Monday | November 20, 2017
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100 years of aloha: Red Cross Hilo office celebrating Hawaii chapter’s centennial with open house

The year was 1917.

Influenza had begun circulating and would become the infamous 1918 pandemic.

Global forces were in the midst of World War I, with the U.S. entering the conflict April 6.

“Queen Lili‘uokalani joined the Red Cross and sewed a Red Cross flag to fly over the palace — and then she opened the palace for Red Cross volunteers to come in and sew bandages for the war effort,” said Debbie Weeks, Hawaii County Director of Disaster Services for the Red Cross.

Ten decades later, the Hawaii Chapter of the American Red Cross has evolved into a first-response organization that shows up at times of emergency; offers essentials to victims of fires, floods, hurricanes and lava flows; and helps families get on their feet again.

The nonprofit’s mission is “to alleviate human suffering in the face of disasters.”

The Hilo office of the Red Cross at 55 Ululani St. is hosting an open house from 2-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday to celebrate the organization’s centennial in Hawaii.

“We’ll have some live local bands and face painting, demonstrations around the Red Cross mission, like the pillowcase project,” Weeks said.

Visitors will learn about disaster preparedness, sheltering during summer storms and disaster assessment.

“We have people that go around and make assessments and that feeds into the county,” Weeks said.

Volunteers help determine which areas of the island need the most help quickest and the county uses that information to supply resources.

There also will be posters and photos from the past century of Red Cross service. Computers will be available to let people interested in volunteering sign up.

The Red Cross responds to a household fire once every four days in the state, Weeks said.

Large events such as the Puna lava flow are more costly because they require more resources and rapid mobilization.

But fires that displace families, individuals or groups of people are the most common emergency Red Cross responds to in the state.

When a family gets displaced by fire, Red Cross offers comfort kits with basic toiletries, blankets and assistance finding a place to sleep, even sometimes providing a tent if the family wants to stay on their property.

“We go while the fire is still burning,” Weeks said. The goal is to get the family a safe place to sleep; provide vouchers for clothes, if needed; and make sure essentials such as food and medicine are available. Visitors to the anniversary celebration will get to talk story about all those activities.

“We’re really excited to present the best of our Red Cross chapter and what we do,” Weeks said. “There’s something for everybody.”

Email Jeff Hansel at


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