HAZELWOOD, Mo. – The American Red Cross has been answering the call when disaster strikes for decades.
For the past 15 years, one of their five national strategic supply warehouses has been housed right here in the St. Louis area. The Disaster Field Supply Center in Hazelwood serves as a lifeline to victims and communities in the hours, days, and months following a man-made or natural disaster.
“The purpose of this is to make sure we are able to get supplies and material support needed for any responses; any disasters that may occur around the nation,” Beth Elders, executive director of the American Red Cross of St. Louis, said.
There is row after towering row of shelves, stocked from floor to ceiling, with everything that could possibly needed to rapidly respond to any kind of disaster, anywhere it occurs. They have cots, blankets, things for babies, power strips, extension cords, cleaning supplies, etc. If it can be used following a disaster, chances are they have here and ready to go.
Elder says the most frequent disasters they respond to are house fires. But beyond that, they go earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and more! Sometimes, those disasters are close to home, like the devastating flash floods we saw in St. Louis County this past summer. But because this is a national facility, they are often called on for help far away from home for major natural disasters.
In 2017, it was a relentless hurricane season that pushed this facility and its crews to the brink!
“Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. They hit in pretty quick succession with each other. If you would have come into the warehouse at that time, you would have seen a warehouse that looked very different. As soon as we got materials in, materials were going right back out,” Elders said.
Much of the work is done by volunteers. The Red Cross boasts a workforce that is nearly 90% volunteer. Beyond stocking shelves, those volunteers make sure kitchen and shelter support trailers are always ready to go. And of course, it is volunteers that often staff those facilities for days and weeks following a disaster. The kitchen supply truck alone can feed up to 10,000 people per day if needed.
Having supplies ready is only half the battle. The Red Cross staff is also constantly monitoring news and weather events to make sure they are ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice. Once alerted, they can have trucks and staff on the move for initial response within a few hours with the rest ready within a day or so.
It is a lifesaving response, from a warehouse in the heart of our own community!