100 years of the American Red Cross in the Southern Gulf Region

The American Red Cross is celebrating 100 years of service to South Florida. For a century, the Red Cross has been there for the people in the Southern Gulf Region.

Since the Lee County chapter was established in 1917, the Red Cross has made the community a safer place to live, work and play, meeting the needs of South Florida’s ever-changing population through good times and bad.

The Red Cross have helped thousands of people affected by local disasters including hurricanes, home fires, floods, tornadoes and other emergencies. From health and safety classes, to supporting military members, their families and veterans, the Red Cross has helped make our community safer and more prepared for what may come in the next 100 years.

In May 1917, Mr. Lorenzo D. Case and other Lee County residents met in a room of the Board of Trade to establish a Red Cross Chapter in Fort Myers with the purpose of making bandages, knitting socks and sweaters and creating bags with candy and chocolate to send to the men who were at the frontlines during WWI.

During World War II, once again the Chapter supported the Red Cross by helping the wounded and raising money for the Red Cross War Fund. As a nonmilitary organization, the Red Cross has provided continuous support to the Armed Forces, veterans and their families.

In times of peace, the Red Cross turned its attention to the poor, veterans’ assistance, nursing classes, natural disaster relief, training volunteers and teaching children how to swim. As South Florida experienced a boom in the 50s, population growth and urban expansion gave the Red Cross additional focus on prevention and preparedness, with first aid and water safety as priorities.

During the summer of 1966, the American Red Cross, Lee County Chapter, Water Safety Committee was established, meetings were held at the Fort Myers Swim Club. On September 10th, 1960 during and after Hurricane Donna struck land near Fort Myers, the Lee County Chapter gave the Lee County disaster victims over $205,000.00 in material provisions. Then in June 8, 1966, disaster units were activated in support of hurricane “Alma”. Twelve shelters were opened for about 1,500 people who sought refuge.

In the summer of 1992, Hurricane Andrew caused unprecedented devastation and the Red Cross was there to aid the victims and help the community heal. For all the major hurricanes in subsequent years – Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne in 2005; Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017 – Through the years the Chapter has provided a wide variety of different functions and they’ve always been among the first to be on the ground providing comfort and relief to all who need it.

While today the Red Cross has a more focused approach to its operations, including providing assistance to persons affected by residential fires, it remains centered around the overall American Red Cross mission: To prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.

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