Earlier this year, Linda Medford heard from colleagues about a young man who attended a Red Cross seminar at a camp at Lake Murray. In April, the young man and other students learned how to make a “go-bag” with a pillowcase, filled with supplies to help people survive an emergency.

Medford is a disaster program specialist with the Red Cross of South Central and Southeast Oklahoma, a network of hundreds of regional workers and volunteers who responded to the aftermath from a series of tornadoes in southern Oklahoma just days after the camp. She said the unknown student returned home to Bryan County armed with information that potentially saved an entire family from a deadly EF3 tornado.

“We have no idea who they were, we can’t even reach back out to them,” she said.

While that unsolved mystery remains one of the biggest impacts for her in 2019, the “pillowcase project” from education seminars, is only one of many services provided by Red Cross workers throughout the year. A Thursday morning house fire in Ardmore marked 25 events and 31 cases opened for local families in emergencies in 2019. “It climbs just a little bit every year,” she said of the need for local support, adding that an estimated 90% of Red Cross work is provided by volunteers.

The Ardmore office is one of three offices that serves a 24-county area in Oklahoma from Stephens County to the west and Interstate 40 to the north. While a majority of local cases are related to house fires, Medford said about 300 area Red Cross workers responded to tornadoes, floods, and major transportation incidents across the state this year. Along with providing assistance to survivors, Medford said support for first responders is also an important mission.

Nearly 9,000 Red Cross workers were dispatched to emergencies across the nation this year to distribute 354,000 relief items and serve over one million emergency meals. According to a statement from the American Red Cross, volunteers also helped make thousands of contacts to support health, spiritual, and disability needs, and secured over 79,000 overnight shelter stays across the country in 2019.

Another major Red Cross initiative is the Home Fire Campaign, which has installed more than 2 million smoke alarms since 2014. Medford said a recent project with the Ardmore Fire Department resulted in 93 smoke alarms installed locally in just four hours. She estimates the campaign has saved over 640 lives nationally.

“We operate off of the power of our volunteers,” she said, adding that opportunities exist to volunteer locally or travel. “There is a place for everyone.”