New office, same mission for local Red Cross

Published 11:51 am Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The opening of a new office is a fresh start for the American Red Cross chapter in one sense, but the mission during calm and storms remains the same for readiness and response manager Janice Sawyer.

“We are here for the community, whether there is an apartment fire or a drowning,” Sawyer said from the chapter’s new office at 915 Belmont Street. “There’s a strong base of volunteers in Vicksburg.”

On Tuesday, the organization’s Mississippi Region Capital River Chapter Vicksburg office celebrated its move into the new digs.

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Sawyer, whose office hooked into a 15-county region clustered around Jackson and along the Mississippi River when the state’s chapters reorganized in 2010, said it’s more than freshly-painted walls and a little more room to store donated blankets and toiletries.

“It is a better location now,” Sawyer said. “We’ll have a better presence in the community.”

The local chapter responds to fires and becomes more prominent during flooding and storms. Red Cross volunteers gave out water and an array of cleanup supplies after the Mississippi River Flood of 2011. In 2005, a half-dozen churches in Vicksburg and Warren County sheltered hundreds for nearly two months who evacuated Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Sawyer will have one office staffer two days a week. Financial assistance will continue, as will a base of five to 10 local volunteers and two emergency response coordinators to be sent from state headquarters when hurricanes threaten central Mississippi.

An “action trailer” and a new vehicle is on the way to augment one emergency response vehicle on hand, Sawyer said.

The old office at 908 Cherry St. had housed the local chapter since 1967 and is owned by the organization. The building will likely be sold, said Sandra Hodge, regional CEO for the American Red Cross Mississippi Region.

“Our previous location was very old,” Hodge said. “A good location, but not in the best environmental condition.” The new office, next to a pair of accounting businesses, is a “much, much healthier environment for our clients and our volunteers.”

Since 2004, local Red Cross staff and other volunteers also have organized annual blanket drives for the elderly and fire victims, for whom the chapter provides temporary housing.

Founded in 1881, the organization’s network consists of more than 700 chapters.