Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012: A Year in Red Cross Review

written by Anita Foster, staff contributor

Anita Foster, Ameican Red Cross Chief Communications Officer, spends time with a shelter resident in West Liberty, Kentucky, following the country's first devastating tornado outbreak of 2012.

For most of us, flipping the calendar to a brand new year is so exciting. We can look ahead with great optimism, while looking back with reflection and lessons learned. At the Red Cross, we do exactly that. We reflect back on all of the people that we collectively helped, and we look forward to the coming year. One of my colleagues asked me to share with you some of my memories from 2012 and I'm so honored to do that. Some are joyful. Others are painful. But our work together rallies us to achieve our mission no matter the circumstance. I know that no matter where I'm sent, I'm there because you give to the Red Cross and make our work possible.

In February, albeit early for tornado season, I jumped on an airplane and headed to Tennessee ahead of what was shaping up to be a deadly tornado outbreak. After riding out the storms, we learned that all weather reports were correct. A deadly series of tornadoes had taken their toll across Indiana and Kentucky. Hundreds of people were injured. 41 didn't survive.

I was sent from Tennessee into a small Kentucky town called West Liberty. With a population of around 3,500, it's one of those towns where everyone knows everyone, and you knew it right away.

The Red Cross shelter had hundreds of people staying there, most families with small children. They simply had nowhere else to go because not only were most of the homes in the town destroyed, so was their town. The police station, fire station, library, city hall and almost every school were reduced to utter rubble. But their spirit as a town was not broken. I'll never forget meeting Stacey LeMaster, a young mother, who tried so hard to stay strong for her kids. She was representative of everyone we met. In this short video, you'll meet Stacey and gain of sense of what this town endured when Mother Nature swept through with her fury.

Barely home from the relief operation in Kentucky, it was our turn to contend with severe weather. Who in North Texas can forget April 3, 2012? With little warning, the skies began to rotate all across the Metroplex and before we knew it, 17 tornadoes had impacted thousands of lives. But true to course, the North Texas Region sprang into action as soon as it was safe. Shelters were opened, meals were prepared, partnerships were forged and Piper the Puppy made his way into the arms of scores of children. It is so powerful to know that our Tiffany Circle members in Dallas created the Piper project. Being able to see so many children across the Metroplex light up when they got their Piper was priceless. Take a look at this photo slide show of kids loving on their Piper.

For weeks, Red Cross workers helped families around the clock because of the local tornado outbreak. But none of us ever lost sight of the fact that our community did not suffer a loss of life. It's impossible to imagine when looking at the damage, but everyone survived. Take a look at this minute and a half video to reflect on the amount of damage sustained in our community, and the amount of help you provided.

And then came hurricane season. A couple of near misses had us on alert, but when Hurricane Isaac formed and started moving towards New Orleans, we quickly found ourselves with a shelter open and evacuees arriving. Partnering with Faith Bible Church in DeSoto, we were able to provide care and comfort to those who lost their homes south of the New Orleans area. Over a two week period, we were able to help everyone return to Louisiana so that they could begin on their road to recovery. We'll always be gratful to the good people at Faith Bible Church who took their Red Cross training when the sky was blue. Meet Pastor Andy in this one-minute video.

Nearing the backside of hurricane season, Sandy began to form in late October. As the days wore on, it became clearer, and scarier, that Sandy was going to directly impact the most populous region in the United States. And she did just that. To date, your North Texas Region has sent nearly 150 of our relief workers to help across New York and New Jersey. Many will be deployed over the holidays, far from their own families. The amount of destruction is simply indescribable and the amount of need is too. It is times like this when we all must band together to get help to people. And you helped us do that. The statistics are astounding:
  • 8,718,832 meals and snacks served
  • 6,564,100 relief items distributed
  • 98,259 health and mental health contacts
  • 1,889 disaster workers currently assigned to operations (To date there have been 15,642 disaster responders assigned to the Hurricane Sandy operations)
Sadly, we end 2012 with one of the worst human tragedies any of us can imagine; a gunman opening fire on small children in a suburban elementary school. We grapple with trying to understand how something like that could happen. Why children? What is the connection between these children and the gunman? What can we do to help because we feel so helpless? I am no expert on how anyone should cope with such a tragedy, but I will share with you something I learned after responding to a similar circumstance.

On September 15, 1999, a gunman entered Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth where high school kids were gathered at a prayer rally. He was heavily armed and discharged more than 100 rounds of ammunition and exploded a homemade pipe bomb inside the sanctuary before taking his own life. Seven people died at the scene. Seven others were critically injured, some paralyzed for life.

The faces of the families who came to realize that their children were not accounted for are forever etched on my mind and on my heart. To this day, I cannot speak of this response without tears.

In time, here's what I learned that helped me cope. We won't ever understand why someone would do this. Ever. There simply aren't answers. But we're not helpless to help because we're Red Crossers. While we're not in the media spotlight during times like this, we were at Columbine High School. And at Wedgwood Baptist Church; Virginia Tech; a movie theater in Colorado and since that horrible Friday, with the people in Newtown, Connecticut.

Our teams help facilitate mental health counseling and provide food, water and emotional support for the emergency workers at the scene. I saw it happen at Wedgwood Baptist Church and I know it mattered. In the weeks and months ahead, families of the deceased wrote us letters to thank us for our care and compassion. Kids drew us pictures to say thanks for helping and the church itself showed its gratitude with a special tribute to Red Cross workers and other emergency responders. Because you are a part of the Red Cross, you can know in your heart that you've already helped the people in Newtown. And I have no doubt that in time, they will also come to appreciate you for it.

I want to thank you for being a Red Cross supporter. Without you, our teams aren't able to be beside families when they need us most. We wouldn't be able to teach someone CPR or your grandkids how to swim and military families would be left to their own devices to stay connected during deployments. You do so much to alleviate suffering.

When we turn the calendar page to reflect a brand new 2013, we do so knowing that we don't have a crystal ball for the year ahead, but no matter what, even in the worst of times, we'll be there. Together.

To make a year end gift to the Red Cross or to learn more about volunteering in the new year, visit

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