United Way, Red Cross combine efforts to save lives

Red Cross volunteer hugs woman

Every year, the Red Cross helps more than 1,000 Southeastern Michigan families affected by disaster. United Way supports these efforts with grant funding.

This June, a Southeastern Michigan family stepped out of their house for a few minutes while dinner was cooking. They returned to find smoke billowing out of the windows and their home on fire. As a result, the home was destroyed.

Every year in our region, house fires affect more than 1,000 families. And a fire or other disaster can be extremely difficult to recover from—especially for the 40 percent of families already struggling to make ends meet.

United Way for Southeastern Michigan partners with the American Red Cross of Michigan to accomplish our common goal of ensuring that every family can learn how to protect themselves from crises and have their needs met when disaster happens.

This year, United Way for Southeastern Michigan granted $100,000 to the American Red Cross of Michigan in order to help address the needs of the people recovering from disaster situations in our region, such as flooding or house fires. The grant will help more than 500 people access emergency food, housing and clothing.

“Detroit currently leads the nation in the number of residential fire responses,” said Kimberly Burton, Red Cross regional CEO. “Together we will help families across Southeast Michigan recover from disasters and be better prepared.”

2-1-1 care advocate talks to customer on phone

A multi-faceted partnership

United Way works to coordinate regional efforts and maximize limited resources to make the greatest impact. To accomplish this, we provide grants, volunteer support and technical resources to more than 100 local nonprofit organizations that work directly with people in need.

“Because of our reputation, our resources and our track record, we’re able to bring organizations together and create resources that can help our entire region,” said Kerri Gentry, director of United Way’s Partner Network. “By using our available tools, our partners are able to work more efficiently and focus on what they do best.”

United Way’s grant to the Red Cross helps families access basic needs like food, housing and medical care in times of crisis. We also assist with volunteer recruitment through our online volunteer portal, securing help for everything from blood drives to installing smoke alarms to disaster relief locally and across the country.

And in the future, the goal is to combine United Way’s strengths—like our 2-1-1 helpline—with those of the Red Cross—like their connections to FEMA—to ensure that struggling families can access every resource they need.

Red Cross volunteers

American Red Cross volunteers install a smoke alarm in a home as part of a fire safety campaign. United Way partially funds this effort.

Sound the Alarm

The Red Cross’ Home Fire Campaign is also supported by United Way funds. This program deploys volunteers and staff to install smoke detectors, as well as to educate families on how to safeguard their home against fires.

“We respond to fires, and we realized there was a great need for smoke alarms,” said Natalie McIntyre, regional volunteer services officer for the Red Cross in Michigan. “The goal was to do the preparedness education to make sure that people understand the importance of having smoke alarms.

“We’re saving lives. That’s what we do.”

This year, the Red Cross aims to install 3,500 smoke alarms in homes in Southeastern Michigan. Volunteers canvass neighborhoods in the spring, and families can also call year-round to request help making their home fire-safe.

Volunteers are also essential to helping families recover when fires happen. They build hygiene and comfort kits for families, and offer highly skilled support like mental health help.

United Way for Southeastern Michigan employees will volunteer with the campaign this winter our annual all-staff volunteer day with the Red Cross. Our staff will install smoke alarms, spend time with veterans and creating hygiene kits for local families.

“The Red Cross offers opportunities to help families in our community, which is at the core of what we do at United Way” says Volunteer Engagement Manager Kristen Lewis. “We strive to offer our volunteer experiences that will be meaningful to our staff, and help them feel more connected to our mission.”

United Way partnered with the Red Cross in June to offer an opportunity for volunteers to spend time with patients at the Detroit Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Making a commitment

Last year, Michigan Red Cross volunteers gave more than 200,000 hours of their time to provide food, shelter, comfort and hope to more than 4,000 local families who faced emergency situations. Furthermore, they helped to install more than 12,000 smoke alarms statewide and educate families about fire prevention.

For United Way, it’s work we’re proud to be part of to help families recover and thrive.

“It’s a natural partnership between United Way and the Red Cross,” says Kerri. “If we work together to align the strengths of each organization and combine our connections, our community will be better prepared for a crisis.”

Volunteers can sign up for opportunities with the Red Cross on United Way’s volunteer portal at UnitedWaySEM.org/RedCrossVolunteers.