Answering the call

POIPU — The symbol, name and mission are familiar.

American Red Cross, the relief organization whose people fly far and wide to aid areas hit by disaster, is well-known for offering assistance — its white and red label is a world-famous image of help.

But, efficient as it may be, it’s not a government-funded agency.

Its coffers aren’t filled every year by Congress to make sure experts can be shipped to Nepal, New Orleans or even the Big Island when earthquakes, hurricanes or tropical storms strike.

Far from it.

Help comes from the independent, impartial humanitarian group because donors and volunteers ensure that it does.

“Really, it’s just about being there for people,” said Michele Molineaux, who was named the 2015 Red Cross Volunteer of the Year for Kauai, an honor for which she was recognized at the state’s Heroes Breakfast at the Waikiki Marriott last month and again on her home island of Kauai Saturday. “For that, I think all volunteers are everything, every day.”

Molineaux has manned the hotline, managed shelters and responded to families in need when they lost their home. Today, she serves as the west disaster action Team Captain, where she coordinated three home fire responses in the past year and has helped train new responders in the field.

The key about volunteering in the face of disaster, though, is preparedness. By the time calamity strikes, it can be too late for those looking to help. It’s the preparation, the unspotlighted hours of training beforehand that are instrumental in being capable to handle the worst when it touches down.

“It’s been a wonderful experience since I’ve been here,” said Molineaux, who volunteered her service after moving to the island five years ago and heard so many stories of the devastation caused by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. “There are so many other volunteers.”

The donation-reliant organization has 4,000 volunteers across the state, but around 800 of those are trained to be boots-on-the-ground coordinators when victims need food, water, care and refuge.

A tall order, especially considering there’s a fire one out of every four days in Hawaii and a disaster every eight minutes in the United States.

“They’re the heart and soul of the Red Cross,” said Coralie Matayoshi, Red Cross Pacific Region CEO, who flew in for the breakfast ceremony at the Sheraton Resort in Poipu. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

Over 96 percent of the organization is volunteer based. So ensuring the well-deserved reputation of life-savers in the face of crisis comes down to those willing to help make that happen.

“It’s you who makes it come to life,” Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. told Molineaux and the other volunteers at the beginning of the ceremony. “Without you, the Red Cross doesn’t exist.”

And while the Red Cross is always looking for volunteers, the ones they have now are equally deserving of the award, said Molineaux, a full-time Kauai Humane Society employee.

Humbled, honored, appreciative of the award, there are others who do just as much as she does, she said after the ceremony.

“Everybody deserves it,” she said.


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