New Red Cross Director In Roanoke Facing Disaster Challenges

Jackie Grant (center) receives a gift from students at North Cross School.

Less than six months after she took over as executive director of the American Red Cross in the Virginia region, focused on the Roanoke and New River Valleys, Jackie Grant came up against Harvey, Irma and Maria – as in the three hurricanes and the flooding that devastated parts of the Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In fact, Grant, the former director of operations for the YMCA of the Roanoke Valley, plans to spend time in Puerto Rico soon, where Hurricane Maria knocked out much of the power and left many residents without easy access to food and water.

“I’ve always had non-profits in my blood and I was ready for a change, something different,” said Grant, who succeeded Lee Clark after he returned to the Roanoke Rescue Mission to take over there after Joy Sylvester Johnson retired.

“While many think of the Red Cross first for the blood services and drives, and we do provide 40 percent of the nation’s blood … and platelets, one of the most interesting things I found about the Red Cross was services for the Armed Forces.” Grant said the only connection many have to family members while they are deployed is through the American Red Cross.  The Red Cross also helps veterans mainstream back into society once they return from deployment.

The biggest disaster locally are the home fires that displace residents. The Red Cross is called on to help those people find places to stay, and to provide basic hygiene items, blankets and money to get them through the next few days. There are about 120 home fires a year in the Roanoke and New River Valleys, said Grant; a Red Cross volunteer is usually on site within an hour.

The “sound the alarm, save a life program” the Red Cross has been participating in over the past three years with Roanoke City and Roanoke County includes canvassing at-risk neighborhoods, distributing fresh batteries and smoke detectors for those that don’t have them. Red Cross donations help pay for those smoke detectors.

Grant said the Hurricanes that came back-to-back-to-back have been “historic” in that regard, and have strained the system. The main goals for the Red Cross during those events have been “feeding, shelter and emotional comfort. Fortunately we have partners and we work together with partners in these communities.” Grant said the Red Cross “is going to be in these areas for months and months.”

A recent local telethon raised about $30,000 for Red Cross relief efforts and donors were able to designate which disaster they wanted their money to go to. Over 100 Virginians have volunteered to help the victims of these disasters through the Red Cross, said Grant.  “We also had mental health teams that went out to deal with stress situations.”

In all the American Red Cross deals with some 70,000 disasters a year. Because the Red Cross operation in Roanoke is now a slimmed down affair with a smaller staff and some functions being handled on a statewide basis, Grant said the Red Cross office building on Church Avenue will be up for sale at some point in the near future.

Gene Marrano