Now there's an answer for those who have ever driven by a fire-ravaged home and wondered how they could help the beleaguered family.
Officials with the Central Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross are stepping up efforts to organize a Disaster Action Team of Red Cross volunteers who would be empowered to aid families when disaster strikes.
Scott Grother, a volunteer coordinator based in the chapter's St. Cloud office, visited Brainerd Wednesday and talked to nonprofit representatives, the media and emergency personnel in hopes of bolstering the Red Cross chapter's disaster services and its presence in the area.
Grother, who recently returned from a five-month Red Cross deployment in Afghanistan, recalled the Red Cross had an office and even a staff person in the Brainerd area years ago but the office was closed after a reorganization and many area people have concluded its services were no longer available.
The volunteer coordinator said the Disaster Action Team volunteers, when called, go to disasters in their communities. The most frequent calls are residential fires but they also respond to floods, tornadoes and other disasters. The volunteers provide shelter, food and clothing. Training for the team members is provided at no cost to interested volunteers.
"A lot of times we get called as the fire is going on," he said of the Red Cross volunteers in other communities. That has also been true in Brainerd in the case of some of the major fires here in the past.
Grother said his agency works well with the Salvation Army and can offer additional help without duplicating the aid provided by the Salvation Army.
In his current push to establish a Disaster Action Team Grother is contacting nonprofit groups such as the Brainerd Area United Way, online volunteer match sites and using word of mouth with fire chiefs and law enforcement officers.
The training, which is available to the volunteers at no cost, consists of a short online training component, small group training and a ride-along program where volunteers can tag along with current volunteers.
"A lot of people who do it get really dedicated," Grother said. "It's a rewarding experience. Every time is a little bit different because every family is different."
Grother has worked for the Red Cross for three years. The Iowa native, who has been back from Afghanistan for about a month, has lived in the St. Cloud area for about 10 years.
He said that in a perfect world he would like to see 30 volunteers in Crow Wing County. Volunteers need to be 18 or older, he said. They usually range in age from college age to retired.
The Central Minnesota Chapter covers 19 counties in Minnesota. They area Benton, Big Stone, Chippewa Crow Wing, Kanabec, Kandiyohi, Lac Qui Parle, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, Pope, Sherburne, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Todd, Wadena and Wright.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.