Response to blood requests overwhelming

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

In the wake of terrorists' attacks on the East Coast, the American Red Cross has been overwhelmed by the response of residents who want to help by donating blood and others seeking information about loved ones who work in the Pentagon.

"The phones have been going nuts," said Mary Burton, executive director of the Red Cross' Southeast Missouri chapter.

Volunteers for the organization's Missouri Aviation Air Incident Response team have been put on standby as well as mental health workers, the disaster assessment team and emergency relief vehicles.

The Rev. John Rhodes, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Pocahontas, Mo., is one of four coordinators for a disaster relief team out of the Cape Girardeau Baptist Association.

He worked Tuesday to paint and refinish a disaster trailer housed at the Cape Girardeau Baptist Association office. The trailer could be used to feed relief workers at disaster sites, much like what volunteers did during the 1993 floods.

"Obviously we can't send all our volunteers to one area of the country," Burton said, but people here can still help by contacting the Red Cross to donate blood.

Already more than 80,000 units of blood from across the country have been sent to New York City -- 600 out of the local inventory -- said David Palmer, blood drive coordinator.

The current supply has been adequate, but a steady supply is needed to replenish what they are using.

A community blood drive is scheduled from noon to 8 today at the Osage Community Centre and more are planned for next week.

"But what people need to realize is this is going to be an ongoing problem," Palmer said. "Two, three, four weeks from now, it's going to be just as important to donate blood as it is today."

Checking on soldiers

Although the organization receives no government funding, the Red Cross is the emergency communications liaison for the U.S. Armed Forces.

"I went through Desert Storm," Burton said. "Sometimes the counseling for families is the biggest support we can offer."

In the event of military activation the organization is authorized to send messages to soldiers from family and check on soldiers' welfare.

The Red Cross already had some of those calls Tuesday morning, but there was a 24-hour moratorium on information coming out of the Pentagon.

As soon as information is available, it will be passed on to the families.

What's so important now, Burton said, is to make sure people have all the information about the soldiers they are checking on.

That includes their complete names, Social Security numbers, branches of service, ranks and military addresses.

Financial donations are also welcome, she said. "This is going to be very costly," Burton said. "Our Red Cross disaster fund is already stressed."

Maj. Robert Gauthier of the Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau said no request had come from national headquarters, but emergency vehicles with food and relief assistance are on site in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

Staff writer Laura Johnston contributed to this report.

abuchanan@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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