Red Cross CEO runs marathon, then helps victims

April 26, 2013
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Jarrett Barrios, the chief executive officer of the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts and a Jamaica Plain resident, had his first-ever run of the Boston Marathon halted by the April 15 bombing. Then, despite hurting his leg during the run, he went straight to work with hundreds of other Red Cross volunteers to aid the bombs’ victims and others.

“I probably should have stopped running at mile 15. I’m not sleeping a lot,” Barrios told the Gazette last week. “Despite all that, it’s an honor, when people are in need, [to help them]. It’s always rewarding to be part of what’s right about this city.”

The Red Cross is a major disaster relief organization. Barrios urged anyone who needs help or wants to volunteer to contact the Red Cross at 1-800-733-2767 or see redcross.org.

A well-known activist, Barrios has run for office, previously serving as a state rep. and Massachusetts’s first Latino state senator. He has run organizations, including GLAAD, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation and the Latino civic engagement organization Oiste?. What he had never run, until April 15, was a marathon.

A regular runner around Jamaica Pond, Barrios decided to join a team of 38 other Red Cross supporters in the Boston Marathon. The Red Cross is closely involved in the marathon, including staffing the first aid tents along the course (though not the now famous one at the finish line).

During the race, he suffered a leg injury that slowed him down. Along with many other runners, he was stopped by authorities around Massachusetts Avenue, about a mile from the finish line, after the explosions. Barrios said that authorities did not explain why they were halting the race, and most runners do not carry cell phones that would have helped get information.

“I knew they wouldn’t stop the marathon for just anything,” said Barrios.

Then word began spreading that a bomb had gone off. “I was horrified. It was just a sinking feeling,” Barrios said.

While he was nowhere near the blasts, his 21-year-old son was waiting for him near the finish line. It took over a half-hour for Barrios to find a phone and learn that his son had been a block-and-a-half away from the bombs and was “rattled” but uninjured.

After that, “I went straight to Red Cross headquarters” and began working on a massive relief operation for victims, their families and displaced runners. Despite having just run most of a marathon and suffering leg pain, he said, he worked until about 10:30 or 11 p.m. that night.

“It’s what we do,” Barrios said, noting that more than 400 Red Cross volunteers who had worked the marathon’s first aid tents all day similarly went to work all night.

“The Red Cross community [members] in Greater Boston are strong and valiant, and they’re my heroes,” he said.

The immediate work included feeding thousands of runners stranded on the Boston Common, getting their belongings back to them and finding housing for those who could not return to hotels that became part of the gigantic crime scene. Now, he said, the Red Cross is turning its effort toward providing counseling and advocacy for families of the victims.

He also revealed that the Red Cross is about to announce a new effort to provide mental health support for anyone who feels emotional trauma from the bombings, whether they were directly involved or heard about it from the news. In conjunction with The Boston Foundation, the MBTA and the state Department of Transportation, the effort will include an ad campaign on the T with support contact information.

Barrios said that he was so involved with the immediate relief effort on April 15 that he forgot to follow some of his own advice. The Red Cross told runners to update their status on social media so that friends and families would know they were OK. Barrios did not do that himself, and unbeknownst to him, his neighbors had been following his progress in the race on a special app created by the marathon’s organizers. When they saw him disappear from the tracking app, they were concerned something had happened to him, he said.

Besides working on the relief effort, Barrios also attended the April 18 interfaith service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, where President Obama, Gov. Deval Patrick and Mayor Thomas Menino were among the speakers. Barrios said the event was “profoundly healing.”