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They are the first to help after a house fire. They are the first to help after a natural disaster. They provide training for lifeguards who watch our children in area pools.
They are the staff and highly dedicated volunteers of the American Red Cross.
They distribute food, clothing and shelter for those who have lost their homes through fire, flood, hurricanes and tornadoes.
The Lancaster County Chapter of the American Red Cross has provided these services since 1917.
But there is no longer a Lancaster chapter. Recently, the Lancaster chapter merged with the York and Chester counties to form the Upper Palmetto Chapter.
The merger was inevitable. At one time there were more than 2,000 chapters nationwide. Now there are only 700.
Lancaster County was only one of two in South Carolina that had not merged. But the local chapter has been struggling financially for years. The closing of Springs Global and layoffs at other businesses have impacted the fund raising, said Teresa Ackerman, executive director of the Lancaster chapter.
Couple that with an increased number of house fires puts an even greater strain on financial resources. The Red Cross spends between $110 and $1,000 per family displaced by a house fire. The chapter also had to contend with donations in the northern end of the county going to York County instead of Lancaster.
The Red Cross depends heavily on donations to support its programs. The United Way provides about 30 percent of its annual funding. The remaining 70 percent must be raised locally.
To help with finances, for two years the local chapter sponsored its Heroes campaign where it tried to raise $50,000 each year.
Ackerman said the merger is the “right thing to do.”
“It makes sense from a business standpoint,” she added.
Ackerman said the merger will provide higher levels of services with the sharing of materials and resources.
Three part-time local employees have lost their jobs since the merger. Sherry Archie, board chairwoman for the local chapter, said the positions were cut as a “cost-saving factor.”
“It’s just part of working through this transition period,” Archie added.
The local office will still be in the Connelly Building and Ackerman will remain in her position.
The long-serving, compassionate and dedicated volunteers are the local chapter’s strongest assets. Their total number of volunteer hours are in the thousands.
Some volunteers have been with the chapter for more than 20 years. Several have had extensive training and have helped with disasters and tragedies throughout the nation.
These volunteers are vital to the future of this agency and to the people they serve.
We have been told the merger will financially strengthen the chapter. One key factor is the money raised in Lancaster County stays in Lancaster County.
“The Red Cross is doubling its capacity and resources in order to better serve our communities in times of need,” Archie said.
It is important that we strengthen our ability to help those left vulnerable by tragedies. It is important that we retain our highly skilled and caring volunteers.
It is important that we keep a strong presence in Lancaster County to help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.
After all, that is the Red Cross’ mission.