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Wednesday, 27 July 2011 13:53

Red Cross to close only office west of Asheville

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Since 1917, the Red Cross has flown its archetypal white flag in Haywood County. In the 94 years that have since passed, the charity’s presence in the county has been steadily dwindling. First, the Waynesville chapter disappeared. Then the Canton chapter fell by the wayside.

The weight fell on what became the Haywood County chapter of the Red Cross, but now that last holdout is looking at closing its doors as well.

“Our chapter has been struggling financially for several years,” said Kim Czaja, the chapter’s financial director, who will be out of a job in September.

They’ve made some pretty hefty strides in the last few years — cutting the yearly debt from $28,000 down to just around $2,000 — but it just wasn’t enough.

Really, though, said Czaja, what’s happening to Haywood is just a snapshot of a very turbulent climate in the Red Cross around the country.

Chapters in Cincinnati are merging to save money, Buffalo is slashing 50 jobs in their blood division and the agency said it’s cutting administrative jobs, consolidating things like payroll and accounting, which are currently done by each chapter.

“There are layoffs going on throughout the Red Cross as a whole,” said Czaja. “It’s just a change right now, and I’ll be honest with you, it’s like any change, it can be painful but it is a very good thing because it’s definitely going to make the Red Cross stronger.”

Some of the services the local chapter offers will also go through an evolution, probably being administered out of the regional office in Asheville.

The western region of the state has seven Red Cross chapters. Haywood County was the only one west of Asheville, and it’s been that way for years, said Czaja.

“We want to continue to be strong in the community, but it is going to be different,” said Czaja.

She estimates that they serve around 7,000 to 8,000 people every year. That includes all the classes — CPR, first aid, swim and lifeguard courses — blood drives, water safety classes in schools, helping businesses craft emergency plans and local versions of the disaster assistance the Red Cross is known for globally.

They also offer financial help to military families and get them in touch with service members overseas when there’s an emergency at home.

The restructuring is a new proposition; Czaja, who is only part-time and the chapter’s only paid employee, just learned of the changes last week. So that means she’s not yet sure how or when the fallout will actually fall.

“There’s a lot of fear because the doors may be closing,” said said. But she’s hopeful that the group’s role in the community won’t diminish and that they can continue serving the county through volunteers. She started as a volunteer herself.

“I understand decisions like this have to be made,” said Czaja. “The most important thing is that the services continue.”

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