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Red Cross hoping to start district branch

They’re best known for responding to humanitarian crises around the world, but the Canadian Red Cross is hoping to increase its presence in Fort Frances and Rainy River District by forming a local branch council.

“Right now we’re just starting from scratch,” Shana Hansson, district manager for the Canadian Red Cross’ Dryden and District Branch, which oversees the group’s projects in this area, said about hoping to establish a Fort Frances branch council.

“We’re looking for six [people] for branch council,” noted Hansson, adding this would include a president, vice-president, secretary, disaster management volunteer operational lead, and injury prevention chair.

“Ideally, there would be 10 positions but those are the ones that we definitely need to have in place,” she explained.

For those interested in being a part of the local board, leadership experience, as well as experience on another council or board, helps but is not essential, Hansson stressed.

“What we want to have is a volunteer position for every program or service that we operate in a community,” she remarked.

Local residents may remember that almost a decade ago, there was a greater presence of the Red Cross in the district through a homemakers’ office in Fort Frances, which was taken over by another organization.

Currently in Rainy River District, Hansson said the Red Cross runs three programs, noting the first one is “disaster management.”

The second program is injury prevention, which includes things such as baby-sitting courses, first aid courses, and CPR training.

The third program currently running in the district is “Warm Winter,” where volunteers knit mitts and hats which then are distributed to area schools and women’s shelters.

“[Winter Warmth is] through the Kenora and Rainy River Districts,” Hansson explained. “So that would be a project that a branch council could take on locally.

“Where instead of using Dryden volunteers to knit some hats, we can have a group of volunteers here in Fort Frances doing it for the Fort Frances schools.

“That way, we would be able to help out more kids because there would be a greater supply of mitts and hats,” Hansson reasoned.

“And eventually we’d like to expand and offer more programs and services, but it’s just a matter of getting the bodies on board to do so,” she added.

Since Christmas alone, the Red Cross has provided services to the district, such as responding to three house fires.

“What we did for these people is we gave them vouchers for some food, some vouchers for clothing,” Hansson explained. “We can provide food, shelter, clothing, personal services generally up to 72 hours after a house fire.”

Hansson said people’s needs are different.

“Not everybody who loses their home to a fire is in need of our services, but when somebody asks, then we respond,” she remarked, adding that through a local branch, it would be local volunteers helping with this response.

When it comes to time commitments, branch councils usually meet on a monthly basis for an hour to an hour-and-a-half long meeting, she noted.

“From there, [the amount of time] really depends on what the branch council wants to take on as a project,” said Hansson. “So if they want to take something on that’s a bigger scale project, of course it’s going to require more time on their part.

“As long as they’re related to Red Cross programs and services, [projects] can be as broad as the imaginations of the council members are.”

Local youth involvement is another area where the Red Cross welcomes participation.

“If people are interested, we are always trying to put together a Red Cross youth group,” said Hansson, noting many youths at Fort Frances High School already have had the opportunity to do first aid training through the Red Cross First Response certificate course thanks to local paramedic John Beaton.

“It’s just a great opportunity for kids,” she enthused. “It looks good on the résumé in the future, they have opportunities for travel, there’s all sorts of things.”

Youths can tackle a wide range of projects—and be creative, said Hansson, with others Red Cross youth groups having done land mine projects, violence and abuse prevention education, malaria net projects, and more.

The work of local Red Cross volunteers also is a complementary service to other programs, such as connecting with victim services when it comes to disaster management.

As well, Hansson noted Red Cross branch members in Kenora and Dryden sit on their respective “Safe Communities” coalitions.

“If we had somebody who is a volunteer here who is interested and wanted to be a part of [Safe Communities Rainy River District] on behalf of the Red Cross, we would love for them to be able to do that for us, as well, and make that connection,” she remarked.

Those interested in helping to build a local Red Cross branch can contact Hansson toll-free at 1-888-277-9089 or via e-mail at shana.hansson@redcross.ca

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