Our Red Cross
We think of the American Red Cross first when disaster strikes anywhere in the nation, or around the globe. But to Islanders, the Red Cross is something else. It is the neighbor we know, the help we need, delivered generously and efficiently by friends who are volunteers in the Martha's Vineyard Chapter of the Red Cross. Times contributing editor Dan Cabot reported last week on the increasing responsibility that the Vineyard Red Cross has assumed for direct assistance to Island communities in times of grave need, whether hurricanes, winter storms, forest fires, a safe blood supply, or even terrorism.
The Vineyard chapter is the smallest Red Cross chapter in the nation. Its chairman, Art Flathers, and its full-time director, Deborah Medders, explained the decision to transform the organization from a part-time to a full-time chapter in response to changing times. As important as the work of the national Red Cross is, the role of the Vineyard chapter in safeguarding and assisting Vineyarders harmed by natural or unnatural disasters is obviously crucial in the immediate aftermath of a calamity. Consider the situation on the Gulf Coast, following hurricane Katrina.
"The local chapters in the Gulf states obviously could not be expected to have the resources to deal with widespread devastation," Mr. Cabot wrote last week. "That's not their job. It's the job of the national Red Cross. For New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile, and elsewhere in the gulf, national Red Cross aid was ready to go as soon as volunteers were allowed on site, but it was not always requested in a timely way. Like FEMA, the national Red Cross can't act until asked by local authorities. Problems arose because there was poor coordination between local chapters and local emergency management, and resources which might have been brought to bear almost immediately were delayed.... According to Mr. Flathers, many rural local chapters have gone out of business, absorbed by big-city chapters, and the big, centralized chapters in the Gulf states were stretched too thin and hadn't sufficiently prepared."
"The Red Cross won't work well in chapters that serve more than about 10 communities," Mr. Flathers explained. "The local chapter needs to know all the public safety officials and work with them to prepare long before an emergency happens."
And, happily, that is the case here. The Vineyard Chapter of the Red Cross, serving the six Vineyard towns, is in a position to quickly and efficiently deliver vital lifesaving and rehabilitative services. Indeed it does so, offering training in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and first aid, training disaster volunteers and mental health volunteers, stocking emergency radios and other equipment, and providing volunteers to help at emergency shelters and at house fires, plane crashes, or other local emergencies, as Mr. Flathers and Ms. Medders explained. It coordinates with the ham radio operators who live or summer on the Island. The Island Red Cross teaches children and adults to swim and certifies lifeguards. It helps the victims of tragedies large and small, from disastrous house fires to small humanitarian needs. It keeps loved ones in touch with victims elsewhere. It conducts several blood drives a year. And it continues to coordinate with local, state, and national agencies to prepare for a Katrina-scale disaster, if one should occur here.
The Vineyard Chapter's organizational model is ideal for a small and isolated community such as ours. We benefit from our intimate knowledge of it and its deep understanding of us. Consequently, we must recognize our responsibility to help fund it, directly with contributions from each Island household. Mr. Flathers suggested $10. More is needed and would be welcome, of course, but every dollar will be returned multifold to Islanders in care and service when disaster strikes.