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Be In The Red


It’s that time of the month where you begin to dig for loose change. You’re sure you can make it to payday but only by scrimping – and that’s assuming nothing goes wrong.

Imagine getting a call that your house or apartment has caught fire and you’ve lost many if not all of your personal belongings, including your only pair of glasses, daily medicine, all of your clothes and taken-for-grants necessities of daily life.

Now imagine a flood, hurricane or tornado triggering a crisis that hits you and your neighborhood. You feel as if there’s no place to go for material or emotional support.

Or imagine that your spouse is deployed in a foreign country and needs to be told immediately about a death, illness or birth in the family, an accident or simply to share a joyous memory. Yes, cell phones seem to be everywhere these days, but this time the service is unavailable.

Screaming, crying and kicking a wall offer little relief. You need help and you need it now.

These and many other scenarios are not as far fetched as they seem. In fact this “Twilight Zone” nightmare happens on a daily basis in the greater Fayetteville area.

While someone may eventually offer help, you can count on the American Red Cross to be a first responder. “We respond 24/7 and 365 days,” said Phil Harris, executive director of the American Red Cross Highlands Chapter, which blankets Cumberland, Bladen, Hoke, Harnett and Sampson counties. “Not responding is just not an option.” Harris said the statistics say there is about one fire a day in his coverage area.

Now follow this through on a personal level. Imagine having a disaster and getting a message at the office of the Red Cross, saying it ran out of emergency resources – blood, blankets, cleanup and hygiene kits, volunteers, and money to allocate temporary shelter, keeping in mind Uncle Sam isn’t funding the nonprofit organization.

Andrea Ziegenfuso prays that day never comes and is doing her part to ensure it won’t happen. She’s giving back because the Red Cross helped her in a time of need. Ziegenfuso, who has volunteered at animal clinics, fitness centers and food kitchens, found that becoming a Fellow in their Mission Continues program not only aids others but gives her indefinable happiness and fulfillment.

“It’s an amazing feeling that can’t be put into words until you experience it,” said Ziegenfuso, who is in the fourth month of a six-month fellowship where she will volunteer at least 20 hours per week. “We can’t carry their cross, that’s their burden, but we can at least help them for awhile as they get on the road to recovery.”

Ziegenfuso gets a small stipend during her fellowship, but it’s the other perks that bring her the most blessings.

“Helping others is the biggest blessing and that’s incredible, but it’s also great for enhancing your public speaking and communication skills, connecting and networking and another way for us to report for duty… but this time in our own country,” she said. 

Some people find it convenient to give by participating in the Highlands Chapter’s annual Run for the Red, which is August 2, playing or being a sponsor in the group’s March golf tournament, or booking a table and having a glass of wine at the Red and White Wine Gala on November 13. Others volunteer their time, expertise or blood, a valued commodity since the organization provides 40 percent of all blood nationwide and one pint can save up to three lives.

No human donation goes unnoticed. And in fact, sometimes the small act of Clara Barton-like kindness (founder of the American Red Cross) brings overwhelming bliss to the recipient. Now, when was the last time you did something for someone that evoked tears of happiness like writing a letter to someone in the military?

“Everyone has something to give,” Harris said, “whether it’s teaching a class, donating money, blood or their time, or using their expertise. And if you don’t think you have an expertise we’ll show you what and where it is.”

Ziegenfuso, who trains, motivates and recruits volunteers, said the basic requirement is the ability to show care, compassion and concern. That could translate into something as easy as driving someone to work, or their kids to an after-school activity. When an emergency happens life has to go on as normal as possible for a family.

“You have to have a passion to help people or it won’t be successful for either party involved,” Ziegenfuso said. “We educate a lot of military spouses, helping them cope with deployment, and while we can’t help them financially, we give them resources to help them solve their problems or work out concerns. We offer information and classes from pre-deployment to reconnection workshops when they return. From start to finish, nobody does that. That’s what we really need the people to know about the Red Cross.”

Harris, a banker for 30 years before taking the executive director post 10 months ago, said he networks with local churches and other civic and private organizations during “blue sky days” to build up resources for “gray sky days.”

He is responsible for having a ready-to-use supply of hygiene and cleanup kits, cots, blankets and other necessities staged in locales throughout the region. Harris also facilities relationships with area hotels so they can donate two nights for every night of lodging the Red Cross purchases.

Emergencies are unscheduled but not unplanned for by the Red Cross. Seven weeks ago, a flood forced 22 people to the Smith Recreation Center.

So, you’ve heard all this and are now saying that you will volunteer during the next major crisis. Or perhaps you’re still not convinced your charitable contribution is needed. Harris said that frequently the “little” disasters are the ones that need the most attention.

“People care during a typhoon,” he said. “The bigger problem is when it’s a drip, drip, drip and not in your neighborhood. People never find out about the little drips, which keep dripping.”

A hygiene kit, which can include such items as a tooth brush, soap, shampoo, clothes, jackets and coats cost the Red Cross about $100 to assemble. A cleanup kit, which includes items such as a mop, broom and cleaning agents costs $20.

Harris, three staff workers and hundreds of part-time volunteers have their hands full. “Volunteer with the Red Cross” said Ziegenfuso, “it’s something you’ll never regret.”

For information on how you can help, call 910.876.8151.