In May ‘000, the American Red Cross began to withhold its dues from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to protest the group’s refusal to admit Israel’s Magen David Adom into the organization. It was strongly supported in that decision by the ARC’s Bergen-Hudson chapter, which this week "welcomed and celebrated" Israel’s inclusion in the movement.
Vernon Reed, CEO of the Ridgewood-based chapter, who has worked with the American Red Cross for ‘9 years, says, "It is tremendous to be able to finally say it happened. For years we have maintained that MDA deserved to be admitted into the International Federation . We’re one society, trying to move past politics and do humanitarian work, providing vital services to people around the world."
While the Bergen-Hudson chapter was formally created by a ‘003 merger, the Red Cross has been providing assistance to Bergen-Hudson residents for more than 100 years. According to the group’s Website, the chapter is the "65th largest strategic unit of a corporation of 1,038 American Red Cross chapters." Reed says the chapter serves 1.4 million residents in the two counties and assists between 150 and 300 families each year in the aftermath of fires.
"Our chapter is very proud of the work that we do," notes Sarah Hayes, chapter spokesperson. "We help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to disasters." Hayes adds that last year, in addition to helping over 1,600 families in Bergen and Hudson with food, shelter, referrals, mental health, and basic necessities, the group worked with nearly 300 local servicemen and women needing to come home during family emergencies. In addition, it trained and deployed 58 Bergen and Hudson residents who participated in hurricane relief efforts.
The local chapter also works as a tracing partner in cases involving families separated by the Holocaust. "When people write the national office looking for help locating survivors, it sends local inquiries to us," says Reed. "This happens around 100 times a year. We always provide an answer," he says, even if it’s not the answer the families are hoping for.
According to Hayes, "The disasters that the world has experienced over the last couple of years have necessitated changes in the way that the Red Cross, and Red Cross chapters, must prepare." The Bergen-Hudson chapter is putting a great deal of focus on preparedness, she says, "increasing the number of training courses for people to learn how to prevent disasters, in addition to being ready to act if they do occur."
As part of that effort, she adds, "we are trying to reach out to more communities to let them know what we do. Many people don’t realize that when a disaster such as Katrina happens, and people in our chapter donate toward that disaster, the local chapter does not receive anything. We need local support financially, in-kind donations, volunteerism, and good will for the work that we do here in our own backyards and will continue to do."
Reed points out that Sept. 11 "gave people [a] point of emphasis. It demands that you be prepared and know what to do." The chapter’s most recent initiative, Together We Prepare, is intended to help the public prepare for emerging threats and disasters before they happen.
Red Cross staff members are available to visit
businesses, organizations, and other facilities to do on-site training courses. For further information, call (’01) 65′-3’10.