Officials say the organization's mission of focusing on disaster response and preparedness continues at its new office

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FARMINGTON — The local American Red Cross office has undergone several changes, including a move from its former Farmington location to a new site in Aztec.

Still, officials say the chapter remains just as active with its disaster response and preparedness efforts in San Juan County.

The move to 123 S. Main Ave. in Aztec took place over the summer so the agency could be closer to county emergency management organizations, said Amanda Kibel, regional disaster workforce engagement manager for the Red Cross.

"It made a little more sense for us to be in Aztec, since county offices like the Sheriff’s Office, emergency management and 911 communications are all here," she said.

In addition to its proximity to county offices, the new location makes it easier for the public to find the agency, Kibel said.

"We used to be in an industrial part of Farmington, and there wasn’t a lot of foot traffic. Now people can stop in just to say hi or to find out about volunteering," Kibel said.

Kibel’s position also changed recently. For the past five years, she was the nonprofit’s disaster program manager. In her new job, Kibel is responsible for managing all Red Cross disaster-related programs in New Mexico, Arizona and El Paso, Texas. Kibel said the agency will hire someone to fill her former position, which manages programs throughout Northwest New Mexico.

Kibel said the nonprofit’s mission focuses on disaster response and preparedness.

"When there’s a disaster, the Red Cross responds within about eight minutes," she said. "We meet the family, provide assistance, such finding them a place to stay or getting them clothing, and we connect the family with other resources that can help them further and help them identify the next steps to take. For example, when the flooding happened in Shiprock (last summer), we helped 17 families."

Kibel said the Red Cross always needs volunteers who are willing to reach out to families who experience a disaster.

One of the current prevention projects the office is working on involves installing smoke alarms in homes.

"We will install brand new smoke alarms for free, or we can also provide free batteries for existing alarms," Kibel said. "The Red Cross is really trying to reduce the number of deaths caused by fires. You would be surprised how many homes don’t have alarms — even when little kids are involved."

Another program the nonprofit is actively engaged in is called the Pillowcase Project.

Volunteer Leann Charlie, a preparedness educator for the agency, oversees the project, which involves a 45-minute presentation at local schools that teaches kids what to do — and what not to do — in case of a fire or other disaster.

"We bring pillowcases that the kids can use markers to decorate, and we tell them to fill the pillowcases with items they might need (if a disaster occurs), such as a toy, a blanket, some food — anything to keep them comfortable for a few days," Charlie said.

She added that the presenters tell children to keep the pillowcases somewhere easily accessible, such as in the car or by the front door.

"We tell them to never go look for the pillowcase," she said. "If there’s a fire, people usually only have two minutes to get out."

Charlie said she normally spends about 30 hours a week volunteering for the Red Cross.

"I’d love to sign up more schools (for the presentations)," she said. "They just need to call me and we can put them on our waiting list."

Malia Simon is an 18-year-old Bloomfield High School student who volunteers for the Red Cross on weekends. Simon has accompanied Charlie on Pillowcase Project presentations, including one in Gallup.

"It really opened my eyes, seeing those kids’ faces, and knowing that they’ll be prepared in case of an emergency" Simon said. "I also hope that maybe they’ll decide to volunteer in the future."

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621. 

More info

For more information on the American Red Cross or to sign up to volunteer, visit redcross.org.

For details on specific local American Red Cross programs, contact Amanda Kibel at 505-386-9509 or amanda.kibel@redcross.org

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