American Red Cross

From Academic Kids

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A WWII-era poster encouraged American women to volunteer for the Red Cross as part of the war effort.

The American Red Cross (chartered as the American National Red Cross) is a humanitarian organization that provides emergency assistance, disaster relief and education inside the United States, as part of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Today, in addition to domestic disaster relief, the American Red Cross offers compassionate services in five other areas: community services that help the needy; support and comfort for military members and their families; the collection, processing and distribution of lifesaving blood and blood products; educational programs that promote health and safety; and international relief and development programs.

Governed by volunteers and supported by community donations, the American Red Cross is a nationwide network of nearly 1,000 chapters and Blood Services regions dedicated to saving lives and helping people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. More than a million Red Cross volunteers and 30,000 employees annually mobilize relief to families affected by more than 67,000 disasters, train almost 12 million people in lifesaving skills and exchange more than a million emergency messages for U.S. military service personnel and their families. The Red Cross is also the largest supplier of blood and blood products to more than 3,000 hospitals across the nation and also assists victims of international disasters and conflicts at locations worldwide.

The American Red Cross is headquartered in Washington, D.C. Marsha J. Evans is President and CEO.



The American Red Cross was established on May 21, 1881 by Clara Barton (1821-1912) and what the Red Cross calls a "circle of friends"; this included US Representative William Lawrence. Jane Delano (1862-1919) was the founder of the American Red Cross Nursing Service.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton had already had a career as a teacher and federal bureaucrat when the American Civil War broke out. After working tirelessly on humanitarian work during and after the conflict, on advice of her doctors, in 1869, she went to Europe for a restful vacation. There, she saw and became involved in the work of the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War, and determined to bring the organization home with her to America.

When Clara Barton began the organizing work in the U.S. in 1873, no one thought the country would ever again faced an experience like the Civil War. However, Barton was not one to lose hope in the face of the bureaucracy, and she finally succeeded during the administration of President Chester A. Arthur on the basis that the new American Red Cross organization could also be available to respond to other types of crisis.

As Barton expanded the original concept of the Red Cross to include assisting in any great national disaster, this service brought the United States the "Good Samaritan of Nations" label in the International Red Cross. Barton naturally became President of the American branch of the society, which was founded in 1882. John D. Rockefeller gave money to create a national headquarters in Washington, DC, located one block from the White House.

Clara Barton led one of the group's first major relief efforts, a response to the Johnstown Flood which occurred on May 31, 1889. Over 2,209 people died and thousands more were injured in or near Johnstown, Pennsylvania in one of the worst disasters in United States history. She resigned from the American Red Cross in 1904.

Red Cross Biomedical Services

Blood The American Red Cross supplies roughly 50% of the donated blood in the United States. In December of 2004, the American Red Cross completed their largest blood processing facility in the United States in Pomona, California on the campus grounds of the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Tissue Services For more than twenty years, the American Red Cross provided allograft tissue for transplant through its Tissue Services Program. We cared for thousands of donor families who gave the gift of tissue donation and helped more than 1 million transplant recipients in need of this life saving or life-enhancing gift of tissue.

At the end of January 2005, the American Red Cross made the difficult decision to end its Tissue Services program in order to focus on its primary missions of Disaster Relief and Blood Services. The tissue program may have ended, but the need to consider giving the gift of organ and tissue donation did not. The American Red Cross encourages everyone to learn more about this end-of-life gift that can save of the lives of as many as 8 people, and enhance the lives of more than 50 people.

Plasma Services A leader in the plasma industry, the Red Cross provides more than one quarter of the nation's plasma products. Red Cross Plasma Services seeks to provide the American people with plasma products which are not only reliable and cost-effective, but also as safe as possible.

Investing in the Future Because the Red Cross never stops inventing new ways to care, the organization is looking far into the 21st century at the future of blood services.

In February 1999, the Red Cross completed its "Transformation," a $287 million program that: re-engineered Red Cross Blood Services' processing, testing and distribution system; established a new management structure; and positioned the Red Cross as a cutting-edge organization prepared to enter the 21st century. As a result, Red Cross Biomedical Services now has: a standardized computer system that efficiently maintains our blood donor database; a network of eight, state-of-the-art National Testing Laboratories (NTLs) that test about 6 million units of blood collected by the Red Cross's 36 blood regions; the Charles Drew Biomedical Institute, which allows for the Red Cross to provide training and other educational resources to Red Cross Blood Services' personnel; a highly qualified Quality Assurance/Regulatory Affairs Department, which helps to ensure compliance with FDA regulations in every Red Cross Blood Services region; and, a centrally managed blood inventory system to ensure the consistent availability of blood and blood components in every Red Cross Blood Services region throughout the country.

Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT) On March 1, 1999, the American Red Cross became the first U.S. blood banking organization to implement a Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT) study. This process is different from traditional testing because it looks for the genetic material of HIV and hepatitis C (HCV), rather than the body's response to the disease.

The NAT tests for HIV and HCV have been licensed by the FDA. These tests are able to detect the genetic material of a transfusion-transmitted virus like HIV without waiting for the body to form antibodies- potentially offering an important time advantage over current techniques.

Leukoreduction A person's own leukocytes (white blood cells) help fight off foreign substances such as bacteria, viruses and abnormal cells, to avoid sickness or disease. But when transfused to another person, these same leukocytes do not benefit the recipient. In fact, these foreign leukocytes in transfused red blood cells and platelets are often not well tolerated and have been associated with some types of transfusion complications.

The Red Cross is moving toward system-wide universal prestorage leukocyte reduction to improve patient care.

Research and Development Our national research program makes significant contributions to biomedical science, blood safety, plasma-derived therapeutics and transfusion technology.

The Red Cross operates one of the world's premier blood research facilities, the Jerome H. Holland Laboratory, based in Rockville, Md., where Red Cross researchers are engaged in cutting-edge research to develop the next generation of blood products and services. Each year, the Red Cross invests more than $25 million in research activities at the Holland Laboratory and in the field. This commitment to research allows the Red Cross to oversee dozens of scientific research projects seeking to improve the safety, purity and efficacy of blood.

Cellular Therapies One technique the Red Cross has identified that shows strong potential for treating people in new ways is through cellular therapies. This new method of treatment involves collecting and treating blood cells from a patient or other blood donor. The treated cells are then introduced into a patient to help revive normal cell function, replace cells that are lost as a result of disease, accidents or aging, or used to prevent illnesses from appearing.

Cellular therapy may prove to be particularly helpful for patients who are being treated for illnesses such as cancer, where the treated cells may help battle cancerous cells.

Disaster Services

Each year, the American Red Cross responds immediately to more than 67,000 disasters, including house or apartment fires (the majority of disaster responses), hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hazardous materials spills, transportation accidents, explosions, and other natural and man-made disasters.

Although the American Red Cross is not a government agency, its authority to provide disaster relief was formalized when, in 1905, the Red Cross was chartered by Congress to "carry on a system of national and international relief in time of peace and apply the same in mitigating the sufferings caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods, and other great national calamities, and to devise and carry on measures for preventing the same." The Charter is not only a grant of power, but also an imposition of duties and obligations to the nation, to disaster victims, and to the people who generously support its work with their donations.

Red Cross disaster relief focuses on meeting people's immediate emergency disaster-caused needs. When a disaster threatens or strikes, the Red Cross provides shelter, food, and health and mental health services to address basic human needs. In addition to these services, the core of Red Cross disaster relief is the assistance given to individuals and families affected by disaster to enable them to resume their normal daily activities independently.

The Red Cross also feeds emergency workers, handles inquiries from concerned family members outside the disaster area, provides blood and blood products to disaster victims, and helps those affected by disaster to access other available resources.

Clara Barton National Historic Site

In 1975, Clara Barton National Historic Site was established as a unit of the National Park Service at her Glen Echo, Maryland home near Washington, DC. The first National Historic Site dedicated to the accomplishments of a woman, it preserves the early history of the American Red Cross and the last home of its founder. Clara Barton spent the last 15 years of her life in her Glen Echo home, and it served as an early headquarters of the American Red Cross as well.

The National Park Service has restored eleven rooms, including the Red Cross offices, parlors and Miss Barton's bedroom. Visitors to Clara Barton National Historic Site can gain a sense of how Miss Barton lived and worked surrounded by all that went into her life's work. Visitors to the site are led through the three levels on a guided tour emphasizing Miss Barton's use of her unusual home, and come to appreciate the site in the same way visitors did in Clara Barton's lifetime. [1] (

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