Serving at American Red Cross

Andrea Johnson/MDN Terri Philion, executive director of the Minot chapter of the American Red Cross, poses by a sign in the Red Cross office on March 22.

The American Red Cross in Minot has been serving the community for 100 years.

The first chapter had its beginnings in a group of women from Carpio who sought permission to start a branch of the Red Cross Auxiliary during World War I.

Over the past decades, the Red Cross has changed and restructured to better meet its mission of responding when disaster strikes, but volunteers have always been on hand to help out within two hours of a disaster.

Current executive director Terri Philion said Red Cross volunteers are often the first people on scene to help a family after a tragedy like a house fire. They provide assistance for immediate needs, like a voucher for a hotel stay, a comfort kit, or a loaded debit card that the family can use to buy supplies like clothing so they can get back to work as soon as possible. The help the Red Cross gives addresses the pressing needs during the first 72 hours, she said.

A few years ago the national American Red Cross did some restructuring. At one time, 51 cents of every dollar donated to the Red Cross went to help disaster victims; now it is 91 cents of every dollar that goes directly to the mission. Philion said people might not see as many paid staff in the office, but there are still hundreds of trained Red Cross volunteers who are ready to serve at a moment’s notice and trailers that are equipped with emergency supplies stashed in towns throughout the area.

Volunteers handle disasters both large and small, from weather emergencies like hurricanes and flooding to local forest fires. Recently, the Red Cross in the state responded to the needs of a couple who had lost three of their children in a house fire. Philion said Red Cross volunteers go through stringent background checks and training that help them to approach and help the often traumatized victims of disasters.

Philion has been on the job for a few months.

Allan McGeough, who served as executive director from 2002 to 2015, said his own tenure started out with a bang – literally.

A train had derailed west of Minot in 2002, resulting in an anhydrous ammonia spill, and Red Cross volunteers were called upon to help house and feed families that had been displaced by the derailment.

At the time, the Minot area also had about a dozen Red Cross volunteers who had been dispatched to New York City to assist people in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In the next several years, McGeough said his time as executive director continued to be eventful. Minot was part of the Red Cross Response Center Network, a national call center that fielded incoming calls about emergencies all over the United States. At one time, the center processed about 33,000 calls, he said. Most of the time, volunteers provided information about where victims of a disaster could find local resources to help them. But on one or two occasions, they ended up saving lives.

During Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, a volunteer took a call from a woman in Texas who said her parents were stranded on their roof top in Louisiana with flood water rising around them. Red Cross volunteers got in touch with an amateur radio club who were able to relay a message to the Coast Guard, who were able to then send a boat to pull the couple off their rooftop in Louisiana.

A few years later, in 2011, it was Minot’s turn to benefit from the help of neighbors when the Souris River flooded much of the community. The Red Cross ran three shelters at the Minot Municipal Auditorium, at the Minot State University Dome and the All Seasons Arena. But of 11,000-plus people displaced by the flood, only about 500 ended up staying in shelters.

“That was good because it meant the community took everybody else in,” said McGeough.

Though the Red Cross handled many major disasters during the 13 years he was executive director, McGeough said he is probably proudest of the help they gave on a regular basis to people in the Minot community.

Whether it was helping a family displaced by a fire or helping military families communicate with loved ones who were deployed overseas or teaching lifeguard certification and CPR classes or writing grants that put defibrillators in different locations throughout the area, McGeough said the Red Cross helped thousands of people.

They could not do it without the help of hundreds of dedicated Red Cross volunteers, said McGeough.

“It was honor for me to serve, a pleasure,” said McGeough. “…None of the work we did would have been possible without the hard work of those volunteers.”