EAST WENATCHEE — Wildfires and structure fires that have stretched American Red Cross volunteer resources thin this summer have also put a spotlight on the wide range of services the organization provides.
In the last few months, Wenatchee has had a condo fire that displaced six families, a house fire in July that displaced 18 people, a Chelan apartment fire in June and more, said Hannah Christen, Red Cross Wenatchee Disaster Program manager.
The Red Cross also ran emergency shelters for people forced from their homes by wildfires. “I opened eight shelters in the first two weeks of July, which is unusual for us,” Christen said. “We expect to open a few.”
The American Red Cross provides a lot of different services, including blood drives, temporary help after a structure fire and even disaster assistance, said Ryan Rodin, Red Cross Greater Inland Northwest executive director.
The Red Cross is a nonprofit that relies on donations and provides a wide range of community services. “Whenever I’m out at a tabling event, I always ask people, ‘When you hear the Red Cross, what’s the first thing you think of?’” Rodin said. “I get a wide variety of responses like blood collection is big, fire and hurricane, a lot of people also say things like lifeguard training or CPR.”
The Red Cross helped open a heat wave shelter in July in the Town Toyota Center. It isn’t something that the Red Cross usually does, but they saw a need and made it work, said Doug Jones, former Wenatchee Red Cross board member.
One of the big parts of Christen’s job is helping people in the aftermath of housing fires. The Red Cross provides those families with funding with the intent to help them provide temporary shelter, but people can use it however they need.
“It’s really rewarding to be involved in being able to help people when they have that immediate need,” Christen said. “They’re standing on the sidewalk at three in the morning and they’ve lost everything and we’re there ... just someone to help them through that.”
The above-normal number of emergency responses, though, is stretching the Red Cross’s volunteer resources thin, she said. The agency depends on volunteers to help people after structure fires and to manage their emergency shelters.
“So when you see people doing work out in the community, it’s usually not me,” Christen said. “There’s only one of me. I have hundreds of volunteers who do a lot of the heavy lifting.”
The Red Cross can always use additional help from volunteers and as wildfires increase in frequency with climate change, they will need more assistance, she said. People can go to redcross.org/volunteer to sign up.
“It’s a heavy lift to do for a limited amount of people,” Christen said. “And we always figure it out, we always make it work, but at the same time it puts a lot of stress on people, which is why we need some new blood in to help lighten the load.”