Editors Note: This is the first in a series of articles about the member agencies of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.
PARKERSBURG - Helping individuals and families who have lost their homes and possessions to disasters is one of the main focuses of the Mid-Ohio Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross.
"Each year we respond to 40 or 50 disasters with single family fires as the biggest issue," said Todd Wines, disaster program manager for a 17-county territory.
Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz, right, signs a proclamation naming March as Red Cross Month in the Parkersburg City Building as Sharon Callow, center, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, and Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell look on.
In 2012, the local Red Cross responded to 48 house fires in the immediate nine-county coverage area, including Wood, Wirt, Roane, Ritchie, Gilmer, Calhoun, Pleasants, Jackson and the City and Township of Belpre, Ohio, said Wines.
"This year we have already tripled the number for this time last year," he said. "So, any funds we get, are needed."
The chapter, which is a mainstay of the Mid-Ohio Valley for 95 years, is a member of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley and receives $100,000 from United Way to allow the Red Cross to provide disaster services.
At A Glance
* The Mid-Ohio Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross is one of a number of local agencies to receive funds from the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.
* The local chapter of the disaster relief and aid organization will receive $100,000 this year from the organization to aid in local disaster relief.
* Funds provided by the United Way go to help those affected by house fires and floods throughout the agency's nine-county coverage area.
"We could not cater our services to clients' needs without the United Way as a partner and supporter," said Sharon Callow, executive director of the local Red Cross chapter.
The services provided by the chapter to families who have lost their home and possessions to fires and floods is costly, Callow said.
"It easily costs, for a family of five, up to $2,500, so the $100,000 from the United Way goes very quickly," she said, adding the cost includes not only temporary housing, but food, clothing and medical needs.
"One hundred percent of what we receive goes to the clients," Callow said.
Callow said she is worried about the number of house fires the chapter will need to respond to this winter as there have been a number of fires already.
"We haven't gotten into the cold weather, so I'm not sure how many we will have this year," she said. "Once people start using space heaters, it will get worse."
In order to save people from the devastation of losing everything in a fire, Callow suggested they put smoke detectors in their homes and put a disaster plan in place, which includes making sure everyone in the house knows of a meeting place outside in the event of a problem.
"Any disaster, whether it involve one person or hundreds, to a person who has lost everything, is catastrophic," she continued.
Disaster services are reliant on the roughly 120 volunteers the chapter has, she added.
"Disaster services and our volunteers are all integrated," Wines said. "The volunteers need to be recruited and trained and throughout their service, they need to have continued training to be sent out to help those affected by disasters not only locally, but regionally and nationally."
The chapter also has a group of volunteers known as Disaster Action Teams who work locally for events such as floods and large storms, such as the June 29, 2012, deracho that left thousands throughout the area without power for days.
These teams set up shelters at the request of local emergency services directors and resources they need are stored in Parkersburg and at sites in the other counties in the chapter's service area.
The local chapter of the Red Cross is on call 24 hours a day every day for disaster service, Callow said.
The Red Cross responds to roughly 70,000 disasters a year nationally, providing shelter, food, emotional support and other necessities to those affected.