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Remarks at the American Red Cross

February 27, 1995

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you, Elizabeth Dole. Thank you for your remarks, and thank you especially for the strong leadership you have given to the Red Cross. In my own experience, I have watched you give it through hurricanes and earthquakes, through fires and floods, and I am delighted to be the honorary chairman of the American Red Cross and to be here at the start of the 1995 community campaign.

You know, when I became President, I spent a great deal of time early trying to make sure that the Federal Government could do its part in dealing with natural disasters. There had been so much criticism of the Federal disaster relief program before I took office. And we worked hard, and I think that everyone in America would admit that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is doing the best job it has perhaps ever done. But I can tell you this: We never could have done what needed to be done for the American people had it not been for the Red Cross, in the floods in the Middle West, in California, all across the country.

I also can't help saying that on the way in here, Elizabeth, who never misses a chance to get you to do something else for the Red Cross—[laughter]—said, "Oh, by the way, on the way out, we're a little short in our blood drive, and would you mind making a public service announcement?" [Laughter] And I said, "No, I also wouldn't mind giving blood, and I think I should catch up." As a matter of fact, it occurred to me that I ought to—I could really require everyone—[laughter]—I could really require everyone at the White House to contribute, since they give blood every day every way. [Laughter] They might as well give it to the Red Cross and do some good.

I want to say, again, a special word of thanks to all of you who have been involved in the work of the Red Cross. I have, for several years now, said I thought what our country needed, in thinking about how we relate to each other, is the idea of a New Covenant, that we are entitled to more opportunity but we owe, each of us, more responsibility. We've got to build this country at the grassroots level, and that means we have to do it primarily as citizens, as private citizens with public spirits. That's what the Red Cross is all about. I have seen the Red Cross workers in Florida and in California and all those terrible States that were devastated in the Middle West.

I'm reminded of the example of Debbie Blanton, the head of the Red Cross chapter in Albany, Georgia. When the floods struck last summer there, her home was literally buried by water. But she and her husband, Joe, went to work right away, and the very next morning after the floods struck, they had already opened the first shelter in their area, even though they couldn't get to their own home. When I went down to Georgia a few days later, I met a lot of people, but I didn't meet her because she was too busy working on relief work. I'm happy to report that she and her husband moved back into their home just 4 days before Christmas.

Time and again I have seen the work of the Red Cross, as I said, all across the country. I remember what I saw in the flood-devastated areas in California recently. I saw the Red Cross there feeding families from mobile kitchens, passing out blankets and emergency clothes, running shelters for displaced families.

As awful as they are, these natural disasters have a funny way of bringing out the best in us, neighbors helping neighbors to rebuild their communities and restore hope. If you go back to the beginning of our country or back to the wonderful writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, you see that the keenest observers of America have always said that our ability to associate with people different from ourselves to work for common purpose is the great strength of this country. For more than a century, the Red Cross has led the way in that endeavor. I only wish that we could find a way to do on a daily basis what the Red Cross helps us to do when disaster strikes.

For service men and women the world over, the Red Cross means a helping hand or a word from home. For hospital patients, it means the world's safest blood supply. For people in need, it means a hot meal, a warm bed, a hope for a better future. So for many others, the Red Cross is terribly important not just in times of disaster but when problems strike them or needs plague them day-in and day-out.

I want to take a moment, if I might, to recognize two young people who are here today who represent the strong partnership in disaster response between the Red Cross and AmeriCorps, our national service program. Johnny Jones and Beverly Beyer were trained by you, the Red Cross. They've worked side by side with the Red Cross when disaster struck in Idaho during fires and Houston after the flood. I'm proud of them and the spirit of voluntarism they represent. I'd like them to raise their hands and be recognized. There they are. Thank you very much. [Applause]

Now I have to do what Elizabeth sent me here to do, the sales pitch. [Laughter] Because the truth is that for all the work the Red Cross does, none of it can happen without the generous support of the American people, without the million and a half volunteers, the millions of financial contributors, and yes, the blood donors.

So I urge all Americans to keep up your support, to give your time, to give your money, to give your blood, because, as the saying is this year, "Help Can't Wait." I hope the American people will continue to live out the ideals of the Red Cross and be good neighbors every day.

Thank you very much, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:26 a.m. on the lawn at Red Cross headquarters. Following his remarks and a tour of displays, he signed the American Red Cross Month proclamation, which is listed in Appendix D at the end of this volume.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the American Red Cross Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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