By Sandy Schwartz
It was April 15, 1945, and British and Canadian soldiers arrived at Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp. The soldiers discovered about 60,000 prisoners inside, most half-starved and many seriously ill. Another 13,000 corpses were lying in the camp unburied.
According to first-hand reports, the soldiers undertook heroic efforts to nurse the mostly Jewish prisoners to health. Alongside the soldiers, helping to save lives, were members of the Red Cross. One of those saved by the Red Cross was my mother, who still today, at age 88, recounts the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.
Growing up and hearing that story from my Mom, many times, gave me an affinity for what the Red Cross has accomplished around the world since being founded by Clara Barton in 1881. Closer to home, this month our Metro Atlanta Chapter of the Red Cross is celebrating 100 years of service. Our chapter started when 12 concerned citizens met at the Ansley Hotel in Atlanta and petitioned the American Red Cross to authorize a chapter here, which President Woodrow Wilson anointed in June of 1914.
I’m proud to say I have served with the Atlanta Chapter. Being on the board and then serving as its board chairman was a very small contribution to a giant organization that does so much for all of our communities in times of need – and on an everyday basis. Through the decades, metro Atlanta’s Red Cross has helped with countless disasters and helped neighbors better prepare for emergencies. It has supplied hospitals with blood, reunited military and international families and regularly taught life-saving skills.
Among the daily contributions so many make to the Red Cross is blood donation. Atlanta opened the first blood plasma bank in the South in 1942. Originally this was to support the U.S. military, but it helped launch a community blood program after the war. Our chapter now provides support for the Red Cross Southern Blood Services Region headquartered in Douglasville where local blood donations are processed and distributed to patients in need. The region has 100 local hospital partners and serves Georgia and parts of South Carolina and North Florida.
We all know what the local chapter of the Red Cross does in time of disaster. Recently, with severe spring storms roaring across parts of the U.S., Red Cross workers from metro Atlanta were among those helping the affected in 14 states: Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Missouri, and North Carolina. About 3,000 homes across 10 states were destroyed or heavily damaged by tornadoes or floods. Red Cross workers and volunteers jumped into action and provided shelter, food, relief supplies, health services, emotional support and other assistance to those in need. It is normal practice for specially trained Red Cross disaster workers to help people cope in the aftermath and, among other things, to replace prescription medications and eyeglasses.
We all remember the images of the Red Cross in action after 9/11. Those are the big ones. Closer to home, the things you don’t hear about are apartment fires, flooding and other misfortunes that aren’t regularly reported. No matter the time of day or night, Red Cross workers and volunteers stand ready to help families get back on their feet, to get children off to school, to do whatever they can to help. And, to help people regain regularity and routine in their lives in a dignified way.
All of this takes great effort – and of course – money. During the 100-year anniversary of our Atlanta Red Cross chapter, there is no better time to help in any way you can. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The more volunteers and financial contributions we receive, the more people we can help in time of need.
I’m thankful every day that the Red Cross was there for my mom.
Visit atlantaredcross.org and redcrossblood.org/southern for more information.
Sandy Schwartz is president of Cox Automotive and an honorary board member of the Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter of the American Red Cross.