Local Red Cross provides vital services to residents

Wanda English Burnett

This week marks five years since Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast with such an impact it was felt across the nation.

Peggi Stahr who is the new interim director of the Ripley County chapter of the American Red Cross knows the devastation of that hurricane and what it means to truly serve through the Red Cross. She was in Knoxville, TN, as the director of the chapter there at the time of the disaster.

“It was unbelievable,” she told The Versailles Republican. There in Tennessee, they were flooded with those needing help. One of the problems in helping them get help was their staff wasn’t sufficient to carry such a load, much as it is here.

The Red Cross depends on volunteers and many people came in to volunteer but they had no prior training, according to Stahr. She encourages people to be trained as volunteers before disaster strikes so they can truly be helpful.

The Ripley County chapter is looking to perhaps change the image of the organization locally through education. They are much more than a disaster service relief, which is primarily how they are thought of.

The Red Cross offers a variety of community services through health and safety programs such as CPR, First Aid, Disaster Preparedness programs, and lifeguard classes to name a few. They also send kits into the schools for teachers to use to help the younger generation with any disaster they might encounter. These are age appropriate so they are easily understood.

They are the agency mandated by the government to provide military communications between families and active duty military personnel. This is often times a death notification to a person serving in the military of a family member at home.

The Ripley County chapter was chartered in 1917 and is a vital part of the community it serves. For those who have a disaster such as fire or tornado damage, the Red Cross is there to provide immediate, temporary relief.

Stahr explained that sometimes people become confused about the mission of the Red Cross and think they can help them when they lose a job or have a financial hardship - that is not the case. She stressed that the Red Cross is an agency that provides immediate, temporary relief and more specifically they help out in a disaster such as a fire to get people clothing, food, and a place to stay for three days.

That three day period is crucial to a family who has lost everything in a fire. This gives them an immediate roof over their heads and time to sort out the situation.

The Red Cross is totally dependant on donations to survive. While they are mandated to be in place and to help in times of disaster, they do not receive any government funds, according to Stahr. They depend on the generosity of donations. People who want their funds to stay in Ripley County can designate their wishes and it is honored.

Stahr, who has a 20-year history as a Red Cross volunteer before going into the director side of it, says she is excited about working in Ripley County. She knows much of the work of the Red Cross is in the background, but is often vital to people’s survival. She advocates education about the services the Red Cross provides and says the more volunteers a group has the more they can offer.

In the future Stahr is hoping to offer a First Aid class for dogs and cats, one like she offers in Dearborn County, where she serves as the part time director. She said the babysitter classes are also popular there.

The staff is very limited at the Ripley County chapter, located on the square in Versailles. Besides, Stahr, who is only in a couple days a week, Delbert Felix has accepted the position of office manager and handles a variety of duties. He served on the board of directors for the local chapter for nearly five years and has a good understanding of the inner workings of the organization.

Stahr praised his work and the all-volunteer board. Those serving on the board are also the same people you will see collecting money at a bucket brigade on September 11 and 25, and serving in the Versailles Pumpkin Show booth. They are also the ones who might show up in the middle of the night to bring immediate assistance.

The local board is comprised of the following members: Brenda Bannon, Fern Baumer, Barb Gunselman, Charlie Israel, Willie Ronnebaum, Rob Schlotterbeck, Jason Smith and Jack and Susan Wilker.

“There is so much potential here,” Stahr told The Versailles Republican, saying, “This is a great group of volunteers.” She welcomes anyone who would like to become a part of the Red Cross to get involved.

Felix said he believes in the mission of the Red Cross and wants to “better the services to residents in the time of their need.” For more information or to find out how to become a volunteer, you can email: rc.arc@myfrontiermail.com or call 812-689-6308.

Pictured left, Peggi Stahr is the new interim director for the American Red Cross Ripley County chapter. Also pictured is Delbert Felix, who is the new office manager. Together they have over 25 years of volunteer service to the Red Cross. The Ripley County chapter is located on the south side of the square in Versailles. To contact the local chapter you can call 812-689-6308.