An in-depth look into the history and workings of American Red Cross

red-crossFounded by Clara Barton in 1881, the American Red Cross was an organization focused on providing humanitarian and medical aid. Before she founded the organization in America, Clara worked with the International Red Cross in Europe. She was impressed by the organization’s work and was determined to bring it to America. Today American Red Cross has evolved into a multifaceted organization providing a range of services. The organization is oriented to not only provide direct medical relief during disasters but also educate individuals to be prepared and respond to emergencies.

What do they do?

Most people think of Red Cross as a disaster relief organization which springs into action only when disaster strikes. However, the truth is disaster management is only one of the functions of Red Cross. Apart from providing disaster relief, they also organize blood drives, provide educational certifications, aid war victims. Following are few of the most common functions of the American Red Cross.

Organizing Blood Collection and Donation: First started way back in 1940 by Dr. Charles Drew, the Red Cross blood program is now the biggest in the country. Through this program, the organization supplies approximately 45 percent of the country’s total blood demand. They organize blood donation camps in local neighborhoods, carefully store the collected blood, and supply it to different hospitals. They also have a dedicated testing lab to make sure the supplied blood is pathogen free and safe. This organized blood program ensures a healthy supply of blood, saving the patients the hassle of finding a donor.

Aids War Victims: The original function of International Red Cross Society was to provide aid to the victims of war. The American Red Cross fulfills this goal every time the America goes to war. This aid is not just restricted to American soldiers as the organization makes great effort to help civilians who are affected by war.

Community Educational Camps: The organization understands the importance of spreading awareness. This is why they often organize free educational camps for entire neighborhoods. Most of these camps aims to teach basic first aid skills, correct CPR technique, and how to be safe during disasters. They also organize AIDS awareness camps throughout the country.

Provides Humanitarian Services: Red Cross is directly involved in a lot of humanitarian work. This includes building shelters for the homeless, creating nutrition programs for the elderly, organizing community service programs, and building and maintaining food pantries.

Disaster Management: This is one of the major functions of the Red Cross. Whenever a disaster strikes, the organization goes into overdrive, rushing to victims to provide water, food, shelter, and medical care. Apart from healing physical wounds, the organization also understands the importance of providing mental counseling for severely stressed individuals. This is why they make an effort to transport disaster counselors to the affected area. These trained volunteers talk to victims and provide mental comfort when they need it the most.

Training: The organization conducts classes and training programs on CPR, babysitting, AED awareness, lifeguarding, nurse assistance training, water safety, and many more. A certificate is given after completing each of these courses, which helps individuals secure a job in their respective specialization.

Where do they get the money to run things?

The American Red Cross organizes camps, blood drives, and disaster management programs on a massive scale. One of the most obvious questions is where do they get the money? For starters, they save a lot of money on work force. Over 90 percent of all Red Cross man force are volunteers who are looking for ways to help the community. They also get a regular flow of donations from the general American public. Apart from the donations, the American Red Cross also has a steady income from paid certification programs. Being one of nation’s biggest organizations to collect and supply blood, a substantial chunk of revenue comes from selling blood and its components to hospitals.

How have they responded to disasters in the past?

Contrary to popular belief, the Red Cross is not the primary healthcare providers during a disaster. They are also not involved in search and rescue operations. These operations are performed by federal and local agencies. The organization focuses on providing food, shelter, and basic first aid to victims. As mentioned before they also provide psychological aid by interacting and counseling affected individuals. Following are some of their response measures during major disasters.

Hurricane Katrina: The organization started preparing as soon as the hurricane was predicted by weather channels. They enlisted around 2000 volunteers and asked them to be on standby before the disaster. According to their statistics, they setup 1470 shelters providing a temporary roof for over 3.8 million victims. These shelters were also the location to provide basic first aid and provide regular meals. They also widely distributed kits containing basic essentials such as toothbrush, toothpaste, clothes and toys.

Florida Tornadoes of 2007: After tornadoes devastated entire areas in central Florida back in 2007, the American Red Cross built more than 7 shelters in the affected regions. They deployed around 400 volunteers in the area who were responsible for distributing meal packets and assisting local authorities.

Flight 5191 Crash: The crash of Comair 5191 is considered to be one of the worst air disasters in American history. Following the disaster, the organization constructed Family and Friends Reception Centers near Cincinnati Airport and Comair headquarters. These centers were aimed to provide a temporary shelter and mental comfort to victim’s friends and families awaiting the news of their loved ones.

How to become an American Red Cross volunteer?

The organization is always on the lookout for fresh volunteers, who are eager to help the community. Enrolling as a volunteer is a fairly easy process. The official Red Cross website( has a section called ‘Ways to Help’, under which there is a section called ‘Ways to Volunteer’. After clicking on this tab, a page opens up a series of volunteering opportunities. These opportunities are for people with various skill level and professional background. Interested and eligible individuals can fill up an online form and get enrolled online. Donations are always welcomed by the Red Cross. A few wealthy philanthropists have actually considered donating some pieces of Fort Myers real estate to the Red Cross.

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