By Katie Demeria
After a tough fire season, the American Red Cross Top of Virginia chapter has received funds that will help them to continue providing disaster relief to Shenandoah County residents, and they are taking steps to educate Winchester residents about fire safety.
According to Chris Scott, the chapter's executive director, the Shenandoah Community Foundation gave the organization $2,000 this year.
Though the chapter has received funds from the foundation in the past, Program Coordinator Jeanne Russell said it has been three years since they were awarded a donation.
"I was really happy to see them get money, they do so much in the county, and as a national organization I think it's probably harder for them to get local money," Russell said.
The money will help the Red Cross provide disaster relief -- families who lose their homes to fire, or are temporarily displaced, will receive help from the organization.
"After a fire we provide for immediate needs, and that's what we'll use this money for, to help people with lodging for three nights, immediate food assistance, support for clothes or other things -- whatever they need," Scott said.
"We are truly grateful for the support," he continued. "It really does mean a lot when a community foundation supports you."
The funds come when the chapter's resources are already stretched thin. Scott said this fire season has been particularly difficult.
According to a Red Cross news release, in the past year the Top of Virginia chapter provided assistance to 309 individuals in the Northern Shenandoah Valley after fires.
"It's been a tough year," Scott said.
He said the Red Cross is designed to help people prepare, prevent and recover. This Saturday they will be working on the second of those initiatives by encouraging residents to have a plan in case of a fire.
Red Cross Disaster Action Team members, volunteers from the Americorps and officials from the Winchester Fire Department will go door-to-door in the downtown Winchester area to educate residents about fire safety.
The hope is, in the upcoming year, education will help prevent fires from taking place in the first place, Scott said.
"We always talk about being Red Cross ready," Scott said. "It involves getting a kit, making a plan, and being informed."
Scott said it's important to act out the plan and ensure that every member of the family knows where to go in emergencies.
"We all think we have a plan because we kind of know what to do in our heads," he said. "But until we make that plan and rehearse it a few times and carry it out, we aren't really prepared."
The information they will hand out to Winchester residents will ask them to evaluate their plans -- do they use space heaters that easily cause fires, do the adults in the home know how to operate a fire extinguisher, and is someone trained in first aid or CPR?
"We're simply trying to help people be as prepared as possible," Scott said.
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org