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On the Ground in Nepal and the Philippines

This post was written in September 2015 by Niki Clark, a member of the American Red Cross’s international communications team who was deployed to Nepal following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the country in April.

Niki and her pigletI am boarding a plane to Tacloban—a city on the island of Leyte, in the Philippines. It’s one of those small aircraft that you have to walk out on the runway to embark. When I land, just an hour and a half later, I am overwhelmed by the colors, a setting sun on crystal blue waters. The airport is tiny, and we are welcomed by a band of greeters singing in the local dialect. The airport in Kathmandu, Nepal—from where I just arrived—is also small, filled with local characters. Like Tacloban, it also boasts an amazing view.

I have this unique opportunity to visit two countries that are in very different post-disaster stages: Nepal four months after an earthquake and the Philippines nearly two years after a Category 5 typhoon.

I’ve been gone most of the summer, leaving the hustle and bustle of D.C. for Nepal, where I was working in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes that struck there in April and May. Then, straight to the Philippines to gather stories about how people are recovering from Typhoon Haiyan, which struck nearly two years ago.

It’s a fascinating perspective to have, four months vs. two years. In Nepal, the emergency phase is now transitioning to recovery; long-term staff replacing emergency disaster specialists; Red Cross field hospitals handed over to the community health centers; plans shifting from emergency relief to rebuilding people’s way of earning income and communities’ infrastructure.

In the Philippines, the recovery phase is well underway. Schools have been repaired, many with new water pumps and infrastructure provided by the Red Cross. Many families are now living in transitional shelters, coco lumber and/or concrete structures that can withstand typhoon rains. Others have received cash grants, allowing them to repair or rebuild their homes and reestablish their livelihoods.


One woman I met, Adelina Rosialdas, lost all of her ducks—her sole source of income—during Typhoon Haiyan. Now, nearly two years later, she not only has enough ducks to accumulate savings and put her children through school, but she has been able to purchase a pig, which just the day before my visit, had given birth to six piglets. When asked if she has a message for people in America, she says, “The Red Cross has helped us to restore our livelihoods. Salamat. Thank you to those who have helped us to recover from Typhoon Yolanda [Haiyan].”

Another man we visited, Francisco T. Latoja III, works in the Red Cross warehouse that does prefabrication of shelter materials for those receiving new homes. The earnings he has made in his job have enabled his wife to go back to school and for him to build his family a new home. His wife isn’t far off from reaching her goal of becoming a teacher.

There are challenges in both countries when it comes to the speed of recovery. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will Nepal or Tacloban. In Nepal, monsoon season, which coincides with the annual harvest, means that actual rebuilding won’t get started until the end of the year. A lack of coco timber—a critical building material—on the island of Leyte in the Philippines has delayed a quicker scale up of reconstruction.

In both countries, people have gotten back to their daily lives; even the fiercest disaster can’t temper the resilience of human nature. While Nepal’s destruction is much fresher than the Philippines’, the impact Red Cross volunteers and programs are having on the people most affected is visibly apparent.

There’s another common thread that runs between the people of both Nepal and the Philippines: their resilience. Even in the toughest of times, I can never get over families’ ability to pick themselves up to recover, rebuild, and start anew.

To learn more about American Red Cross’s work with Typhoon Haiyan survivors, visit redcross.org/haiyan.

Hidden Dangers in Fall Decorations (And Other Fall Fire Safety Tips!)

I didn’t make it 30 feet into Jo-Ann Fabric before stopping at a shelf.

“50 percent off decorative pumpkins, and it’s not even November yet?” I said partially to myself, partially to make a case to my begrudging husband who had accompanied me craft shopping earlier this season. That pumpkin, made of twigs and festooned with ribbon, is now a perfect addition to my kitchen island.Aforementioned twig and leaf decor.


Guess what else is on my kitchen island — a candle. A yummy smelling, frequently-lit candle. Even though it may not be the ideal arrangement, that pumpkin now stays three feet from the heat. Just as any item in your home should stay three feet from heat sources, including your stove, a space heater and all candles.

If your expertly carved pumpkin has survived Halloween and you can’t resist using a real candle to make it shine, make sure the candle gets blown out when you can’t monitor it, especially when you leave your home. To light the candle, use something that will keep your appendages safe, such as a long fireplace lighter. Fun fact: My family used to deploy dry spaghetti noodles for our pumpkin-lighting purposes.


Are you the proud household with gigantic spiders on your roof and orange lights illuminating every window? Maybe an inflatable turkey or two in the yard? My apartment has been reduced to one string of lights in our picture window, but even with that we are super careful to unplug them every time we leave the house.

Always remember to turn off any running electric appliances before you leave home, blow out candles and unplug fire hazards such as lights that might get too hot. Especially if they are near those new curtains you spent so much money on…


Toddler Sarah in leaf pile. Photo credit: Sarah's mom.While I may think the piles of leaves in my yard are super festive fall decor on a grandiose scale, I understand some people out there collect leaves from their yards and dispose of them. (So many leaf pile jumping missed opportunities. But I digress). If your household is serious about leaf collection, here’s how you can also be serious about fire hazards when you dispose of them:

  • Use caution when burning leaves – Clear leaves away from the home and other buildings. Burn leaves only when permitted and in accordance with local laws and guidelines. Use extreme caution to ensure safety and control of the fire.
  • Prepare your home – Select building materials and plants that resist fire. Regularly clean your roof and gutters to remove flammable debris. Identify and maintain an adequate water source outside your home.
  • Gather firefighting tools – Set aside household items that can be used as firefighting tools: rake, ax, bucket, shovel, etc. You may need to fight a fire before emergency responders arrive.


Raise your hand if the pumpkins and gourds scattered strategically around your home are soon to be chopped up for roasted fall treats. I didn’t even carve my pumpkin this year, so it’s a perfect candidate for yummy toasted seeds. Knowing the majority of home fires start in the kitchen, I always have the Red Cross cooking safety tips in mind:

  • Stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.
  • Stay in the home while simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food. Check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that food is cooking.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire—like pot holders, towels, plastic and clothing— away from the stove.
  • Keep pets off cooking surfaces and countertops to prevent them from knocking things onto the burner.

Remember, we have plenty of other fire safety tips on redcross.org, as part of the Home Fire Campaign. Stay tuned for more holiday, cooking and heat-related information to keep your family safe this fall and winter!



Reflecting on the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign

Fire Prevention Month is drawing to a close, and with it, the first full year of the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. This effort is aimed at reducing fire fatalities and injuries by 25 percent over five years, and we’re off to a good start.

[From left to right, Kara Kelly, Fred Malven, Cody Hut, Chrissy Bristle] The American Red Cross, along with the Nevada Public Safety Department and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, sponsored a Home Fire Preparedness Day in Nevada, Iowa. Volunteers canvassed the town and visited over 300 homes where they inspected existing and installed new smoke alarms. (Photo by Steve Pope/AP Images for American Red Cross)

Just before the start of Fire Prevention Month, the Red Cross announced year-one results of the campaign. With the support of many national and local partners, sponsors and volunteers, the Red Cross has been going door-to-door in communities from coast-to-coast to install free smoke alarms to families in need of them, share a fire escape plan worksheet and prove other fire safety information and tips.

Since launching in October 2014, the campaign has:

  • Reached more than 485,000 people with fire safety information,
  • Visited more than 63,000 homes 50 states and 3 territories,
  • Installed more than 125,000 smoke alarms in nearly 2,400 cities and towns, and
  • Saved at least 27 lives.

Other Red Cross partners support the campaign by raising awareness. For example, MasterCard has donated $350,000 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief and is using its communications channels to help educate its employees and cardholders on how to prevent, prepare for and respond to a home fire.

This month, MasterCard is also challenging the public to donate an additional $350,000 for a combined total of $700,000 for the Red Cross Disaster Relief to help support families affected by home fires and other disasters. More than 90 percent of the nearly 70,000 disasters the Red Cross responds to each year are home fires.

March 28, 2015. Endicott, New York. Five teams of Red Cross volunteers with the Southern Tier Chapter partnered with Broome County Community Emergency Response Team to sponsor a Home Preparedness Day on Saturday, March 28th. They canvassed a 15-block area in the Village of Endicott, NY, where they inspected existing and installed new smoke alarms. They also provided home safety education. Old smoke detectors that were replaced by Red Cross Volunteers partnering with members of the Broome County Community Emergency Response Team conducting a Home Fire Preparedness Campaign in the Village of Endicott. Photo by Chuck Haupt /American Red Cross

While the month may almost be over, the work goes on. Fire prevention and safety are important 365 days a year. To learn more about fire safety, visit redcross.org. To find local smoke alarm installation events or to become a volunteer, contact your local Red Cross. Join the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign by sharing this information with friends, family and neighbors!

Image Caption 1: [From left to right, Kara Kelly, Fred Malven, Cody Hut, Chrissy Bristle] The American Red Cross, along with the Nevada Public Safety Department and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, sponsored a Home Fire Preparedness Day in Nevada, Iowa. Volunteers canvassed the town and visited over 300 homes where they inspected existing and installed new smoke alarms. (Photo by Steve Pope/AP Images for American Red Cross)

Image Caption 2: Five teams of Red Cross volunteers with the Southern Tier Chapter partnered with Broome County Community Emergency Response Team to sponsor a Home Preparedness Day on Saturday, March 28. They canvassed a 15-block area in the Village of Endicott, NY, where they inspected and replaced old smoke alarms. They also provided home safety education. (Photo by Chuck Haupt /American Red Cross)

Candy, Costumes and Candles: 6 Tips to Stay Safe this Halloween

Written by Greta Gustafson, Media Relations Intern, American Red Cross 

Halloween blends scary and fun together to create the ultimate holiday; candy, ghosts and ghouls, and staying up late are all pretty hard to beat. The best part of Halloween, for me, was always carving Jack-O-Lanterns. As a kid, I remember searching for the perfect pumpkin until my parents would force me to choose. When it came time for the main event – pumpkin carving – they would watch me like a hawk. But Halloween safety didn’t stop there. Here are a few tips from the Red Cross to keep your family safe this Halloween.

  1. Never leave candles burning unsupervised. Seeing the glowing smile of a Jack-O-Lantern is always a sign that Halloween, and more specifically candy, are just around the corner. But it is extremely important to remember to blow out all of your candles before leaving your home or going to bed. Speaking of fire safety, the Red Cross might be in your neighborhood this Halloween season to help make sure your home stays safe.

  1. Plan your trick-or-treat route ahead of time.
    Or plan multiple routes to maximize treat collection (highly recommended by this author). Either way, be aware of where your children are at all times. An adult should accompany young children around the neighborhood.
  1. Use face paint instead of masks.
    Masks can slip down and make it challenging to see. Also, it can be hard to identify your friends and family when their faces are covered. Face paint is a great way to express your creativity while staying safe.
  1. Visit only the homes that have a porch light on.
    The ones without their lights on usually don’t have any of the good candy anyway!
  1. Walk only on sidewalks, not in the street.
    Trick-or-treating is exciting, and sometimes it can be hard to navigate the slow moving crowds. However, make sure to stick to the sidewalks. A few extra minutes are well worth avoiding an accident. If you are in an area without sidewalks, walk on the edge of the roadway facing traffic.
  1. For those welcoming trick-or-treaters, keep your yard free of obstacles.
    Please go crazy with your home decorating, but make sure there is a clear, well-lit path to the front door.

Halloween may be a combination of scary and fun, but with these tips we can make sure the emphasis continues to stay on the fun part. Now go out and, safely, enjoy your trick-or-treating!

International Collaboration Key to Disaster Response

Written by Suzy DeFrancis, Chief Public Affairs Officer, American Red Cross

As I write this blog, our thoughts are with the people of Mexico and our partners at the Mexican Red Cross: Cruz Roja Mexicana.  Hurricane Patricia, the most powerful tropical cyclone ever measured in the Western Hemisphere, is forecast to make landfall in Mexico Friday evening as a catastrophic Category 5 storm, putting 400,000 people at risk.  In addition to unprecedented winds, the storm will bring flooding rainfall and a dangerous storm surge to the Mexican state of Jalisco which includes the popular coastal resort city of Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city. Moisture from Hurricane Patricia may also add to the heavy rainfall and flash flooding expected in Texas and neighboring states this weekend, and local Red Cross chapters are mobilizing volunteers, supplies and shelters in case they are needed.

CAMX1American Red Cross disaster specialists are monitoring Hurricane Patricia closely, remain in close contact with colleagues at the Mexican Red Cross, and are on standby to help if asked by our neighbors in Mexico.  Earlier this week, our senior leadership met in Canada with our Mexican and Canadian counterparts to discuss Cross Border Emergency Response.  These meetings, which have annually taken place for the past seven years, have led to a strong collaboration between our three Red Cross societies and strong friendships between the three Red Cross Presidents, Gail McGovern of the US, Fernando Suinaga of Mexico, and Conrad Sauvé of Canada, affectionately referred to as the “three amigos.”

Recent examples of how we have reached across borders to help each other in time of need include:

  • Due to major flooding in Hildago County, Texas and widespread damage in upwards of 50 counties throughout Texas, in June 2015 we called on our Mexican Red Cross counterparts for help. Within two days, they deployed a 10 member team from neighboring Reynosa, Mexico and stayed for nearly 2 weeks, helping with bulk distribution of relief supplies and serving as translators for caseworkers and providing much needed psycho social support for survivors.
  • The American Red Cross worked closely with the Mexican Red Cross in the aftermath of Hurricane Odile that struck Baja, Mexico on September 14, 2014. We contributed $43,000 to the Mexican Red Cross to assist in providing food kits to displaced people.  We also helped reconnect families of US citizens stranded in Mexico during the hurricane.
  • In 2014, when an influx of unaccompanied minors coming into the US were being processed by Customs and Border Patrol, the American Red Cross provided over 14,000 calls to enable these children to tell their loved ones that they were safe. This response was made possible by countless American Red Cross volunteers and collaboration with the Mexican Red Cross.
  • The Saskatchewan wildfires in Canada in July 2015 prompted the largest evacuation in Canadian history, and 26 American Red Cross workers deployed to support the Canadian Red Cross.
  • During the Alberta floods in Canada in July 2013, the American Red Cross put operations experts on the ground to help with bulk distribution of 574,000 relief items.
  • During the response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, both the Mexican and Canadian Red Cross societies sent workers to New York and New Jersey to help.

We are grateful for this continuing strong collaboration between ourselves and both our Red Cross counterparts in Mexico and Canada and we look forward to deepening it in the coming year with cross-training and exercises to simulate a future disaster.  We are all stronger and better equipped to do our best when we work collectively.


L to R: Cruz Roja Mexicana National Director, Fernando Suinaga; American Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern; Canadian Red Cross President and Chief Executive Officer, Conrad Sauvé


How Fire Sensors are Making a Difference in Kenyan, South African Communities

This post was written by Abi Weaver, Director of the Global Technology Project, American Red Cross.

Earlier this year, we extended the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign overseas. And given this month’s focus on fire prevention, we wanted to update you on our progress.

Fire Sensor installation Africa

This July, we announced partnerships with two sensor manufacturers—Lumkani and Halo Smart Labs—as well as more than a dozen other organizations, including CORC, frog and UNICEF—to improve the early detection, warning, and response to fires in informal settlements in Kenya and South Africa. Two communities in Nairobi and Cape Town are currently leading the installation and testing of low-cost, smart fire alarms, which can distinguish between smoke and fire, in thousands of homes.

To complement these efforts, we are also pursuing opportunities to improve the local response mechanisms through volunteer teams, policy change, and an open innovation challenge. Additionally, we are researching how best to add value by incorporating other types of sensors for heat waves, enabling technologies and complementary services like home security, as well as developing a sustainable business model to support access to and expansion of these solutions.

So far, we’ve had a lot of opportunities to apply what has worked well in the U.S.—and we’ve had even more opportunities to develop custom solutions, hand-in-hand, with these two communities in Nairobi and Cape Town. This ensures that not only is the technology appropriate for their needs and environment, but is also affordable and accessible. Scroll down to see how we’ve worked together to make the slums safer.

Step 1: Learning with the communities

Fire Sensor installation Africa 2

Initially, local volunteers mapped with GIS technology two settlements in Nairobi and Cape Town to help community leaders identify who could benefit most from smart fire sensors and better understand the surrounding environment, such as the ratio of businesses to homes to schools and other community centers.

Fire Sensor installation Africa 3

They also visited the homes of several residents to understand their risks, expectations and aspirations, and to solicit their input to the fire sensor installation and post-installation activities. Together, we established a deep understanding of people’s needs and community dynamics, which will ultimately help us co-create a responsive market strategy and sustainable business model.

Step 2: Installing and educating

Fire Sensor installation Africa 4

In one week, we successfully installed more than 1,000 sensors in Nairobi thanks to high community demand and the capacity of our extensive volunteer network. We have a similar goal in Cape Town. The sensors were specially designed for low-resource environments and are networked together to give neighbors an early warning and assist the Red Cross in responding to a fire outbreak.

Fire Sensor installation Africa 5

In addition to dealing with fires after they occur, we are using creative methods to educate the communities on how they can prevent home fires and lower their risks. Cooking competitions, outreach to food vendors, fuel stations and other businesses, and school campaigns have been well-received.

Step 3: Designing with the communities

Now, we are listening to the communities’ reactions to the sensors, and co-designing a response system and business model that meets the needs of residents and local leaders. This is where we hear sentiments like, “The most valuable thing in our home is a fire sensor.” We are also capturing areas for improvement.

Residents with sensors are keeping diaries of their experiences, participating in community workshops, and co-designing improved prototypes with local technologists. This is a sampling of the decisions community members are making as part of the participatory innovation process:

  • How would you name a fire sensor in one word?
  • How would you advertise it?
  • How should the fire sensor be maintained?

 Step 4: Testing with the communities

Fire Sensor installation Africa 6

Next month, residents in both cities will run fire response simulations with the Red Cross and local fire departments to test the sensors, exercise their response systems, and evaluate our proposed business models.

Step 5: Scaling with the communities

In early 2016, we will publish our learning and recommendations for future phases of this ground-breaking experiment. Our ultimate goal is to replicate and expand these solutions in additional communities where the fire risk is great and to ultimately #endslumfires.

As we learn more and advance this work, we will be back to share more. In the meantime, please visit Tech4Resilience.org to follow our progress.

Photos: American Red Cross / Juozas Cernius

Postcards from South Carolina

In early October historic rains battered South Carolina. Flood waters tore through communities, leaving devastation in their wake and South Carolinians facing a long and uncertain path to recovery.

Since the dawn of this disaster more than 800 Red Cross workers from impacted communities and across the country have joined in the effort to deliver comfort and relief to the flood-ravaged state. While the road to recovery may be challenging, heartwarming stories of hope are all around.


Red Cross Disaster Case Workers Carrie Smith and Beverly Scott chat with Ladson, SC resident Timothy Jenner about flood damage to his home.

“The first I knew was from a knock on the door and a National Guardsman telling me I had 15 minutes to get out. When I waded out the water was up to my waist,” said Jenner. His home uninhabitable, the Red Cross provided Jenner with financial resources for his clothing and food needs.

Photo by: Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross


Jennifer Briggs has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2005. When it comes to disaster responses, it would seem she’s done it all. “I do feeding, I do sheltering, I do client casework, I’ve done damage assessment – I’m versed in most areas of the Red Cross,” she explains.

But here in Columbia, SC, Jennifer is dealing with something she’s never experienced before. She’s helping the Red Cross respond to a disaster that destroyed her own home.

Prior to the recent floods, Jennifer was living in a trailer along the waterfront in Oriental, NC. Now, she describes her home and most of her belongings as unsalvageable – inundated by more than 14 inches of water.

For Jennifer, volunteering is a way to cope with what she’s been through. “It’s easier for me to get out here and do something,” she says. “I’m just here to help everybody else.” With her support, the warehouse is helping to get thousands of relief items into the hands of people who need them.

Learn more about Jennifer’s story in the video below!

Photo by: Eric Oubre/American Red Cross


Being uprooted from your home as floodwaters rise around you is frightening. It can be really scary for anyone, but especially children.

It’s times like these when families need comforting and help shows up in a red vest. Many times volunteers come prepared with stuffed animals, toys and activities, which can bring a sense of security to little ones. It’s those small touches that help children feel safe during a difficult situation like this flooding.

In this photo one of our Red Cross volunteers plays a video game with a youngster at an evacuation shelter in Columbia, SC.

Photo by: Carl Manning/American Red Cross


In addition to providing food and shelter for communities impacted by disaster, the American Red Cross distributes cleaning supplies, shovels, tarps, buckets and large containers at a bulk distribution site.

Red Cross volunteer Leslie Clark helps to load clean-up supplies into the back of a truck at one of several Red Cross “bulk distribution” sites following the South Carolina floods.

Photo by Jeanette Ortiz-Osorio/American Red Cross

In a world of what goes around comes around, Patricia Clark found a connection with the American Red Cross – from dark days of personal loss to giving back to others as a shelter volunteer. Patricia is a resident of Gulfport, MS, who serving as a shelter volunteer helping people displaced by the South Carolina floods. She’s logged long hours volunteering, but for her it’s worth it: “Meeting people and listening to their story and telling them it’s going to be all right. I want to let them know they can make it.”

Photo by: Jeanette Ortiz-Osorio/American Red Cross


“The response I’ve witnessed to these tragic floods is a testament to the resiliency of South Carolinians, the proficiency of the state’s leadership, the dedication of our partners, and the tireless commitment of our 800-strong Red Cross team,” says American Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern upon visiting South Carolina. “The Red Cross stands by South Carolina and will continue to provide support in the days and weeks ahead.”

Photo by: Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross


Jennifer Briggs – Despite personal loss, volunteer gives back

Boots on the Ground for the Red Cross

Post by Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager helping with the Red Cross flood response in South Carolina

As flood waters began to rise in South Carolina, U. S. Navy Officer Travis Akers packed his bags like he was heading into combat. On a mission to help, he recruited his Navy buddies, Lt. Zachary Bowen and Lt. Robert Council. The trio made the four-hour trek from their Jacksonville, Florida base to Travis’ home state. By early afternoon, they had boots on the ground in the Lowcountry, working with the Red Cross.

The group’s experience, as told by Officer Akers:

DR 752 - Navy-Guys-Lowcountry-SCFloods-Oct2015-4“On the first day in the field, my team visited low-income, impoverished neighborhoods. The water line on the homes and cars was a clear indication of severe damage most personal property had been lost. The hardest hit area I observed was in West Ashley, where several homes had upwards of five feet of water inside. We saw families removing debris from their homes and even spoke to one gentleman who had removed several fish from his garage. The city was pumping water out of the neighborhoods as quickly as I’ve ever seen in emergency flooding responses.

I’m from South Carolina and the Palmetto State has always been my heart’s home. It was easy to make the trip being stationed only four hours away in Jacksonville, and our command staff gave us the opportunity to leave work for several days to assist the Red Cross. We make financial donations to the Red Cross, but I knew I had to return home and help out those in need, South Carolina has already experienced so much pain this year.

One thing that I always bring back with me from these experiences are the stories of those affected by tragedy. I met an elderly lady, probably in her 70s, from the French Quarter Creek area. She was in a dress that you would envision a Sunday School teacher wearing in an old country church: flowery, ankle-length, but covered in dirt and drywall. She told me the home had been her father’s. When her father passed, she couldn’t bear to leave, it was all she knew and had lived there her entire life. Now destroyed, it would most likely be demolished. I expected her to be angry or deeply saddened, but she still displayed joy and gratitude for everything else she had in life – her church family and healthy grandchildren. I was deeply touched by her ability to maintain such a bright and positive outlook on life.

That’s what I got out of this experience. It wasn’t just being able to help my home state, but to find sunshine in a place that had been shadowed by clouds and drowned by storms. I was able to bring some of that sunshine back with me when we returned to our base.”

The America Red Cross has a long, proud history of service to the armed forces with programs that support military members, veterans and their families. Thank you, Travis, for your service to the Red Cross and our country.


Photos by Jennifer Heisler, Regional Communications Officer, American Red Cross Palmetto SC Region


Red Cross Volunteer Pays it Forward in South Carolina

Written by Don Underwood, American Red Cross 

October 9, 2015. Columbia, South Carolina. American Red Cross is responding to the flooding throughout South Carolina. Photo by Danuta Otfinowski/American Red Cross

In a world of what goes around comes around, Patricia Clark found a connection with the American Red Cross, from dark days of personal loss and suffering to giving back to others as a shelter volunteer.

The Gulfport, MS resident lost her daughter in 1988 to illness and even now, talking about it brings tears to her eyes. Her grief nearly incapacitated her until a close friend forced her to “get out of bed and search for something to live for,” Patricia recalls.

They drove to a Red Cross blood bank at Keesler Air Force Base at Biloxi, MS where they stopped and Patricia volunteered.

Emily Shelby, the blood bank manager took Patricia under her wing and gave her something to focus on other than her grief.

”She was just like a drill sergeant. She didn’t give me a moment and kept me busy,” said Patricia who moved away when her Navy husband was transferred overseas.

A second tragedy hit Patricia and her family after they returned. In 2005, her family lost their home and just about everything inside it to Katrina. She turned to FEMA and private groups for help.

But a Red Cross volunteer found her.

“That woman said she’d been told I needed food,” Patricia says. “She took me to the store.”South Carolina Floods 2015

The paths of Red Cross and Patricia crossed again. She worked in other Red Cross positions including as a caseworker in her home chapter in Biloxi.

In South Carolina, Patricia has been assigned to one of the shelters housing people displaced from the flood, keeping busy with everything from greeting late-night arrivals with a smile, to holding a frightened child.

For Patricia, the long hours and sometimes hard work at the shelter is all worth it.

“Meeting people and listening to their story and telling them it’s going to be all right,” she said. “I want to let them know they can make it.”

Social Media Savvy Mom “Likes” Red Cross in Times of Emergency

Written by Patricia Kemp, communications manager, American Red Cross

Tina Branham was at home with her three kids October 3 when the rain began to fall. She logged into Facebook to check out the social media chatter. Severe weather was the hot topic in South Carolina.

The rain was relentless and water started to rise on the driveway. “I wanted to get out before we had to swim out,” said Tina, who is pregnant with her fourth child. “I was like, it’s time to go because if I wait any longer, I can’t carry three kids by myself. If I stayed it would’ve caused more stress for my family.”

Tina’s husband works nights in a Georgia factory, and wasn’t able to reach her and their children Thomas, 10, Christopher, 7, and 7-month-old baby girl, Laila. Tina remained calmed and assured him she would get the kids out of the house. She started planning an exit strategy and turned again to social media to see what she should do and where she could go. She clicked on the American Red Cross Lowcountry South Carolina Facebook page and got some answers.


Tina packed a bag of clothes for each of the kids and headed to the nearest shelter the high school in Summerville the Red Cross told her about on Facebook. They were the first to arrive.

Tina found volunteers were just as friendly face-to-face as they are online.

“The Red Cross has been so nice to us,” she said.  “We found a place where people can come and feel comfortable and lift their spirits a little bit since they kind of got ripped from their house.”

Over the next several days, nearly 100 more people displaced by the flood began filling the shelter and Tina helped them navigate the new terrain. She also allowed them to help themselves to her stash of supplies.

“I gave another mother some diapers and my Red Cross blanket,” she said.

DR-752 Tina Branham Family

Tina called her husband once the kids were settled to let him know they were safe, and of course she updated her Facebook status for all her friends.

Follow the American Red Cross of South Carolina on Twitter @RedCrossSC and Facebook at facebook.com/RedCrossCentralSC for all the updates on flood relief.