A New Year’s Day Unlike Any Other for this Western North Carolina Family

For the Gainey family, January 1st dawned as a day for relaxation and “family time” after the hustle and bustle of holiday festivities. After enjoying a traditional meal of collard greens and black-eyed peas, Stephen and Lisa settled in for a break in front of the television while the kids enjoyed playing with their new PSP’s in the next room. Little did they know that their calm, idyllic winter afternoon would change in an instant to a scene of panic, fear, and desperation.

The first signal that something was wrong…terribly wrong…came when the Gaineys’ two beloved cats jumped from their owners’ laps and ran away in fear. At the same instant, Stephen and Linda looked at each other in panic as they both registered the first whiffs of acrid smoke – most definitely the harbinger of fire somewhere in their home.

Lisa and Stephen followed the smell of smoke downstairs, where they discovered the entire first floor engulfed in flames. In the midst of their panic, Stephen was able to rush the children to safety outside. As he pushed his daughter, Anna, through the doorway she reminded him of their cats who were still in the home. Stephen tried to find them in the burning house but was unable to save them. Lisa frantically went from apartment to apartment, warning her neighbors to leave the burning complex.

In bare feet and pajamas, the Gainey children huddled in their car to try and keep warm on the cold January afternoon. Twelve-year old Anna tried to comfort her two younger brothers as they watched their home go up in flames. Then, as Anna remembers, “this really comforting and nice lady came up and started telling us everything would be alright, and she gave us covers and these cute little stuffed animals. My brothers started feeling better and I felt better because someone was there, and she just made me feel so good.”

In the midst of this time of despair, help had arrived – in the form of an American Red Cross volunteer caseworker. Judy had received the call regarding the fire and was there just as the Fire Department arrived. She provided the family with blankets, clothing, a hotel room, food, and replacement medications that had been lost in the fire.

The memories of that cold January day are still etched in Stephen’s mind. He says, “In all that grief and despair and confusion of not knowing what you’re gonna’ do, it was nice to have someone there who was telling you it’s gonna’ be okay.” Today, the Gaineys are grateful to all be alive and well, and they credit the American Red Cross volunteers with helping them overcome the devastation. They still see Judy on a regular basis, as she continues to monitor their progress.

Anna, who is much wiser than her years, is quick to volunteer her feelings about the Red Cross. “From my point of view, they were so nice and such good people. They helped us out with pretty much everything….toothbrushes, beds, covers, everything. I just know what they were there for me. I can tell you one thing…I’m NEVER going to forget them.”

Letters from War: Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes Campaign

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By Brian Scoles, Regional Chief Public Affairs Officer

The American Red Cross has just launched its annual Holiday Mail for Heroes Campaign and I am excited about it! As a veteran of the United States Armed Services, this campaign in particular means a lot to me.

I can tell you with certainty that there is almost nothing better for a service member’s morale than to know he is not forgotten, especially when he is far from home during the holidays. Even though a soldier is busy serving his country and is usually surrounded by other soldiers, there are down times, both in relation to physical time (hours, minutes, seconds), but also emotional downtime as well. It is easy to feel isolated when facing the extreme hardship and uncertainty of war.

During my enlistment, I served in three different military campaigns: Operations Desert Shield, Storm and Provide Comfort. My fondest war-time memory is that of a pen-pal, a Connecticut sixth-grader, whom I met through a series of cards and letters. I almost didn’t have pen-pal because the original letter, tattered and dirty, was kicked under a corner table of the mail room. I just happened to notice it on my way out to post for duty one night.

It took a while to respond to the letter due to the long 16-hour shifts that were intermittently interrupted by scud missile barrages and subsequent sweeps of the runway looking for FOD (foreign objects, debris) that could damage allied aircraft staging from the airbase. As the evening became quiet once again, and I settled back into my defensive fighting position, I pulled out a flashlight and the letter. In it was a picture of my new pen-pal and a letter  of thanks for protecting her and our country. 

About every two weeks thereafter, I would receive a letter postmarked from somewhere in Connecticut. My pen-pal would send home-made crossword puzzles and word searches, and I would learn a little more about her and her family and friends. She would ask questions about what the war was like and how my days were, and I would answer as much as I could.

Once the war ended for me and I returned home, I arranged a time to meet my pen-pal and thank her in person for all she had done to boost my morale. I took a ferry across the Long Island Sound from New York to Connecticut and spent a few hours with her and her family; such a good memory.  

Well, that’s a small part of my story and a large part of why I can’t wait to work with local businesses, community organizations, colleges and schools to get cards signed and sent to our military veterans and the servicemen and women who serve overseas, or are rehabilitating from injuries in medical centers around the globe.

Join me in writing our troops past and present. Here is a list of scheduled Holiday Mail for Heroes card signing events:

Euro Auto Festival, BMW, Saturday, October 20, 10:00AM-2:00 PM

Harley Davidson Bike Rally, Harley Davidson of Greenville, Saturday, October 13, 1:00-5:00 PM

Greenville Road Warriors game, Bi-Lo Center, Saturday, November 10, 7:00-9:00 PM

Rascal Flatts Concert, Bi-Lo Center, Thursday, October 18, 6:00-9:00 PM.

 Hope to see you there!

Summer Fun, Summer Safety

By Ann Wright, CEO of the American Red Cross Western Carolinas Region

Ann Wright, CEO of the American Red Cross Western Carolinas Region

June 20, the first official day of summer is here and if you’re like me, you spend as much time as possible outdoors. My favorite place to be is in my boat pulling my grandchildren on an innertube, or on occasion sitting on the dock working a crossword puzzle listening to the water lapping on the shore.

I love to see and hear people making memories. But with all the wonderful memory making moments that come with the magical three months of summer also comes many dangers. As much as we like to pretend we remember all those very important summer safety tips, the truth is most of us need a reminder. Plus this summer, as with every summer, there is always a fresh crop of mommies and daddies experiencing their very first summer with little ones.
So here is a basic summer safety refresher I’d like for us all to keep in mind.

  • Protect Your Family from the Sun – Did you know that 80 percent of a person’s lifetime sun exposure is acquired before age 18? That means the job you do of protecting your child from the sun will have a direct effect on their chances of getting skin cancer later in life. Wear sunscreen (SPF 50) and wear a hat. There is no cancer as easy to prevent as skin cancer yet it remains the most common form of cancer in the United States. Just remember “Slip, Slop, Slap, and wrap.”
 First, slip on some protective clothing. Secondly wear sunscreen. Next, slap on a hat. Finally, wrap on some sunglasses!
  • Protect Your Family in The Water – Did you know that fatal drownings remain the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years? Yep. So, make sure your child knows how to swim as soon as he or she is old enough. And even more importantly, no matter how good of a swimmer your child is, watch them closely! Whether it’s the lake, the beach or the pool. Keep your eyes on your kids!
  • Protect Your Family From Nature – When swimming, hiking, boating or anything outside make sure you’re protected with bug spray. And don’t forget to have extra water and a first aid kit when spending time in the great outdoors this summer.
  • Protect Your Kids From Danger – With the summer comes trips to the fair and other amusement parks. There is no better time to go over things like stranger danger tips with the kids.

While there are many more summer safety tips that could be shared, instead, I’d like to make you aware of a new, FREE first aid app from the American Red Cross for use on all iOS and Android devices. The Red Cross mobile app gives you instant access to the information you need to know to handle the most common first aid emergencies. With videos, interactive quizzes and simple step-by-step advice it’s never been easier to know first aid.

The app features simple step-by-step instructions to guide you through everyday first aid scenarios, videos and animations to make learning first aid easy, safety tips for everything from severe winter weather to hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes. You will also have access to interactive quizzes which allow you to earn badges that you can share with your friends and show off your lifesaving knowledge. All of this content is preloaded on your device so if you should lose your Internet connection, you’ll still have access to the information. In addition, this app is fully integrated with 911, so you can call EMS from the app at any time.

So, as summer officially begins, keep these simple safety tips in mind and go to redcross.org and download the new first aid app. And, if you’re having fun on the lake where I live, make sure you swing on by and wave. Just look for the old lady skiing or making a ruckus with her grandkids at the dock!

Impact and Planning

Kansas APAT Assignment

Young Kansas resident discovers her pet under rubble. It did not survive the storm.

By Brian Scoles, Chief Public Affairs Officer for the Western Carolinas

I’ve been on 16 disaster assignments for the American Red Cross in the past 10 years and still, I am struck by the impact disaster victims have on me each time I go out to help them.

Recently, I went to assist the victims of a tornado that devastated towns around Wichita, KS. One mobile home park on the southern end of Wichita was particularly hit hard drawing media attention and the attention of state and federal dignitaries such as the governor of Kansas and the Congressional representatives for that area.

As part of the disaster relief operation, I had been in and out of the park for a couple of days while the residents who lived there were not allowed in yet as the area had not been declared safe by the local authorities. During my second day in that area, I visited the Red Cross shelter which opened to provide temporary housing for the displaced residents. In the living area of the shelter, I noticed a couple who were apart from the rest of the residents. The man was sitting on the floor, head in hand propped up by his knee and his wife lying on the cot next to him quietly whimpering. I approached the couple and asked if could help them, she looked up at me sobbing and said that all she wanted to do was to salvage what was left of her home and that no one would give her any information about when she could return. I placed my hand on her forearm and with tears welling in my eyes, told her that the neighborhood was still not safe and that until it is, the best place for her and her husband was at the shelter where she had access to food and water and other support. I assured her that as soon as we knew about the neighborhood we would make an announcement.

The next day the residents were allowed to return. As I walked around the neighborhood with the Critical Care Team, I saw the couple running toward their home. A few houses down I came across a small family–a grandmother, mother and daughter–who were rummaging through the tattered remains of their home. I remember this scene quite poignantly as the difference in priority of what was important between the adults and the child was striking. The grandmother and mother were searching for photographs, important documents, and precious keepsakes; the child was searching for her cats. I snapped a couple of photos and moved down the row to shoot another scene of people.

I was shaken to the core when I heard a scream come from the child I just left. It was not just any scream, it was a blood curdling, guttural sound that only comes from the deepest reaches of one’s soul. I ran back to the girl thinking she was hurt only to hear her yelling to her mother that she had found one of the cats trapped under a pile of rubble. It did not survive the storm.

That young girl’s scream and the image of her dirty, tear-stained face have stayed with me to this day. I can still see her as if it just happened, and strong emotions are still evoked in me by this memory.

That incident seared in me the value pets have to a family; they become family. We should consider them in our evacuation planning.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when making your pet friendly evacuation plan:

  • Assemble a portable emergency preparedness kit for pets. Store items in a sturdy container that can be carried easily (plastic bin, duffle bag), and make sure to include sturdy leashes, harnesses and/or carriers to transport pets and service animals safely and ensure they can’t escape, water, food, bowls, cat litter/pan and manual can opener, medications, medical records, first aid kit, and veterinarian’s contact information, current photos of pets in case they get lost, pet beds and toys, if space permits.                                                      
  • Research locations that could shelter pets in the event evacuations are called for.  American Red Cross disaster shelters cannot accept pets because of health and safety regulations. Service animals that assist people with disabilities are the only animals allowed in Red Cross shelters. It may be difficult to find shelter for animals in the midst of a disaster, so plan ahead. 
  • Contact regional hotels and motels to check policies on accepting pets and restrictions on number, size, and species. Ask if “no pet” policies could be waived in an emergency.
  • Ask friends, relatives, or others in neighboring areas whether they could shelter pets.
  • Ask local animal shelters or veterinarians if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets in a disaster. Animal shelters are caring for the animals they already have so this should be a last resort. 
  • Keep a list of “pet friendly” places that are located along evacuation routes, including phone numbers.
  • If told to evacuate, take your pets with you. If it is not safe for you to remain at home, it is not safe for your pets. 
  • If an advanced warning is issued, call ahead to confirm emergency shelter arrangements for pets. Bring all pets inside in case of sudden evacuation orders. 
  • Make sure each animals’ vaccinations are up to date and that each is wearing a securely fastened collar with contact information. After evacuating, add the temporary shelter location on the back of the pet’s ID tag 
  • Birds should be transported in a secure travel cage or carrier. During warm weather, carry a plant mister to mist the birds’ feathers periodically. Do not put water inside the carrier during transport. Provide a few slices of fresh fruits and vegetables with high water content. Have photo identification and leg bands. If the carrier does not have a perch, line it with paper towels and change them frequently. Try to keep the carrier in a quiet area. Do not let the birds out of the case or carrier. 
  • Small mammals (hamsters, gerbils, etc.) should be transported in secure carriers suitable for maintaining the animals while sheltered. Take bedding materials, food bowls, and water bottles. 
  • Evacuations of large animals, such as horses or cattle, should be planned as early as possible. It may be difficult to maneuver large animal transport vehicles in evacuation traffic. 

For more information on disaster preparedness, contact the American Red Cross Western Carolinas at 864-282-8654, visit www.redcross.org or call 1-800 RED CROSS. 

I still think of the residents of Wichita and the others who are affected by the nearly 70,000 disasters around the U.S. each year. Helping people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies is my calling and the calling of everyone who volunteers or works for the American Red Cross.

Piper: More than a stuffed puppy and not just for kids

By L.C. Leach III, Red Cross volunteer

Christine Havko with Piper telling her Red Cross story at the scene of her burned home.

When her home in Campobello, S.C., was destroyed in a lightning storm and her beloved dog Rascelette died in the fire, Chris Havko was inconsolable.

But when the American Red Cross gave her a special stuffed puppy called Piper, it helped Havko begin to heal in ways she never thought possible.

“We had Rascelette six years, and when our house burned down, she was trapped inside,” Havko said. “When I got Piper, I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this?’ But the first couple of days after the fire, I carried it with me everywhere.”

The fire started on April 7 during a thunderstorm. Awakened at 2:30 a.m. by an alarm, Havko found the kitchen full of smoke — the house was burning from the roof downward. Lightning had struck through the back roof around 4 p.m. the previous day when no one was at home, then had smoldered silently for more than 10 hours in attic insulation before igniting.

Havko and her grandson Jason only had time to make it out with the clothes they were wearing and what little they could grab on the way. Everything else was left to burn — photos, keepsakes, heirlooms, and 33 years of memories.

Only after reaching a neighbor’s home did Havko realize that Rascelette was missing. Firemen found her inside the door, dead from smoke inhalation.

“She had been trying to get out and I felt very guilty,” Havko said. “I thought I must have closed the door when I ran out.”

Though firemen later told her the door had been blown shut by storm winds, it didn’t change the fact that her house and dog were suddenly gone — and with her husband Homer to have lung cancer surgery later that same day, Havko was a wreck.

But then Red Cross worker Jane Morris showed up and stayed with her most of that day, seeing her through her husband’s surgery, taking care of her medical needs, and just being there to listen and comfort her. At some point, Morris gave her Piper and told her she was the first person to receive this special puppy from the Red Cross Piedmont Chapter.

“Sometimes you just need something to hold onto,” Morris said. “And Piper was the perfect thing.”

Ever since the idea of Piper was created by the Red Cross Dallas-Forth Worth chapter in January 2011, the puppy has been a symbol to victims like Havko of the people who come out in disasters “to help me, a stranger.”

“The emotional support was the absolute most important thing,” Havko said. “I don’t know how I would have managed through this on my own. I don’t know if I’ll get another dog to replace Rascelette, but Piper is something I’ve needed during this very stressful time.”

Would you like to sponsor a Piper the Puppy for a disaster victim? Call the American Red Cross Western Carolinas to find out how.

Call 864-282-8646.