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Kate Leene, executive director of the American Red Cross Berkshire County chapter, shakes hands with Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi after he proclaimed March as Red Cross Month in the city.

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi took a moment to look at the banner: a solid block-type red cross against a white background.

"It is a symbol of hope," he said.

The flag of the American Red Cross was given as a gift to City Hall after the mayor declared March as Red Cross Month in Pittsfield by writ of proclamation. The same is observed nationwide, as declared by the president each year.

"People assume they know what the Red Cross does, but it's so much more," said Bianchi, whose own mother served as "the cookie lady" at Red Cross blood drives until she was 90.

In addition to blood drives and disaster relief efforts, the Red Cross provides a number of health and safety courses, including a nurse aide training program; support services for military families and veterans; food and nutrition programs; specialized discussion and education programs for people over age 50; international services; youth training and leadership programs. It also produces various educational materials, smartphone apps and other resources.

In Berkshire County, 676 individuals received support, services and/or education from the Red Cross through disaster services including Mass Care programs for first responders, a training or community education course during fiscal 2014, from last July to present.


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Most recently in Pittsfield, Red Cross volunteers have responded to house fires, including last month's duplex fire at 150 Wahconah St., which left four people homeless.

"The community itself has been so generous for that fire alone, and has done so for others," said Cindy Hahn, disaster manager for the Berkshire County Red Cross chapter.

Red Cross Board President Tim Dolan said he's grateful to both volunteers and donors for their contributions of time and money to help keep the chapter operating.

Hahn said there is always a need for more of both.

"We could always use volunteers," she said, noting that there are 30 people who volunteer for disaster response county-wide.

Executive Director Kate Leene said daytime volunteers are greatly needed to help meet and coordinate services for clients, from securing food and shelter, to connecting with mental health counselors to help clients cope with the trauma they experience.

Mayor Bianchi has been so concerned with the number of city fires over the past year that he's been keeping track of them on a map that stand on an easel in his office.

"It's concentrated on an older section of town in older buildings with older wiring, and most of them are rental units," Bianchi said.

Both he and Hahn discussed ways that the city and Red Cross, as well as landlords, can do a better job educating residents about issues in homes that could cause a fire or other serious problems, and to encourage all non-homeowners to buy renter's insurance.

"It costs about $200 a year and covers everything, yet a lot of people still don't know it exists," said board member Rebecca Weeks.

Marge Foster, a board member who recently decided to become a disaster response volunteer saw firsthand the impact the donation of time can have.

"I live in Washington and was home on a Saturday morning when I got a call about visiting a young couple whose home had a fire. It was my first experience working with people who had to suffer such a tragedy," Foster said. She put on her red vest from the organization and arrived at her fellow townspeople's home with emergency comfort kits with toiletries and personal care items and a list of ways the Red Cross could help them.

"To see how they reacted to see us there was very rewarding," she said.

To learn more about the American Red Cross or to register for a program or to volunteer, visit redcross.org/ma/pittsfield. The Red Cross Berkshire County Chapter is located at 480 West St., Pittsfield. Business hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The local toll-free hotline is 1-800-332-2030.