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RED CROSS STILL KEEPING ITS PROMISE.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

``Tonight in Los Angeles, if you were left homeless and displaced after Valley a disaster, it wouldn't be the city helping you. It would be the Red Cross.''

- Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge

Clara Barton would be proud. The American Red Cross, which she founded in 1881, is still going strong 124 years later.

Whether it's responding to a local apartment fire that leaves dozens of tenants homeless, or traveling halfway around the world to help tens of thousands of tsunami survivors in South Asia.

Nurse Barton's all-volunteer army is still reporting for duty.

The American Institute of Philanthropy recently ranked the American Red Cross at the top of its list of 25 major U.S. charities offering tsunami aid.

It received an A-plus rating, based on the portion of the charity's budget going to program services, and the organization's fund-raising abilities - more than $120 million for tsunami relief so far.

The tragedy has focused national attention on just how important relief efforts are to millions of people all over the world.

What we don't normally focus on, though, are the local Red Cross efforts. The house fires, local floods and wildfires that account for many of the 500 disaster responses to which volunteers from the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the American Red Cross responded last year.

``The fire department puts out the fire, and police put up the yellow tape, but at the end of the day, there are still families on the street with no place to go,'' said H.T. Link, director of communications for the L.A. chapter, the second-largest of 860 chapters, behind only New York City.

``We're there to make sure they have someplace to go.''

It's volunteers, such as Aram Krikorian of Granada Hills, who show up at 2 a.m. and throw a blanket around the shoulders of a family that has lost its home, and puts them up in a motel if they have no place to go.

The money to buy those clothes and pay those motel bills comes from the support of Los Angeles residents, not from any government funding, Link said, adding that 90 cents out of every dollar stays local.

``I tell people this is absolutely the best job you can have, helping victims get through a disaster,'' said Krikorian, 52.

He may be a little biased, though. Three years ago he met his future wife, Lissa, at a disaster scene, where she was a health aid volunteer and he was coordinating supplies and transportation details.

The local Red Cross chapter was instrumental in helping thousands of families get through the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, and no one volunteer captured our hearts more than Diana Peplow, then 94.

She had been a Red Cross nurse in World War II, and 50 years later - after her Studio City apartment was red-tagged - reported for duty again.

Diana, dressed in her old Red Cross uniform - it still fit - walked into the local Red Cross earthquake shelter. She spent more than a month there, baby-sitting children, clearing tables and offering a shoulder to lean on.

When Diana walked into that earthquake shelter that first day, the people working there swore Clara Barton herself had come back to life and was dropping by to make sure the American Red Cross she founded was living up to its promises.

It is, Clara - 124 years later.

Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749

dennis.mccarthy(at)dailynews.com

HOW TO HELP

--To support American Red Cross efforts to raise funds for tsunami survivors, call (800) 435-7669 or log on to www.redcross.org.

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

Aram Krikorian and his wife, Lissa Knudsen, are volunteers with the Los Angeles chapter of the American Red Cross.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer

Box:

HOW TO HELP (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 7, 2005
Words:634
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