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United Way, MIT help local Red Cross after disasters

(The annual fund-raising campaign for United Way of Massachusetts Bay runs at MIT until December 31. Many MIT employees volunteer for social-services organizations that receive United Way grants made possible by donations. During each year's campaign, MIT Tech Talk runs occasional profiles of employees and the agencies that benefit from these donations.)

Walter Kahn is used to dealing with fires, but this fall, it was water rather than flames that sent him into action.

Mr. Kahn, a technician for Audio-Visual Services at MIT, is a volunteer for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay (ARCMB). His job revolves around communications and training for disaster relief, which in this area usually involves people displaced by fires. In October, however, the Red Cross was called on to help a large number of people cope with a nor'easter whose torrential rains produced widespread flooding.

The flood was classified by the Red Cross as a level 4 disaster. "It's the second-highest level in terms of money expected to be spent" on aid services, Mr. Kahn explained. His duties included helping with feeding and sheltering the many people driven from their homes by water, shuttling out-of-state relief workers to Logan Airport and other locations, and setting up communications at the Red Cross flood-relief headquarters in Lawrence, MA.

In the case of fires, volunteers like Mr. Kahn provide immediate help when a crisis hits, and paid Red Cross staff take over on the next business day to provide longer-term assistance if needed. "We help people back on their feet," he said. After the recent flood, the national Red Cross organization eventually brought in helpers from as far away as Pennsylvania and Georgia, he added.

Though often in shock over their property losses, victims of the recent flood and other emergencies are grateful for the help provided by the Red Cross. "People usually don't want to talk about (the disaster) when it first happens, but I did get a lot of `Thank you for being here'," Mr. Kahn said. "It was hard but it was rewarding, and that's why I do it."

Mr. Kahn is involved with many ARCMB services. He is a volunteer first aid/CPR instructor, a disaster services instructor, the disaster training coordinator for the Brookline/Boston response area. He has also been an after-hours dispatcher for 79 cities and towns; when a fire or other emergency strikes, he is paged, makes a phone call to confirm the emergency, and notifies team members who are on call.

The Red Cross gets no government funding; "it's all donated dollars," Mr. Kahn noted. Last year, the Massachusetts Bay chapter received $865,000 from the United Way, comprising 13 percent of the local Red Cross annual budget. Eighty percent of ARCMB workers are volunteers; in Disaster Services, there are 150 volunteers and just nine paid staffers, according to spokesperson Natasha Bramble. For information about volunteering, call the ARCMB at 375-0700, x280.


United Way update

As of Friday, Nov. 29, the MIT community had pledged or donated almost $60,000 in the 1996 fund-raising drive for the United Way of Massachusetts Bay that ends December 31. This amount is 20 percent of the Institute's goal of $300,000. So far, 292 people have made donations; of those, six are Leadership Givers who have pledged $1,000 or more.

As part of MIT's United Way campaign effort, there will be a clothing drive from December 9-20 to collect items for residents of Cambridge shelters.

Clothing can be deposited in bins in Lobby 7, the lobbies of Buildings E18, E23 and E52 (the Sloan School), the Office of Special Community Services (Rm 20A-023), Morss Hall in Walker Memorial, and the Stratton Student Center lobby. Blankets, coats, scarves, gloves, boots, mittens, thick wool socks, scarves, hats, earmuffs, sweaters and thermal clothing are welcome. They will be donated to Shelter, Inc., the CASPAR Emergency Services Center and the Salvation Army on Massachusetts Avenue.

An earlier event linked to the campaign, the November 21 bake sale in Lobby 7, raised $331 for the United Way. Anyone with questions may contact Debra Fair at x3-7914 or <>.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 4, 1996.

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