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Canadian Red Cross volunteers respond when disaster strikes

Red Cross volunteer Cheryl Grantham (left) and co-ordinator Tracey Clements are shown in the equipment room at the Canadian Red Cross Service Centre located at 42 Glen Allan Dr. in Bridgewater.
Red Cross volunteer Cheryl Grantham (left) and co-ordinator Tracey Clements are shown in the equipment room at the Canadian Red Cross Service Centre located at 42 Glen Allan Dr. in Bridgewater. - Vernon Oickle

Helping those in need

When a disaster or an emergency strikes, area residents can take comfort in knowing that Canadian Red Cross volunteers and workers will be there to help them find support and to comfort them in their time of need.

For more than 20 years, the local branch of the Canadian Red Cross has been working out of its Bridgewater base, answering the call to help others not only locally, but beyond regional borders as well, with some going to other provinces and all the way across the country to lend a helping hand.

But that’s what Canadian Red Cross volunteers do, points out Tracey Clements, the co-ordinator of the Canadian Red Cross Service Centre that’s located at 42 Glen Allan Dr. in Bridgewater.

“We have a tremendous group of trained volunteers who are ready to go wherever they are needed,” Clements says.

For example, she says, the South Shore branch has sent volunteers to help with the devastating fires in Fort McMurray and last year in British Columbia. Just this spring, she adds, they sent volunteers to help with the floods in New Brunswick.

“Locally, our disaster management team consists of 18 members who are well trained to go anywhere in Canada at a minute’s notice,” Clements explains. “These are volunteers who do not get paid for their services and they know they will be working long days with very little rest, but they want to help and it’s what they believe in. We are grateful that we have such a large group of dedicated volunteers who will answer the call to help in a time of emergency.”

While emergency response is a large part of what the Canadian Red Cross does, she quickly explains it is not all that they do, pointing out that providing support for people in the area who need medical equipment through their equipment loans program is also a major component of the services they provide.

“Through this program, we loan mobility and bathroom equipment at no cost to people with medical conditions,” she says, adding that the program is operated through the centre by a group of dedicated volunteers five days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Through this program, they can provide such things as walkers, crutches, wheelchairs and even personal floatation devices.

“Our objective is to help people when they need it,” Clements says, noting that service is achieved through their regular programs and through their disaster response teams.

Retired teacher Cheryl Grantham of Bridgewater has been a Canadian Red Cross volunteer for more than 20 years and says she became involved because she wanted to help people in need.

“The Red Cross was the perfect opportunity for me to do that,” Grantham says. “And honestly, it feels good to be there for people when they need help.”

In addition to volunteering at the centre, Grantham is also the organization’s historian and with the help of fellow volunteer John MacLean, they have compiled a brief history of the Canadian Red Cross on the South Shore.

As of 2018, there are Canadian Red Cross service centres or help desks in Yarmouth, Kentville, Amherst, Truro, Antigonish, Sydney, Halifax, Dartmouth and Bridgewater to serve those throughout Nova Scotia in need of medical equipment and assistance.

Grantham and MacLean write in their history, “The year was 1995. The location was Bridgewater. Volunteers under the leadership of Mike Smitherman worked together to co-ordinate health equipment from Bridgewater, LaHave, Riverport and New Germany areas to open the first Red Cross Service in rural Nova Scotia.”

The area’s first centre was located in the Bridgewater Gateway Plaza and, they write, the facility was small but the rent was reasonable. A small space for an office front provided room for Canadian Red Cross materials, a desk and reception area for clients. A larger room was located in the back where available equipment was kept. A bathroom, a larger sink and shower allowed for the cleaning of returned items. Several tables were available for meetings and teaching Canadian Red Cross first aid courses.

According to Grantham and MacLean, Joan Russell from Chester was the first Canadian Red Cross co-ordinator in the area and the local Canadian Red Cross committee from the Bridgewater area included Edie Hall and Louise Hirtle, who acted as volunteers.

Susan Publicover was a person in charge, they say, adding that Pat Veinot and Donna MacLean organized the volunteers.

“The centre operated three days a week and a Thursday evening was tried for a brief time. The time evolved to a daily opening from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a special service provided by the Pharmasave located next door. They were the keepers of the key for volunteers to open and close the centre.”

Grantham and MacLean say volunteers continued this service until another change came about in 2004, when the success of the Bridgewater Service Centre was recognized by the Canadian Red Cross office in Halifax and Saint John.

The Bridgewater centre became the model for the future of the Canadian Red Cross programs and volunteers and subsequently, service centres were opened in populated areas around the province.

The office in Bridgewater changed its open hours and in 2004 the location of the Bridgewater service centre was upgraded and moved to the Medical Arts Building at 42 Glen Allan Dr., not far from the South Shore Regional Hospital. A Canadian Red Cross co-ordinator was also hired at that time.

“With the opening of the first service centre in Bridgewater in 1995, volunteers set an example for the rest of Nova Scotia and the Atlantic area,” Grantham and MacLean say. “Thank you to those volunteers who showed compassion and the true meaning of humanity.”

Clements, the current co-ordinator, says they are proud of their past and are anxious to be providing help and service well into the future. Anyone who would like to volunteer can drop by the centre or call 902-543-8565 during hours of operation.

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