American Red Cross month
by Sherrie Norris
The spirit of that presence is celebrated in March as Red Cross Month. During this month, the global volunteer outreach is recognized for offering humanitarian aid to millions of people in the aftermath of countless tragedies and emergency situations since 1881.
95 years in Watauga County
Since that winter's night in 1917 when community leaders put pen to paper, pledging their faith to a new mission, many families and individuals in and around Watauga County have felt the same kind of relief from personal disasters.
Several wars on foreign soil found the county responding to needs of their soldiers and others through the Red Cross, as did those families affected locally by the devastating and fatal flood of 1940, the blizzard of 1960, the flood of 1998 and numerous fatal fires and other smaller disasters in between.
According to Rebecca Matherly, executive director of the Watauga County chapter of the organization, March is the time time to reflect upon the work that the local chapter has done, as well as to recognize and celebrate its current and ongoing achievements.
“Thanks to the support from individuals, organizations and businesses here in Watauga County, the American Red Cross is still able to respond to disasters both large and small,” Matherly said. “We are still able to help members of the military, our veterans and their families and to provide blood for those in need and to teach lifesaving skills.”
In September 2011, the Watauga-Avery County chapter merged with that of Wilkes and Alleghany; now, from its office on Queen Street in Boone, it serves a combined five-county region.
With five years' service as director in Wilkes County, Matherly was transferred to the Boone office where she has adjusted well to the “small town/downtown appeal,” she said, and to the local business and donor support upon which she has come to rely and appreciate.
From a long-time roster of “about 100 volunteers,” Matherly said, “approximately 40” are currently active in Watauga and Avery counties, “and available to respond 24/7 for disasters and blood drives.
“We also three local disaster-action teams available to respond to assist families with food, clothing and temporary shelter after house fires or natural disasters,” she said.
“This year, in Watauga County, we have responded to seven fires, with 32 total in all the counties we serve. We have assisted four families locally with military communication — 18 total — and have trained numerous people in lifesaving skills, such as CPR and first aid.
Driving toward success
“We host local blood drives every month, with one on the first Tuesday of each month at the Holiday Inn Express in Boone,” she said. “We try to publicize dates and times for other drives, but donors can call the office for more information.”
Watauga High School and Appalachian State University are among the most popular collection sites and have made blood drive history in the last year.
During its most recent drive, ASU collected 1,255 units of blood, making it one of the largest single-day drives in the country.
On March 12, the drive sponsored by the Health Occupations Students Association at WHS, collected 302 units of blood.
To date, WHS maintains its national standing as the second largest collection site among high schools in the country.
The local Red Cross chapter hosts two major fundraisers each year, one of which — Blood, Sweat, and Gears — has received international attention and participation for a number of years.
Held annually in June 23, BSG is a 100-mile century ride as well as a 50-mile ride, which, according to a study done by ASU, has more than a $1 million economic impact on Watauga County.
“The Run for the Red Marathon and Half Marathon (Sept. 15) are quickly gaining speed as popular events, too,” she said.
Red Cross today
According to Matherly, the Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 disasters a year, with shelter, food, emotional support and other services as needed. “We provide 24-hour support to members of the military, veterans and their families, collect and distribute more than 40 percent of the nation's blood supply and train more than 9 million people in first aid, water safety and other life-saving skills every year,” she said.
“Here in High Country, the Watauga Chapter responded to seven local emergencies, assisted five military families and trained numerous people in lifesaving skills during the last year.”
“We want to thank those whose generosity enables us to continue our work, both here at home and around the world,” she said. “Red Cross Month is the perfect time for people to become a part of our mission and help people in need by making a donation, volunteering, giving blood or taking a class. Each resident can help us help those in need by supporting the American Red Cross.
We are grateful for the tireless work of our staff volunteers and staff,” she said. “During this month, we pay tribute to this remarkable organization and all those who have answered the call to serve a cause greater than self and offered support and healing in times of need.”