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May 25, 2014

125 years later, local Red Cross chapter carries on mission

— When Clara Barton left Johnstown 125 years ago, she laid the foundation for an organization that has remained true to its core mission of providing emergency services to those who are faced with hardships.

“What Clara Barton wanted this to be is what we are still doing,” said Colleen Sherman, executive director of the American Red Cross Keystone Chapter.

One of the organization’s most well-known services is its blood-donation program.

During World War II at the military’s request, the American Red Cross initiated a national blood program that collected 13 million pints of blood for use by the armed forces.

Following the war, the first nationwide civilian blood program was introduced. It now supplies more than 40 percent of the blood and blood products in the country.

In terms of service to the military, the chapter has raised funds in support of the war effort including more than $1 million in a 1918 fund drive.

Services later evolved into assisting the home front by providing emergency communications to keep military personnel in touch with families and verification of the need for emergency leave.

“Many of the services provided during World War II remained consistent throughout the Korean War and Vietnam and are still a vital part of our services,” Sherman said.

Another facet to the Keystone Chapter is its first-aid program.

Although first aid was a core service from the beginning, it took a back seat to the war until 1924, when a Bethlehem Steel plant manager undertook the task of teaching instructors. The service grew, and by 1932, the chapter had issued 654 first-aid certificates.

“Today, the organization issues thousands of certificates each year,” Sherman said.

But it’s the disaster-relief services that continue to be the driving force of the organization.

In 1922, a fatal mine explosion occurred in Spangler. The chapter had volunteers on the scene within 50 minutes to assist with the relief efforts.

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