The Red Cross emblem on Shannon Thibodeau’s lapel represents help in all corners of the globe and here in our local community.
The Red Cross emblem on Shannon Thibodeau’s lapel represents help in all corners of the globe and here in our local community.

You don’t have to be in the midst of a disaster to benefit from the support of the Canadian Red Cross. Thanks to funding from Guelph Wellington Dufferin United Way, the local Red Cross is able to run programs providing assistance to a wide range of people from school age to the elderly.

“The United Way funding allows Red Cross to have a broad impact by providing programs that serve our vulnerable populations so that they can be safe and live independently,” says Shannon Thibodeau, a Red Cross volunteer since 2006 who works at U of G as the leadership education and development adviser in Student Life. She has contributed to various Red Cross boards at the local and provincial level. “The United Way donations go towards providing hot meals, home health-care equipment, disaster response and anti-bullying programs.”

In 2012, the University’s United Way campaign raised about 17 per cent of the record-breaking $3.29 million that was collected county-wide to support local organizations. Of that funding, close to $40,000 went to four Red Cross programs run within the community.

This year’s U of G campaign hopes to raise $590,000 for the United Way; campus volunteers have raised $430,000 to date with three weeks left in the fundraising drive.

“The great part about the United Way funding is that all the money that comes in from Guelph and the University stays within the community,” says Thibodeau. Funding awarded to the Red Cross helps the local branch meet specific local needs.

She says one of the best-known programs run by the Guelph Red Cross is Meals on Wheels. Last year this program received $12,000 from United Way, which resulted in 290 people receiving close to 29,000 meals.

Volunteers with Meals on Wheels deliver hot and nutritious meals to people who live independently but can’t cook for themselves. “It’s an important program because there are people who are older or people who are in a position where they can’t leave the home. Having meals cooked for them allows them to remain living independently,” says Thibodeau. “For some of the recipients, that person who delivers their meals could be the only contact they have that day, so volunteers play an important role in the program.”

Another program run by Red Cross that helps provide independence to vulnerable populations is the health equipment loan program. This program also received $12,000 in funding from United Way last year; the money helped to provide health-care equipment for 440 people. Thibodeau says the program allows people to rent assistive equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers and commodes at a subsidized rate for up to three months.

“The program is aimed at people who may need some type of equipment temporarily to help them live independently post-surgery or for those who have reached a stage in life where they need extra assistance.” She adds, “This type of health equipment can cost a lot to buy; the Red Cross program allows people to rent items at a reduced price and continue living at home.”

Disaster management is another Red Cross program that relies heavily on United Way donations. Last year the program received $7,500, which helped local victims, including 83 residents who were displaced after an apartment fire in Guelph.

Volunteers with the disaster management program respond to small-scale emergencies, such as house fires or floods, and provide victims with food, shelter, clothing and toiletries, and connections to other community support services. Red Cross volunteers also respond to large-scale emergencies in conjunction with other community agencies to provide shelter and support to those impacted by the disaster.

“This program is driven completely by volunteers with people on call 24-hours a day, seven days a week to respond to a personal disaster,” says Thibodeau.

Last year’s United Way donations also went towards Respect ED, a Red Cross program that focuses on education as a way to prevent abuse, bullying and exploitation among elementary students. The program received $8,000, which funded training for teachers and classroom materials.

“The curriculum teaches kids about anti-bullying, bystander awareness and healthy relationships,” says Thibodeau. “The Red Cross has always been about supporting the vulnerable and creating a safe environment, and this program is just another way the organization is doing that within our community.”

Without United Way funding, including donations from the U of G community, none of these programs would be possible, adds Thibodeau. “Ultimately, the United Way helps the Red Cross be there when help is needed.”

Thibodeau stresses that she is not the only one on campus who also donates time to helping the Red Cross. U of G students, for example, are establishing a new Red Cross chapter at U of G. Third-year students Kelly Wighton and Emily Dewhust introduced the club this fall and are in the midst of recruiting members and officers.

Wighton says they hope to spread awareness on campus about various humanitarian issues and breaches of international humanitarian law as well as raise funds for international appeals. “Our main goal is to support the mission of the Canadian Red Cross in mobilizing the power of humanity and improving the lives of vulnerable people,” she says.

Learn more about the Canadian Red Cross.

Follow the U of G United Way campaign.