Editor’s Note: Biz Q&A is a new feature for our expanded Monday Business page in which we will talk with business and nonprofit leaders about topics in their fields.
In a nutshell, the American Red Cross provides disaster relief. Wednesday’s EF2 Tornado in Wilkes-Barre township was rather different than the situations the agency’s Northeastern Pennsylvania Chapter typically deals with, for several reasons.
For one thing, it was a tornado — not unknown here, but nowhere near as common as fires or other natural disasters. For another, it involved commercial properties.
And thirdly … well, we’ll let let chapter Executive Director Bill Goldsworthy explain what made this assignment different from all the rest. We interviewed him on Mundy Street when it was still closed to traffic and filled with emergency vehicles and food tents for utility crews, police and other responders. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Bill. In general, what you do?
A: I’m the executive director for the American Red Cross of Northeast Pa., which includes Luzerne, Lackawanna, Wyoming and Susquehanna counties.
We do everything. Usually the first thing people say is, “I give blood.” And it’s true, we take blood, that’s obviously one of our big roles. We also train people on CPR, first aid, babysitting, life-saving.
We also have a brand new program that has been a phenomenal success for us, which is installing smoke alarms. We’re saving lives — in our area we have installed over 10,000 free smoke alarms in two years, which is totally amazing.
We also do what we call the pillowcase project, going into schools and teaching students how to prepare for a disaster. What do you put into a pillowcase if you have to leave your house? Let’s say if a tornado is coming. We teach the kids, you don’t take all your toys. You need clothes, medicine, water, food.
Q: A lot of people do think about the blood, and they think about house fires. But this event is something unusual for your agency, right?
A: It is, but we’re all about being prepared for any kind of disaster. We’re here providing what we call canteening services for the first responders. We provide them with food and drinks to keep them nourished to keep them going and do their jobs. We include PPL, UGI, the water company, anybody like that who’s here to help get the businesses back in business.
Q: I hear other businesses have pitched in to help, right?
A: I grew up in the valley, and I’ve lived here all my life. In ‘72 they coined the phrase “Valley with a Heart.” To me, these past couple of days have reinforced that. We’ve supplied a lot of food and a lot of meals here in the past couple days, and the Red Cross did not have to buy any of it. We’ve had people and local businesses come to us saying, “I want to do something. I’m bringing food, I’m bringing water.”
Q: Are you surprised at all?
A: No. People want to get these folks back in business. There’s a lot of people without jobs right now, and even some of the businesses’ competitors were out here helping us. It was great.