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'cross my heart,' hope to save lives
by Shaila Creekmore, photo by Amy Long

Each day, the American Red Cross meets a variety of needs across Northeast Arkansas in the 16 counties that it serves through disaster relief, blood services, health and safety services, as well as by supporting military families. Later this month, the organization will hold its inaugural Cross My Heart Soiree, an event organizers hope raises both funds and awareness for the Northeast Arkansas Red Cross chapter and all it does for the community.

With a staffed regional office located in Jonesboro and satellite locations in Blytheville and Hardy, as well as its blood services office in Jonesboro, the Northeast Arkansas office is considered one of the busiest in the country with an unusually high number of humanitarian service needs throughout the year.

“Fires happen practically every day,” said Pam Knapp-Carver, the NEA American Red Cross executive director. “We have tornadoes, floods, ice storms and the threat of a major earthquake.”

Knapp-Carver said volunteers help fire victims, whether it’s a single house fire or a multi-housing unit, within the 16-county area nearly every day. When those calls come into the office, volunteers within that area are dispatched to provide basic needs.

“For every disaster or fire, it’s different,” said Knapp-Carver. “They make sure their basic needs are met – make sure they have clothes, shoes, food and shelter if needed.”

For incidents like the recent flooding, the Red Cross can provide clean up kits, which are buckets filled with cleaning supplies such as mops, gloves and disinfectant cleaners.

Blood service is another vital and perhaps more well-known division of the American Red Cross. Nationwide, nearly 4 million people donate blood through the Red Cross, supplying more than 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply.

A less known function of the Red Cross is the support it provides to military families.

“We work as a liaison between the service man and the family,” said Knapp-Carver. “Let’s say the wife calls her husband who is serving in Iraq and says, ‘Your mother is dying. You need to get home.’ It’s our job to verify that information and relay that to the military, who can then make the decision whether or not that serviceman needs to fly halfway across the world to come home.”

Knapp-Carver said the Northeast Arkansas chapter serves a high number of these families in the region due to the number of deployments of reserve units in recent years, as well as the number of full-time military families that live in the area. The Red Cross also provides training, support to wounded warriors and veterans, and access to community resources.

While the American Red Cross performs an array of services through various means and locations, the nonprofit is joined in its efforts to meet each community’s needs.

“We are separated by brick and mortar, but we are one Red Cross,” said Knapp-Carver.

Key to meeting those needs, as with most nonprofits, are volunteers and fundraising. The Northeast Arkansas region currently has 267 volunteers who do everything from answering phones in the office or serving on the board to answering fire calls or serving through major natural disasters.

“It’s the volunteers who are getting up at two in the morning and going to take care of a family who’s had a fire; it’s not the paid staff,” said Knapp-Carver. “It’s the kindness of the volunteers.”

The work of those volunteers is funded through community fundraising efforts, both by large corporate donations and by fundraising events. Knapp-Carver said each region of the Red Cross is expected to fundraise and be as self-sufficient as possible.

“We are completely dependent on local fundraising,” she said. “The big picture is the Red Cross nationally responds to 70,000 disasters every year. Northeast Arkansas is responding to more than a lot of other areas in the country. … Therefore, it costs a lot for our area to provide the services that are expected of us. … We are a huge recipient of funds because we are so disaster-prone.”

Knapp-Carver said one of the challenges of her office is that the vast number of those calls are for small incidents such as single-home fires.

“It’s blue skies and grey skies,” she said. “When there is a disaster going on – like a tornado – people want to give, they want to be sure things are taken care of. It’s when the skies are blue like today and people don’t see what we’re doing that it’s harder to receive the funds to meet those needs.”

In an effort to raise awareness of the work of the NEA Red Cross chapter and to raise funds, the 10-member board, led by Board President Chad Niell, has planned three fundraising events. The first, a 5K, was held in November and organizers plan to hold the event again this fall.

During March, known as Red Cross Month, the Every Red Cent Counts campaign will be held and will culminate with a bucket brigade across the 16-county area on April 1. During the campaign, captains will be recruited from each county; those captains will recruit 10 people who will commit to raise $1,000 each.

“This effort is very grass roots,” said Knapp-Carver. “We are hoping a lot of people give, even just small amounts. They can raise the money however they want to do it. They can ask for donations, have a yard sale, have a bake sale.

“It’s a way for us to get out into the community and get our story told and for people to give to the mission.”

On Feb. 13, the NEA Red Cross chapter’s “Cross My Heart Soiree” will be held at The Silos in Bono at 6:30 p.m. The semi-formal event will be an elegant evening with music by Jonesboro band Fulton’s Point. Principle sponsors for the event are Tiger Correctional Services Inc., The Silos, Families Inc., St. Bernards Healthcare, St. Bernards Medical Group and SHARP.
“We really wanted to do something around Valentine’s,” said Lynn Brandon, board member and philanthropy chair. “We have been getting really good feedback so far. More than half of the tables are sold.”

The evening will feature a mystery auction where guests bid on an unknown item of a set value.

“People are kind-of excited about the mystery auction,” said Knapp-Carver. “I think it will be a lot of fun.”

Live and silent auctions will be held with items such as a heavy duty truck-mountable StorSmart toolbox valued at $300 from Southern Marketing Affiliates, an $1,800 gun safe donated by Greenway Equipment and a Dickens Village valued at $10,000. Various pieces of artwork, including metal pieces and pottery from artists throughout Northeast Arkansas, will be available in both auctions.

Guests will have an opportunity to draw for an elegant wine stopper and will also receive a complementary bottle of wine associated with the number on the stopper.

The highlight of the evening will be a jewelry giveaway from Sissy’s Log Cabin.

“We will have a signature punch, and each cup will have a wine charm,” said Knapp-Carver. “Guests can buy as many charms as they want to increase their chances of winning. One of the charms will be announced as the winner of the piece of jewelry.”

All proceeds from the evening will benefit American Red Cross Northeast Arkansas Chapter. Tickets to the event are $50 each or a table for eight may be purchased for $400. Sponsorships are also available. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 932-3212.