The Red Cross not only provides relief to families dealing with a fire at home, but the Red Cross provides canteen services to the firefighters who are responding at the scene. (Photo courtesy of the Red Cross)
The Red Cross not only provides relief to families dealing with a fire at home, but the Red Cross provides canteen services to the firefighters who are responding at the scene. (Photo courtesy of the Red Cross)
VAN WERT – Derek Stemen, executive director of the local Red Cross, announced on Thursday that the Van Wert County Red Cross is celebrating its 100th anniversary of service to the local county. Red Cross was established in this county on June 8, 1917. Stemen anticipates an announcement soon as to the date and nature of that celebration.

In the meantime, the Red Cross is joining other sister organizations across the country in recognizing the tradition of March as Red Cross month.

Stemen, who has served in the local office for the past year and a half, is part of a new organization locally which allows the Red Cross in 10 counties to share volunteers and services in the event of an extreme emergency. Stemen noted that, in actuality, he is in charge of a 10-county block of Red Cross activity referred to as the West Central Ohio chapter of the Red Cross.

“We have 700 people in 10 counties that serve as volunteers. Of those, 350 are actually registered volunteers,” said Stemen. “We have 80 volunteers in Van Wert County.”

“We re-organized to make better use of the donor’s dollar and to make a bigger impact in our community service,” continued Stemen.

Stemen said that in addition to serving in times of disaster, the local group emphasizes passing out smoke alarms, the disaster pillowcase project and a preparedness campaign.

The Pillowcase Project originated in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Children living in makeshift communities around New Orleans decorated pillows as emergency supply kits.

The Pillowcase Project quickly became a preparedness education program for elementary school students and was quickly adapted by other Red Crosses across the nation with strong success.

In early 2013, the Red Cross received a grant from Disney to design and develop a multi-year effort that would build on this success by creating a standardized, state-of-the-art preparedness education program. Now entering the third year of this pilot, The Pillowcase Project is being offered by every Red Cross region across the country.

“Our 10 counties have a focus on each local community and county,” said Stemen. “We have good leadership and a disaster action plan for Van Wert County. We really function well as a team. If we need more resources, we reach out to each other for volunteers and resources from each other as a team.

“In the old days we had just one county. Now days we have local relationships with other counties that we can call on when needed,” continued Stemen.

Stemen noted several specific areas of specialization including Nancy Friemoth as blood drive coordinator, Mark Klausing as disaster action team leader, Sandy Lane as community volunteer leader and Carol Hennis, who is in charge of the hospital program.

“Red Cross Month is all about local heroes who make an impact on the community. It’s an exciting time of the year,” Stemen said.