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Red Cross says northern Westmoreland will not be forgotten

| Friday, Aug. 14, 2009

Red Cross officials say residents in northern Westmoreland County still can count on the agency to provide services in times of trouble.

They just won't have an office in Lower Burrell anymore.

"We'll still provide aid to fire victims, blood drives, education efforts — we just won't have a physical office in Lower Burrell," said Donna Pacella, executive director of the Red Cross Westmoreland County Chapter.

Leia Shilobod, former chairwoman of the now-defunct Chestnut Ridge Chapter, which included the Lower Burrell office, said the global economic downturn partially contributed to the necessity to close the office.

The national office mandated that all chapters pass balanced budgets for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

"We hadn't reached our fundraising goals, so we had to cut our costs," she said. "We rented our office in Lower Burrell, so that was a financial liability we didn't have to deal with in Latrobe, where we own our building."

The Westmoreland County Chapter board voted in March to close the Lower Burrell office at the end of July, a month after the Chestnut Ridge Chapter merged with the Westmoreland County Chapter.

Local Red Cross phone numbers will continue to work, but will be routed to the central office in Greensburg.

"It wasn't an easy decision to make. We were very happy to have that location for the past several years and we wanted to have a physical presence in the area," said Shilobod.

In place of the Lower Burrell office, the chapter will, in the coming months, form an advisory board to communicate the region's need to the administration.

"We don't want people to feel cut off from the Red Cross — they'll feel their voices are heard even though we're down here," in Greensburg, she said.

The chapter has not begun selecting members for the advisory committee and Shilobod said the chapter welcomes nominations.

"From that perspective, we might have a larger impact on the community," she said. "We won't be waiting until someone walks into the office to learn about an issue. We'll have advisers at work in the community."

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