Freeborn County Red Cross held annual meeting

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Freeborn County chapter of the American Red Cross held its annual meeting Monday in the days after a slew of tornadoes struck the region.

The Red Cross is actively providing assistance to those affected by the tornadoes. It opened a temporary shelter at the National Guard Armory on Thursday night for anyone seeking a place to wait out the weather.

On Friday, four teams were sent out to do disaster assessments and document damage, which they completed on Sunday. The volunteers began driving emergency response vehicles to provide meals, hand out snacks and water, clothing, totes for packing and comfort kits filled with different toiletries.

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“We didn’t dodge the bullet on the 17th,” said Freeborn County Sheriff Mark Harig, the guest speaker at the meeting.

Law enforcement is working closely with the Red Cross to ensure everyone that needs help gets it, he said. The Red Cross provides clean up, damage assessment and coordinates volunteers. Volunteers have worked long hours at the phones taking calls for possible need. Also on call is the Red Cross disaster team, six to eight people who rotate from the greater number of members.

“We don’t know where all the damage is, but we’re still looking,” Harig said.

Chapter Chairman Ebenezer Howe said it takes $100,000 on average to provide support, but due to these recent crises — first the feared chemical spill in early May, then the June 17 tornadoes — the organization may find itself $20,000 over budget. Though the annual fundraiser “Dancing with the Freeborn County Stars” contributes significantly, Howe said when disasters occur, funds are quickly depleted.

“Monetary donations are greatly appreciated,” said Jeanie Opdahl, director of the local Red Cross chapter.

Opdahl said they also need volunteers just as much as donations. The debris scattered around fields and the sites of destroyed homes especially need cleaning. Vice Chairwoman Jan Birkhofer said because there is such a short window of time for farmers to replant any lost crops, they need a lot of volunteers in a short amount of time.

“The Red Cross is impartial, such a great thing to give to everyone regardless,” said Ann Austin, the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.

The home office of the Red Cross is currently coordinating volunteer efforts. To volunteer or donate, call 373-4544.