Men's Breakfast Report, July 2012

The Men’s Breakfast Group met with Mari Berend, director of Galveston and Brazoria County Red Cross.  Mari was raised Houston but her family had property in Galveston so she made many trips along the I-45 as a child.  She said that the contrast between now and then is striking.  When she was a child, the space between Houston and Galveston was farmland or empty, and now is entirely built-up city.  This is a precedent for the Rte. 288 corridor between Brazosport and Houston.  Mari worked for several years in the medical field and volunteered with the Red Cross.  About a month before Hurricane Ike, she was hired as executive director of the Brazoria County Chapter of the Red Cross.  The Brazoria and Galveston chapter were subsequently combined with Mari made executive director of both.

The Red Cross has several programs.  The historical one, dating from its foundation, is to assist military members and their families.  This has become more important in the last few years with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   Another function is training civilians in medical skills, such as CPR, swimming and life saving.  The function we talked about most was disaster recovery assistance. 

Disaster recovery assistance can range from a family that had its house burn down to destruction of a city by hurricane.  When a house burns down, the family often loses everything; they may not even have any clothes to wear.  The Red Cross steps in to provide emergency help for clothing, temporary lodging and other assistance to get the family back to normal.  The temporary shelter can be a family member of the victim, a Red Cross shelter, a motel or even the Salvation Army. 

For larger disasters such as hurricanes, floods or wildfires, the Red Cross sets up shelters and staffs them.  The Red Cross has a large number of provisional shelters provided by businesses, community organizations, schools and churches.  These have been approved and studied to determine what extra facilities are needed to make the facility a usable shelter.  A facility that is on the list will only be converted to a shelter if it is usable at the time and if the owner is willing for it to be used at the time.  For example, schools make ideal shelters because they have large amounts of space, and have kitchens and locker rooms with showers.  However, schools usually want to get back into operation as soon as possible so they are seldom available during the school year.  Churches and community centers often have space but the kitchens are seldom adequate and they rarely have showers.  The Red Cross has trailers with showers, generators and kitchens that it can bring to a church shelter to make it into a usable shelter.  The local Red Cross shelters are not primary shelters for people fleeing a hurricane.  The closest primary shelter is in Belton.  Local shelters located in Brazoria and Galveston County are for people who have returned after the hurricane and need a place to stay while they fix up their place or until water and electricity are restored.  Residents are not allowed to move back home until at least water and sewer are restored.  Some homeowners associations have had their community centers declared shelters so that residents will have a place to stay while repairing their homes.  The Red Cross needs many shelters of all sizes.  After a disaster many of the possible shelters will not be usable or not available for other reasons.  Also, a shelter suitable for 300 people retuning from a hurricane would not be suitable for an apartment fire or a train derailment with 30 people needing shelter. 
The Red Cross relies heavily on volunteers with 93 percent of its members unpaid volunteers.  Volunteers can fill many functions from answering phones to operating shelters.  Volunteers may be called at any time but also have the right to decline helping for any reason.  Volunteers go through two-hour long initial training sessions that are usually scheduled for evenings.  If a person or a group of people want to become shelter volunteers, for example to support their facility as a shelter, there is an eight-hour training session.  Additional volunteers are always welcome.

Most of the income comes from donations.  The Red Cross is a United Way agency and receives donations from the United Way.  If donations are made for relief of a specific disaster, all the donations go toward that disaster and not to any overhead.  Donations can also be made to a specific chapter.  Undesignated donations go to wherever the need is greatest. 

As usual the men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast.  The next meeting will be August 11th with Tom Sharon as featured guest.