Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Exhibit celebrates Red Cross


A small slice of Santa Barbara County history was on display yesterday at the Covarrubias Adobe, where the American Red Cross celebrated the 116th anniversary of the organization’s first local chapter with its Threads of History Retrospective.
Pins, uniforms, letters and field manuals dating back to the early 20th century were on display, and Red Cross staff members dressed in authentic garb from earlier eras to mark the occasion.

Most of the artifacts were from the World War II era, where according to Stephanie M. Boumediene, a gift-planning officer for the Red Cross, nearly everyone in the country was impacted in some way by the Red Cross’ services.
For the past couple of months, Boumediene said local chapters of the Red Cross have been attempting to capture the stories and memories of those involved with the organization during that time.
The result was four video interviews with former Red Cross employees and an American Soldier, which was shown throughout the event yesterday.
One of the interviewees, Dale Cullen, said after he was stabbed in the chest with a bayonet during a battle in Japan, the first person he saw was a Red Cross “lady.”
Cullen said the Red Cross woman notified his mother that her son had survived the incident.
Others interviewed were Ruth Caldwell, Lee Robertson and Janet Kelley, who talked about their experiences with the Red Cross.
While the Red Cross is often associated with providing aid in wide scale national and international disasters, Boumediene said the organization’s strength is in its local roots.
The Red Cross provides temporary emergency relief in a number of instances locally, one of the most common of which is during fires.
Boumediene said the Red Cross provides everything from emergency housing to funds for a day’s worth of food.
“That’s what makes it such a successful organization,” she said, adding that the things the Red Cross does on a local level are every bit as important as those they do on a larger scale around the world.
She said the first local chapter sprung up in 1882 in Lompoc and the Santa Barbara chapter followed a few years later.
Countywide, the Red Cross now has 19 full-time employees and more than 900 volunteers.
When these employees and volunteers aren’t providing emergency relief services, they’re often hosting educational events, which include CPR training.
Marlene Lentz, one of the roughly 70 community members who strolled through the retrospective, said she remembers her parents telling her stories about World War II and wanted to get a better idea of the Red Cross’ role.
“I’m very impressed by the whole thing,” she said. “They did a great job. It’s a great exhibit.”
Lentz said she hasn’t ever volunteered with the Red Cross, but has taken CPR classes.
The exhibit itself consisted of a wide variety of historical artifacts, which included a Barbie doll dressed in a Red Cross uniform. A placard beneath the Barbie said local volunteers made the outfits in the 60s.
Other items included copies of “The Red Cross Magazine” from 1918 and a number of Red Cross pamphlets and books with titles like, “The Earthquake Disaster at Santa Barbara California,” which was published in June of 1926 and was labeled an official report of the relief activities. Another book was titled, “Basic Course in Emergency Mass Feeding,” published in 1966.
Many of the artifacts were letters from American soldiers during World War II and Red Cross volunteers.
Kristiana Kocis, major gifts officer for the Red Cross, said the artifacts on display represent a sliver of the archives stored at the Santa Barbara offices at 2702 State Street.
“Our chapter’s history is so incredibly rich,” she said.
For Boumediene, this history viewed through the lens of one local organization speaks volumes about the community as a whole.
“Our history is the history of Santa Barbara County,” she said.
More information about the American Red Cross is available at www.sbredcross.org.

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