• Small group looking to train local volunteers for disaster relief
By Hannah Heimbuch
Steven Johnson has long admired the American Red Cross. He witnessed their work firsthand as a law enforcement officer and member of the military, and again when his family faced a fire disaster in Arizona.
When he looked into becoming a volunteer in the Homer area, however, he found the nonprofit aid organization didn’t have a local chapter. So he set out to remedy that.
Johnson has completed his American Red Cross training, and is now certified to train other volunteers who want to join the lower peninsula team.
“So now we’re to the point where we’re trying to get volunteers for the Homer, Anchor Point and Ninilchik area,” he said.
They are currently a small contingent, he said, and working to build a stronger service and supply network. There are Red Cross volunteer groups based in the Kenai and Seward areas. Johnson’s group will answer calls for the region from Ninilchik and south.
“There’s only three of us that are active right at the moment,” Johnson said. “We do not have an office at this time. We would love to have one, but being an all volunteer group we’d prefer to see that the money we get go back out to our community rather than an office space.”
The biggest issue Johnson and fellow volunteers Trisha Davis and Linda Harris face right now is storage of their emergency supply items, Johnson said.
“MRE’s, cots, blankets, those types of items, so that we can set up shelters to help folks,” he said. “Some of them are in a Conex at the fire station in Anchor Point, but it isn’t sufficient.”
Right now they share that space with the Soldotna Special Emergency Response Team, he said, and space will get tighter as the Red Cross works to get their supplies fully stocked.
But regardless of their small staff and tight storage, the group is fully operational, Johnson said, and proud to be able to offer emergency services to those experiencing disasters due to fire, storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or other issues.
They have already been able to respond to several fires in the lower peninsula area, he said.
“We can come in and immediately help them with everything,” Johnson said, “from getting into a hotel room immediately, getting food, getting eye glasses replaced — because people lose everything.”
One of the greatest tools at their disposal is the ability to transfer funds to a credit card, which they can set up within a few hours of a reported disaster.
“We’re able to load it with donations to that client, so that they can go out and immediately purchase clothing, boots, food, these types of things.”
They are also working with a team of mental health specialists that can work with disaster victims, to help them through their crisis. One of his major goals right now, Johnson said, is expanding that network. Adding health and support professionals to their trained volunteers will help to strengthen their team, he said, and he hopes that people of many ages and specialties will consider becoming trained as a Red Cross volunteer.
“It’s a great way to give back, and these courses are all at no cost to the volunteer,” Johnson said. “So a young person may be in college, and needs to do some community service or wants to learn some skills, it’s a tremendous way to do it.”
He’s hoping to see some of the lower peninsula’s young people sign up, he said, since those as young as 16 can register for classes with a parent signature. It’s a great way to build a resume and gather some important life skills, he said.
“My vision for the south peninsula here is that we have a spectrum of volunteers,” Johnson said.
Last year, the Red Cross in Alaska disseminated more than half a million dollars in relief funds for victims of disasters.
The organization is nearing its centennial of working within the state of Alaska. In 1917, the Red Cross Delano Nursing Corps became Alaska’s first public health nurses. Over the years volunteers have responded to everything from flu epidemics to the 1964 earthquake.
One of the great things about the Red Cross, Johnson said, is that they don’t go away after the initial crisis has passed.
“We follow you all the way through to make sure you get the assistance to get back on your feet,” he said. “The Red Cross has really got their fingers in a lot of things and they’re really excellent at it.”
The American Red Cross is run by volunteers and funded through community donation. More than one million volunteers and 35,000 employees across the country make up the support network that has served nearly 70,000 disasters.
The Red Cross also works to connect U.S. military families around the globe, trains millions of people in emergency aid skills, and is the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the U.S.
If you would like to register for Red Cross volunteer training, visit redcross.org/alaska, or call Johnson at (907) 435-0800 for more information.
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