PLATTSBURGH - Whether it's been in response to natural disasters or through providing lifesaving education, the North Country chapter of the American Red Cross has been helping people of the region for nearly a century.
The North Country chapter has strived to be a valuable asset to the community since it was formed through the work of the late Ada Rogers in AuSable Folks in 1916. Today, the minimally-staffed office of the chapter has two full-time and three part-time employees, but boasts more than 300 volunteers in the area.
"We help people to prepare, work through and recover from disasters," executive director Jeanie D. Roberts explained of the organization's mission.
A majority of the emergencies the chapter tends to, said Roberts, are house fires.
"Occasionally, we have a disaster of some kind, but generally they are house fires," she said.
Most recently, a house fire on Stetson Avenue caused the relocation of two families living in a rented house. The chapter assisted the families with receiving aid.
On a much larger scale, the chapter set up 27 shelters in Clinton and Essex counties during the infamous Ice Storm of 1998. The shelters, said Roberts, were visited by "close to 1,000 people in the 17 days they were open, if not more."
Roberts also said when ice or snow melts, like the 1998 ice storm, the flooding it creates could sometimes cause a need for aid in the area. In 1996, when there was major flooding in the area, the local Red Cross worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy the land which was flooded out and could no longer be built upon, said Roberts.
Earlier this year, a major flood in the AuSable Forks region also called for aid.
Other than providing aid and assisting other aid organizations, the local Red Cross raises funding, educates and protects those in need in the surrounding area and across the globe.
"Our chapter has raised $50,000 for Haiti," said Roberts, referring to the recent earthquake which devastated the island nation. "Nationally, we have raised over $200 million."
One local elementary school raised $1,608.52 in a week, and the National Red Cross "texting" fundraiser - in which people are able to help the Haiti effort by sending a financial pledge via cell phone text message to 90999 - has raised $30 million, said Roberts.
The local chapter has also taught nearly 7,400 people in the area with their health and safety programs, which include CPR, automated external defibrillator training, and waterfront safety [lifeguard certification] classes. The program also distributes informational material and safety presentations to various groups.
The chapter is also one of 35 nationwide that supports the Lifeline program, which assists elderly and physically-disabled persons by offering a small device with a button on it which, when activated, alerts the proper authorities when a person has become incapacitated for one reason or another.
"There are over 230 in the program," Roberts said. "So, if you count the Lifeline volunteers, we have over 500 in our chapter."
However, since the Red Cross isn't a government-funded entity, it must rely heavily on the continued financial support of the community.
Events like Fire and Ice, an annual silent and live auction - scheduled this year for Saturday, March 27, at the West Side Ballroom - help make that happen. In what is considered the chapter's biggest fundraiser, the event will also feature a Texas barbecue buffet and a Southwest theme, where participants will be encouraged to wear cowboy and cowgirl outfits.
For more information about Fire and Ice or the many programs and services of the American Red Cross, contact the chapter at 561-7280 or visit their Web site at www.northcountryredcross.org.
Volunteers are always needed and the chapter is always ready to help those in need, said Roberts.
"We are always open," she said.
Michael O'Keefe is an intern with the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.