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Hutchinson's Red Cross Chapter Closes Its Doors

Abigail Wilson
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After 97 years in operation, the Red Cross Chapter in Hutchinson will close its doors Friday. The change comes in the wake of a restructuring by the Red Cross as part of the new ‘Vision 2017’ program. KMUW’s Abigail Wilson reports…

Closing Up

The downtown Hutchinson business district won’t be home to the local Red Cross chapter for much longer. The location, which serves as the headquarters for the Central Kansas Chapter of the Red Cross, will be placed under the direction of the organization’s Wichita location and will consist only of volunteers. Megan Gottschalk-Hammersmith currently serves as chapter director for the office. After Friday, she will look for a new position, as hers was eliminated in the restructuring.

"We've had an inkling that this would come down with our chapter for a few months now," she says. "But really we've had official word that our office would be closing for about maybe three weeks now."  

  Moving boxes line the walls of the office. Gottschalk-Hammersmith has already gotten rid of her desk. Staff from the Boys and Girls Club next door come in and out, taking claim of the extra, empty file cabinets.

"So in these boxes that you're looking at, these are disaster supplies, cambros, things that volunteers or staff might use when they're setting up a shelter or canteening or helping families in our communities," she says.

Staff at the location, which is rented from the local chamber of commerce, provide health and safety services, disaster response, aid to the armed forces and hold blood drives... all of which required purpose-specific supplies. But the home of the supplies, come Friday, has yet to be determined.

"No decisions have been made about what they're actually going to do with the physical office yet," Gottschalk-Hammersmith says. "We have just been moving a few things around so whoever does pack up our items--I’m assuming from the Wichita Red Cross office--they'll be able to pack them up quickly and take them where they need to take them."

According to Kansas Regional Executive for the Red Cross Bev Morlan, even though the physical location will cease to exist, the services provided to the Hutchinson community by the Red Cross will continue. When asked about how services will be provided once the doors close, Gottschalk-Hammersmith’s response was simple.

"I don’t know," she says.

She says the community relies on the chapter, which was founded in 1917.

"We have some old board members who have memories, not from 1917, but from when they were involved with the Red Cross, with their families and their mothers, rolling bandages and helping out in the communities," Gottschalk-Hammersmith says.

During our interview, the phone at the front desk rings. But with the office closing and the staff positions eliminated, there is no one else is there to answer it.

"In an average year for Reno County, we will service anywhere between 30 and 50 fires. Single-family home fires," she says. "For the central Kansas area, it was probably 70, 80 fires per year. And then disasters, it just would depend on what we might have. Usually two or three that we would have to open a shelter for, depending on the magnitude of the disaster."

Project Vision 2017

Bev Morlan’s position is in the Red Cross office in downtown Wichita. She says the restructuring started about six months ago as part of a nationwide project called Vision 2017.

"It is, in total, a three year process," Morlan says. "So there are phases, if you will, or many components within the reengineering process so that we can be in the best position possible by 2017 to be ready to face the challenges at that time."  

She says the reengineering and restructuring process is a consolidation by the Red Cross.

"This reengineering, or restructuring, is taking place across the country," Morlan says. "Not every state is having the same consolidations, so they are really looking at what's best and where we go. But yes, we're really kind of working on lowering those costs across the country and ensuring that in it's place is really a platform that allows us to really, more efficiently and really more robustly, roll out new programs or support programs because the technology exists to do that."

And in lowering costs, they’re losing several physical locations. The Hutchinson office is currently the headquarters for 13 counties. Those will now be under the Wichita office, which will change from a regional hub to a chapter office. The offices in Pratt and Garden City will also be closing Friday. But Morlan says the communities will not be left high and dry.

"It's change and we recognize it's change and we recognize we have to work closely with the community to ensure that we can be successful in implementing this new structure," she says. "The American Red Cross will continue to provide those core services. We'll provide services to victims of disasters, we'll support the military and their families, we'll teach people how to save lives and we will draw blood in those communities. So those things will continue we'll just have to do them in a little different way."

The Heart Of The Red Cross

Both women say the emphasis now will be on volunteers who will be responsible for keeping services going.

"You don’t actually have to have a physical location to have the Red Cross," Gottschalk-Hammersmith says. "People make up the Red Cross."

They say the focus now will be to utilize local volunteers and support them in a way that makes them successful.