OPINION COLUMNS

Help is needed before disasters hit

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, April 21, 2012

When disaster strikes, people respond.

I’ve seen it happen here in Wise County. We cover a house fire, and people contact us to see if we know a way to reach the family that lost their house.

“Do you know the children’s ages or size of clothing?” they ask. Or maybe they’ve got some extra furniture they want to donate.

It’s great to know that we take to heart Jesus’ commandment to “love thy neighbor.”

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

Last weekend, our Decatur Rotary club had a Shelter Box on display at the Home and Lawn Show. If you came to the show, I hope you had a chance to check it out. These Shelter Boxes contain a tent that can house up to 10 along with necessary survival supplies designed to sustain a family for six months. They’ve been deployed to countries around the world that have suffered some kind of disaster including the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and many more that probably never make the news here in the United States.

On Thursday, a Shelter Box representative came to our club meeting and spoke with us more about the project. The goal, he said, is to deploy 50,000 of the boxes per year, meaning shelter would be provided to up to half a million people.

Since it was founded in 2000, Shelter Box has grown from one club’s adopted project to the largest global project in Rotary’s history.

I left the meeting thinking about what a great project this is for helping people in dire need around the world.

An hour later, I was reminded of another organization whose efforts are seen more regularly closer to home: the American Red Cross. I had a chance to visit with Red Cross representatives in town to participate in the disaster exercise put on by local hospitals.

Most recently, you’ve probably seen Red Cross volunteers on television responding to the tornadoes that hit the Metroplex. But you may have also seen them responding to local house fires here in Wise County.

Red Cross is trying to establish a larger presence here. Nancy Heuman of Alvord is now a volunteer for the county, and the Red Cross office in Decatur is once again being used after years of sitting empty.

More volunteers are needed to help respond to disasters right here at home in Wise County. If you’ve ever thought about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, now may be the perfect time to turn that thought into reality. Next Saturday (April 28), Red Cross will hold a free class titled, “Disaster Services: An Overview” to help introduce volunteers or potential volunteers to the services Red Cross provides. The class will be 8 to 11:30 a.m. at the EMS Building, 1101 West Rose Ave. in Decatur. To register, call Jonathan Wallace at (469) 265-4772 or email him at jonathan.wallace@redcross.org.

And while it is great that the giving nature of local residents often manifests itself in the offering of food, clothing or even furniture, the best thing people who want to help can do is make regular donations to organizations such as the American Red Cross.

When Red Cross volunteers respond to a single-family house fire, they offer the family a kind of debit card with a pre-determined amount the family can use to purchase what they need. And the organization has met with local motels to set up a way that displaced families can spend up to three nights in these locations. Red Cross also helps these families transition to a referral network such as WARM to help with long-term needs.

In the case of both Shelter Box and the American Red Cross, it is apparent that donations are needed before a disaster hits so that resources can be deployed immediately. It’s wonderful that local residents are so quick to respond, but we shouldn’t have to wait for the disaster to hit before we are moved to help. Preparing in advance for the next disaster can make a huge difference.

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