Today, the American Red Cross is a volunteer-led, humanitarian organization which provides services in the following areas:
- Emergency assistance
- Disaster relief
- Community services for the needy
- Communications services/comfort for military members and their families
- Collection, processing, and distribution of blood and blood products
- Educational programs on preparedness, health, and safey
- International relief and development programs
The American Red Cross is the designated U.S. affiliate of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Clara Barton founded the Red Cross in Washington, D.C. on May 21, 1881. Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, Ms. Barton was a teacher. After the war broke out, she worked tirelessly for humanitarian causes and in 1869 she traveled to Europe for a restful vacation.
It was at this time she became involved with the work of the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War, and was dedicated to bringing the organization with her to the United States.
Photo: Clara Barton
Since its founding in 1881, the American Red Cross has become the nation’s premier emergency response organization. Across the United States, there are now 700 locally supported chapters and more than 15 million people have gained skills and training from the organization.
Local training classes are available throughout the country. Some areas, mentioned above, where the American Red Cross plays a vital role include the following:
Disaster Response/Services – In 1905, the American Red Cross was granted a congressional charter to “carry on a system of national and international relief in time of peace and apply the same in mitigating the sufferings caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods, and other great national calamities, and to devise and carry on measures for preventing the same.”
Since this time, the Red Cross has taken its responsibility seriously and been there for victims of disasters. The American Red Cross provides two types of assistance after a disaster: hard assistance involves the provision of material items and may include feeding, shelter, clean-up kits, comfort kits and financial assistance while soft assistance minimizes immediate disaster-caused suffering through listening, guidance, advocacy, and counseling.
According to the American Red Cross, in response to Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita, 1,470 different shelters were opened and 3.8 million overnight stays were registered. A staggering number of volunteers, estimated at 300,000, the majority of which were not paid, were utilized to provide sheltering, casework, communication and assessment services. Additionally, the American Red Cross also assisted in recovery efforts in Haiti after the Earthquake and continues to assist in the fight against the cholera outbreak spending over $183.5 million to meet Haiti’s most pressing needs.
Blood Services – The American Red Cross organizes blood at which people donate. The American Red Cross then directly sells the blood to over 3,000 hospitals nationally, and regional suppliers. This blood also assists victims of international disasters and conflicts at locations worldwide. The organization also provides allograft tissue for transplant through sales in its Tissue Services Program and is a leader in plasma services; the American Red Cross provides more than one quarter of the nation’s plasma products.
Health and Safety Services – The American Red Cross provides first aid, Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), Automated external defibrillator (AED), water safety and life-guarding, babysitting, disaster preparedness, and home safety training. These programs are designed to teach those who are inclined to learn but have not had prior experience in these areas.
Trainings are also provided in the workplace and at aquatic facilities. The American Red Cross teaches around 12 million Americans skills annually, ranging from youth to professional rescuers in hopes that when called upon these people will put such skills to use.
An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood as well as income from health and safety training and products do its work.
There is a multitude of ways to donate to the American Red Cross: online, monthly, making a purchase from the organization’s holiday gift catalog, or donating spare change at your local grocery store.