Some days it seems there is nothing but emergencies in the world, but there are also helpers and work is underway to have more people at the ready when disaster strikes.
The local branch of the Canadian Red Cross is looking to build their volunteer base. According to service centre coordinator Angie Lohnes the need for volunteers and frequency of emergencies is growing but becoming a volunteer doesn’t need to be a full-time commitment. In fact, it can be as little as a few hours.
“For the service that our volunteers do here, its one four-hour shift a week,” Lohnes said. “That’s it. It’s not a lot to pencil into your calendar. We have a monthly meeting we ask everyone to commit to, and then depending on when events happen and where they happen.”
A lot of good is done with those few hours and the more someone has to give the more that good can grow.
For Pat Comeau, volunteering was an opportunity to give back to the community while doubling-up on her weekly grocery-shopping visit to Amherst from her home in North Port while giving back to the organization that had an impact on her family.
“I’m paying it forward,” Comeau said. “We had come here when my mother was dying of cancer and we came here to get equipment. It was very helpful and made life a lot easier for my mom. I’m retired and wanted something to do and it's a way to engage with the community.”
At the local level, volunteers help by staffing either the front end of or behind the scenes of the service centre downtown Amherst, where the Canadian Red Cross loans hospital equipment for home, giving people the opportunity to have mobility or be treated at home. From walkers and wheelchairs, to bedrails and even hospital beds, the loan program allows people to recover at home. Returned equipment is thoroughly cleaned, which is behind-the-scenes for some volunteers.
“Right now it’s one-and-one,” Lohnes said. “One at the front desk and one cleaning equipment. We would love for it to be two-and-two. There are some days, Thursday mornings, when we have a husband-and-wife duo and it’s been that way since Hurricane Katrina . That’s what brought them in. They knew they couldn’t help there, but they knew they could help here.”
The Red Cross is also one of the first outreach services to families who have been displaced by fire
“Sometimes it’s two in the morning, three in the morning, to the side of the road helping that family that potentially lost everything and it’s providing things for up to 72 hours,” Lohnes said. “Emergency social services – so, clothing, shelter, food – depending on what the needs are, and every fire is different.”
This local service and training can lead to service abroad. Lohnes recently returned from British Columbia where she assisted families and firefighters combating forest fires but she is not alone in pursuing opportunities to help outside of the community.
“Initially I was in this for school with school placement. I first thought the Red Cross only loaded out medical equipment but then I learned about the disaster relief and thought that would be interesting,” Andrew Dunlop said.
Dunlop volunteers at the front desk of the Amherst branch during the week and helping locally. He is also training to become qualified to help abroad.
Visiting the Canadian Red Cross website, redcross.ca, is one of the first steps anyone can take to learn more about the services offered or becoming a volunteer, or Lohnes can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Amherst branch office is located at 16 Church St. To learn more about the local loan programs, contact 902-667-8795.