When disaster strikes in Umatilla or Morrow counties, there’s a good chance a local Red Cross volunteer will be there to lend a hand.

That certainly was the case recently when a fire damaged an apartment building in Umatilla and displaced 28 people or when the house fire in Stanfield displaced four people from their home. The dedicated volunteers of the Northeast District of the Oregon Trail Chapter of American Red Cross provided food, shelter and comfort to the victims. At the site of disasters, volunteers interview victims to determine what their needs are and then help meet them. Additionally, these volunteers staff Red Cross shelters and help in community outreach by handing out Red Cross preparedness material at parades and other fairs.

Our local volunteers are some of the most well-trained volunteers in delivering Red Cross service. The big cities have hundreds of volunteers to provide specialized support. In rural Oregon, our small stable of volunteers are cross trained to provide many types of services. 

Since the inception of the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, these local volunteers have practiced and prepared yearly to support the emergency response to the most unthinkable chemical or biological disaster. They are prepared to lend a hand to our Armed Forces members and families when they are stationed outside the U.S.

They also support and arrange local blood drives.

However, the most frequent call for assistance is the single-family house fire. A house fire can devastate a family for many months or even years. A house fire destroys food, clothing, shelter and a family’s feeling of safety.

When the local Red Cross volunteer arrives at the scene, their goal is to assess the situation, provide comfort and immediate assistance to the family in the form of shelter, food, clothing and mental health aid. Most of all, their job is to help that family regain a sense of safety.

All of this service is provided by less than 15 dedicated core disaster volunteers. Yep, you read that right, less than 15 people provide this remarkable service.

These volunteers are supported by one CSEPP paid position and volunteers in Portland for processing paperwork and taking the initial emergency calls. However, the “boots on the ground” are always local people. That is a remarkable testimony to these volunteers and their belief in helping people.

While the Oregon Trail Chapter continues to trim its rural resources and support because of budget constraints, our local volunteers are asked to take on more responsibility and, like any East Oregonian, they do it with a smile. To make this happen they meet once a month to train and prepare. They have dedicated themselves to understanding how to deliver the Red Cross services more efficiently and effectively.

 It is with great privilege that I have been given the opportunity to serve with all these local disaster volunteers. Having been a volunteer for the American Red Cross for more than 10 years in many different chapters, I can say that being a volunteer in rural Oregon has been the most rewarding. Working with Jan, Merlin, Floy, Sharon and many others has reminded me that dedication to the single idea of helping others is amazing. Our local disaster volunteers epitomize the core values of the Red Cross.

To all those who give selflessly and help others, thank you for making a difference in so many lives and doing it with such grace.

Mike Mathisen, 43, is married and has two daughters. He lives in Hermiston and works as food service manager for the Oregon Depart.ment of Corrections at Two Rivers Correctional Institution. He volunteers with several area organizations and is a court appointed special advocate. 

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