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Topsham-based Red Cross marks 100 years, faces next century’s challenges

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Topsham-based Red Cross marks 100 years, faces next century’s challenges

TOPSHAM — The Mid-Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross, which celebrated its 100th anniversary on Wednesday, faces several challenges in its second century.

They include declines in blood donors, disaster relief and volunteers.

The local chapter began as a public health nursing office in Brunswick and later merged with neighboring chapters to become a regional entity, Executive Director Connie Jones explained on Monday. During that time the chapter has responded to wars, health crises, disasters of different magnitudes, and keeping a regular supply of blood going for Maine's hospitals.

Gen. Joshua Chamberlain – a hero of the Civil War, governor of Maine, and president of both Bowdoin College and the Maine branch of the Red Cross – suggested a local chapter of the organization be formed.

It was a process in which other community leaders, such as Kenneth Sills – who would serve as the chapter's first chairman and, like Chamberlain, as Bowdoin's president – were also instrumental, Jones said.

She pointed out that the chapter "has come a long way in 100 years. When I consider how the face of the Mid-Coast community has changed through the decades, the one constant is that the Red Cross has always been there for friends and neighbors in their time of need.'"

The chapter has moved many times in response to greater space requirements, and it has expanded its service area to reach about 101,000 people in 36 communities, from Brunswick to Nobleboro.

Facing the next hundred years, the director said she anticipates challenges such as blood donations, disaster relief and volunteers. Just 5 percent of the eligible population in the chapter's area donates blood, and the closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station in 2011 will impact that supply. The seasonal departure of local college students also decreases the number of donors.

"This severely diminishes the ability of the Red Cross to meet the daily needs of Maine hospitals and the numerous patients whose lives depend on blood products," Jones said. "The process is simple and the results are so rewarding. There are blood drives almost every day, somewhere in the state."

Meanwhile, the chapter's disaster relief fund took a major hit last winter because of house fires caused by misused or improperly installed alternative heating sources.

"The average cost to provide emergency food, clothing, shelter and medications for a family of four is $1,300," Jones explained. "Our commitment to help displaced families this past winter forced us to exceed our disaster relief fund by 65 percent."

The chapter must replenish its local disaster relief monies with funds from its operating budget.

"To ensure we will always be there for disaster victims, our volunteers and staff are doing everything possible to reduce our operating expenses," Jones said. "We are also asking individuals and businesses to join us by giving as generously as possible to our local disaster relief fund."

The chapter has about 600 volunteers, but can always use more, Jones said. Those areas in most need of help are:

• Administration, in capacities such as answering phones, photocopying, filing and data entry.

• Chapter-trained Disaster Action Team membership.

• Leadership roles for fundraising, community outreach and board committee service.

• Health and safety instruction.

Call the chapter at 729-6779 to learn more about volunteering or donating to the local disaster relief fund.
Call 800-482-0743 for more information on blood drives or to schedule a donor appointment.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.