Even as they boarded a plane Friday out of Roanoke bound for Mississippi to help with the relief effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, Fancy Gap residents Jacob Mayer and Gail Gorman-Mayer had other things on their minds.
Disaster relief volunteers for the American Red Cross, Mayers were on their way to Hattiesburg, Miss. to help provide relief to the nearly 1 million people without power and in need of basic necessities in the wake of the powerful hurricane that affected a six-state region. Even so, Jacob Mayer wanted to make sure people understand the American Red Cross does much, much more than just help those whose lives have been affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes.
“Ninety percent of all Red Cross disaster relief is for people who experience house fires. That is something people don’t think about, but it happens 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Mayer said. “That is the most important thing people need to think about. The second thing is the Red Cross has been doing disaster relief since the Civil War when Clara Barton recruited volunteers to go out and take care of the dying and wounded.”
Whenever a house fire strikes, the American Red Cross is always one of the first agencies to step in and lend a helping hand with relief to affected families. In that same regard, Mayer and his wife will be making sure the immediate needs of folks affected by Isaac will be met – making sure victims have food, clothing and shelter.
“Our purpose is to help them get on their feet and be safe in the meantime,” Mayer said. “We will be providing financial assistance after we interview people about what their needs are and they may receive cash vouchers to be used for those immediate needs. Then we’ll make referrals to other agencies that are there to help.”
Like all Red Cross Disaster volunteers, Mayer and his wife are always on call, ready at a moment’s notice. He said they informed the organization on Wednesday they would be willing to help with Hurricane Isaac relief.
“And we got marching orders Thursday at 4 p.m., and the earliest we could make plane reservations was 5 p.m. Friday,” Mayer said. “We have had 24 hours. A lot of folks had two hours from the time they were asked to report until their flight was scheduled. Fortunately, those were folks mostly in Roanoke near the airport.”
Mayer said he was attracted to the Red Cross Disaster Service while working for Blood Services in Roanoke when he saw a big display of what the American Red Cross did at the Pentagon after a plane crashed into the building on September 11, 2001.
“I was really impressed with the relief they provided then. I took volunteer courses and went to North Carolina, and after a couple of years got involved in a chapter and become one of two disaster service managers for about five years,” Mayer said.
Since that time, he has helped provide relief when Hurricane Danny hit Louisiana prior to the massive Hurricane Katrina. He’s also volunteered in Florida when four hurricanes hit the Sunshine State’s coast within a period of two months. More recently, he and his wife have provided relief much closer to home when powerful tornadoes struck the Southwest Virginia communities of Pulaski and Glade Spring last year.
“But I also want to emphasize the biggest disaster is house fires. It happens everywhere all year long in the middle of the night,” Mayer said. “That is where the majority of relief services go.”
As for Hurricane Isaac, The American Red Cross had 77 shelters open in six states serving 4,000 people as of August 28, according to Joan Isom, Executive Director of the Wood’s River Chapter of the American Red Cross. Many more shelters are open as well through partnering agencies. Also, 3,500 disaster responders have already been assigned to the area, with 31 of those coming from the Virginia Mountain Region, Isom said. Additionally, 197 emergency response vehicles for feeding have been sent by the American Red Cross, with two coming from our region.
“They have told us it’s going to be weeks before power is replaced, therefore these people will be in need of support and it may be months before they can return to a normal lifestyle,” Isom said. “And in order for us to respond to these, we need monetary donations.”
The American Red Cross is a humanitarian organization led by volunteers and guided by its congressional charter. The fundamental principles of the international Red Cross movement will provide relief to victims of disaster and help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Anyone wishing to help the American Red Cross can do so by calling the Wood’s River Chapter at (276) 236-2891, visiting the office at 244 Bee Line Drive in Galax, or by making donations online at www.redcross.org