Diane Phillips began volunteering for the American Red Cross in the early 1980s to gain skills for her church.
"I went to learn CPR and teach classes. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, to be able to share," she said. "I was trying to save money for the rest of the people at church. Many of them needed CPR and first-aid training in order to work with the youth. Many of the members couldn’t afford the classes."
While helping her congregation, the Waianae resident became a longtime supporter of the Red Cross in the process.
She continued to volunteer, served as a paid staff member for 20 years and after retiring is now back to volunteering. Phillips, 61, has taught classes, helped during fires and floods, and set up first-aid stations at community events. She also enlisted the support of her husband, Rick, 62.
"I trained my husband to go along with me so I don’t need to go out alone at 3 in the morning."
They’ll be among the participants in the agency’s annual "Hats Off" fundraiser, created in celebration of Red Cross Month. Volunteers will be at Walmart stores collecting donations in hats from Friday to Sunday and at other locations on Saturday. The money collected will be used for local disasters. The goal is to raise $75,000.
For more information on the Red Cross or to volunteer:
"Off-duty firefighters, military service members, Red Cross clubs and other volunteers such as the Lions Club take their hats off and ask the public to show their support," said Coralie Chun Matayoshi, chief executive officer of American Red Cross, Hawaii State Chapter.
Matayoshi developed the program about seven years ago. "We were not in good financial shape and lacked visibility. ‘Hats Off’ shows that our first responders appreciate what we do and that every dollar counts."
Donations are essential for maintaining the Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts because the organization is not supported by government funding.
The "Hats Off" event raising money for local disaster victims coincides with efforts by other groups to collect Red Cross donations to aid earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan.
"When the earthquake struck Japan and as the tsunami barreled toward Hawaii and the West Coast, we worked throughout the night to put our 600 volunteers on alert," Matayoshi said. "After each county’s ‘all clear’ was announced, volunteers conducted damage assessments in Maui, Kona and Molokai and found that 42 homes were affected by the tsunami. … Several homes have foundations that were damaged. Many residents had the debris-laden tsunami waters enter their home, damage their floors, walls and break windows and sliding-glass doors. Volunteers met with the families affected to assist them with immediate emergency needs and plan for their long-term recovery."
In addition to monetary support, the Red Cross is always looking for volunteers. Without them, services like the free swimming lessons offered for 45 years at Ala Moana Beach Park and first-aid stations at the Honolulu Marathon and 50th State Fair would not be possible, Matayoshi said.