses, storms, blackouts, vacate orders and more—any event that leaves people homeless.

A vacate order is issued when a government agency decides a building is unsafe for human occupancy. Because the occupants are considered to be at risk, they are given just a few hours to leave a place where they may have lived for years.

I remember a vacate in Harlem—ordered after the fire department determined that illegal renovations had made the building structurally unsound. More than 60 tenants needed Red Cross help.

The Crucial Role the Red Cross Plays

The Red Cross can't restore what was lost in a disaster. But we can—and do—help people through the critical first hours and days after disaster strikes. We provide meals, clothing, emergency financial assistance and a safe place to sleep. We help those affected deal with physical and mental health issues. Finally, Red Cross caseworkers can help people make longer-term plans to get their lives back on track

The Red Cross responds to an average of seven disasters a day in New York City alone—almost 2,300 responses a year. And that does not count the disaster responses by volunteers in the surrounding counties that are also part of the Greater New York Red Cross region. The people affected by disaster that we help—their need for assistance is acute and immediate. And there’s never a charge for Red Cross assistance. Our help is free to New Yorkers in need. It is paid for by gifts from donors big and small, from every walk of life.

Why Time is Running Out

There's a special reason right now why help can't wait. A loyal donor to the Red Cross has issued a Challenge Grant as part of our Greater New York “Help Can’t Wait” fundraising campaign. Thanks to that grant, donors can increase their gifts to the Red Cross by 50% (Your gift of $10 immediately becomes a $15 donation).

But time is short. We must raise $500,000 by June 30 to gain the benefit of that matching challenge. That's why, this time more than ever, help just can’t wait!

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