Caldwell is hot spot for Red Cross

Six house fires in six weeks strains resources
Feb. 14, 2013 @ 08:03 AM

Brenton Gragg and Roni Coffey were luckier than some, if you call a falling tree splitting your house in half lucky. Others, displaced by fires that destroyed their homes, weren’t so fortunate and are starting their lives over.

All shared one thing in common: They were assisted by the American Red Cross.

“They were really good,” said Linda Gragg, mother of Brenton and owner of the home off Rattlesnake Lane that was crushed by a fallen tree Jan. 24, narrowly missing Coffey as he lay sleeping on the couch.

The house is still under repair but now has electricity. Brenton Gragg, Coffey and the two children have moved back in. They have a wood stove for heat, and are still fixing the roof.

The couple and their two children were among 13 families helped by the Catawba Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross within the past three weeks in the Unifour area. A total of 20 adults and 18 children obtained temporary housing through the group.

So far in 2013, the Red Cross has helped six Caldwell County families, including 10 children, who were displaced by house fires. Last year, a total of 25 families were assisted, including 20 children, in the county.

Caldwell County is unique in that more money is spent in the county than in Alexander, Burke and Catawba counties combined, putting a burden on limited resources. According to Suzan Anderson, Red Cross Catawba Valley Chapter community chapter executive, more fires generally are reported in Caldwell County than in the rest of the Unifour, while donations lag.  The strain to the Red Cross's coffers puts a greater need for monetary donations, which are the lifeblood of the Red Cross. Getting the word out about services is key to survival.

“I firmly believe people are less educated in what we do in areas such as Caldwell County,” she said. “I believe if people knew what we do, the money will come.”

Anderson hopes donations will increase in Caldwell County over time. The Red Cross plans to be a bigger presence in the county, with seminars to be scheduled for churches, schools and civic organizations.

The Red Cross is among the various agencies that come when a house catches fire. Volunteers are there to wrap victims in warm blankets; pass out toys, stuffed animals and flashlights to children; and arrange for provide up to three nights for the family at a local motel. Displaced pets are even accommodated. If clothing is needed, debit cards are issued, allowing victims to shop for their own. Food cards are also distributed, all within the first week. Other agencies are contacted if further assistance is needed.

“We try to meet their immediate needs but also try to help get people back on their feet,” Anderson said.

“We offer hope, recovery and resiliency."