SEBRING - Although it's been two years since the American Red Cross had an office in Sebring, many people whose homes burned down probably don't know that.
"They do a great service for people," Sebring Fire Chief Brad Batz said. "They really help a lot of people."
While continuing to help people, the American Red Cross plans to reopen an office as of April 30, said Sara Olson, community development officer.
Olson said the American Red Cross previously had an office behind Highlands Regional Medical Center, but decided it needed a new office that was more visible.
The new office will be just south of Florida Hospital at 6011 U.S. 27, North, Sebring. A grand opening will be April 30 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Olson said the Red Cross has leased the new office for about six months, but some work had to be done on the interior before they could occupy it.
"We're definitely excited to have a new office in Sebring," Olson said. "A lot of people agreed we needed a more visible presence."
But during the two years without an office, she said, "We never stopped providing our services to people."
Those services include responding to disasters - most commonly house fires in Highlands County - and providing initial relief to people, she said.
Generally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency takes care of the long-term relief, she said.
When fire destroys a home, a team of volunteers from the Red Cross provide money for food and clothing to the displaced family and help them find a temporary living area, she said.
The American Red Cross can also help people with paying a deposit on a residence, Olson said.
Olson said they also help firefighters by providing them water and food. "We want to make sure the firefighters are taken care of," she said.
Batz said his firefighters generally carry water to fires. While they appreciate the offer, he said, they prefer the Red Cross concentrates on the victims of the fire.
He said it was evident the Red Cross was operational during the last two years. He recalled one situation where a family of eight lost their house to fire. The Red Cross brought a bus to the scene and transported the family to a hotel, he said.
"We've had them come out at 3 a.m.; we've had them come out at 10 a.m.," Batz said. "They've done so much to help people."
The new office will be used in part to follow up on responses to disasters and will likely provide safety classes, Olson said.