“The people who are calling us don’t have a support system,” says Rose, a Disaster Mental Health volunteer who took calls that day from her home in Albert Lea, Minnesota.
The calls come mostly from diverse communities, especially in Texas, California and other states hard hit with COVID deaths. Some have buried two or three family members, while others have had four or even five loved ones sick from the disease.
Established by the Red Cross in 2020 as the pandemic settled in, the Virtual Family Assistance Center (VFAC) provides free emotional, health and spiritual guidance to those most in need. It’s also a source for referrals to other coronavirus assistance.
Rose has served as a disaster mental health volunteer since 2009. For this role, she was vetted, and then had an additional two-weeks of orientation. During her shifts, she has a supervisor and manager available to consult with. Since going active with the call center last fall, Rose has spoken to hundreds of people.
“I want to take these calls from the disadvantaged. They are my kind of people, the poor, minorities, people disadvantaged by income, access to technology, access to transportation, limited health care or chronic health conditions.”
Rose spends most of her time listening. People are in a state of grief and incredible anxiety. Some are especially stressed because loved ones died without them at hospitals or suddenly at home. Rose listens without interruption.
At the end of one call Rose remembers a woman, after sharing a deeply personal story of tragic, long-term loss and grief, experienced simple peace and gratitude just because someone, in this case a volunteer named Rose, listened to her story.
Listening can take a toll, even on experienced and trained professionals like Rose. Her regular social activities are limited because of the pandemic so she’s turned to live, online concerts, daily meditation and intentional connecting with friends.
“People ask, why do you want to keep doing this? If you have to ask me, then…” Her voice trails off. The work continues to bring Rose great purpose even while the calls get harder and the pandemic’s impact deepens in communities across the country.
Access the American Red Cross Virtual Family Assistance Center. People without internet access can call 833-492-0094 for help between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday - Friday local time to speak with a trained Red Cross volunteer in English or Spanish. Callers in immediate crisis should call 911 or a hotline like the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Callers also can find crisis support through the national Disaster Distress Helpline.
Help and support are available for people from any state, county, territory or tribal nation. Frontline responders, such as healthcare workers, workers at long-term care facilities, and other essential personnel dealing with families of COVID-19 patients, are welcome to call as well for free individual and group support.
Colder temperatures. Less light. Rain, snow. It can sometimes be difficult to stay cheery during the winter in a country like Canada! Some Canadians enjoy the season because it gives them a good excuse – if not forces them – to do something that we tend to neglect: to take time out for ourselves, and ourselves alone.
Refocusing on yourself is extremely important and should regularly be made a priority. It lets you reflect, build your self-esteem, and feel good about yourself. Since we’re at home most of the time, winter is the perfect season to learn how to take time for yourself, live a calmer life, make room for your passions – and discover new ones.
Here are self-care tips to help you stay healthy this winter:
1. Read – one of the best ways to escape and spark your imagination. 2. Do a hands-on activity – knit, paint, sew or tackle a DIY project. Building or creating something with your own two hands can give you a real sense of pride. 3. Take a bubble bath – for even deeper relaxation, pair it with a good book and/or music. 4. Turn your phone all the way off – at least for one day a week. 5. Get involved with an organization that works for a cause that’s important to you — why not with the Red Cross? 6. Get active – whether you opt for something calming or energizing, regular exercise improves your physical and mental well-being. 7. Whip up a homemade hot chocolate – or another little sweet treat for your taste buds. 8. Light candles – the warm glow and fragrance make for the perfect calming atmosphere. 9. Play board games – dig out that old Monopoly set or deck of cards and have a blast rediscovering old classics! 10. Do a face and hair mask once a week – or go all out with an at-home spa day. 11. Sort through your stuff – clean out your closets! Throwing away, selling, or donating items does wonders and helps you feel more at home, since your space is less cluttered. 12. Cook up a homemade meal – from the cuisine of your choice, prepared with love from start to finish. 13. Learn a language – even if it’s just the basics of a language you’ve always dreamed of learning. It’s good to challenge yourself in a healthy way, and best of all, it’s useful. 14. Make a list – of fashion, travel, positive thoughts… it doesn’t matter what the list is about, just as long as it motivates and inspires you. 15. Put on some music and dance.
I hope that you’ll draw inspiration from these self-care tips and take care of yourself on the daily. And don’t forget, stress is a part of modern life and is a normal reaction to change. To limit the harmful effects of stress on your mental or physical health, it’s important to learn to live a healthy lifestyle, and if needed, to not hesitate to ask loved ones or health professionals for help. Doing so will make you more likely to stay zen!
For more well-being resources, click here and here. By the way, a near identical version of this post originally appeared on the Canadian Red Cross blog, which means this post is published here with permission from the Canadian Red Cross. Thank you!
Kick off the year by making a lifesaving donation this National Blood Donor Month
The American Red Cross and the NFL are partnering this January, during National Blood Donor Month, to urge individuals – especially those who have recovered from COVID-19 – to give blood and to help tackle the national convalescent plasma shortage.
The Red Cross has teamed up with the NFL to offer those who come to give blood, platelets or plasma, Jan. 1-31, 2021, a chance to win a getaway to the 2022 Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles. As an extra thank-you from the Red Cross, those who come to give Jan. 1-20, 2021, will also be automatically entered to win a Big Game at Home package, which includes a 65-inch television and $500 gift card toward food and fun so their household can enjoy an awesome viewing experience safely at home. Terms apply; visit RedCrossBlood.org/SuperBowl for more information.
Two ways COVID-19 survivors can help
Health emergencies don’t pause for holidays, game days or a pandemic – blood is needed every two seconds in the U.S. to help patients battling injury and illness. As COVID-19 cases have risen across the U.S., so has the need for convalescent plasma – leading to a shortage of this potentially lifesaving blood product.
There are two ways those who have recovered from COVID-19 can make a big difference:
A convalescent plasma donation: The Red Cross is collecting convalescent plasma at over 170 locations throughout the country. If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, you may be eligible to donate your plasma to help others going through COVID-19 treatment. Fill out the eligibility form to start the process.
A whole blood donation: Plasma from whole blood donations that test positive for COVID-19 antibodies may be used to help COVID-19 patients. Make an appointment to give blood by downloading the free Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
Thanks for considering lifesaving blood, platelets or plasma donation for patients!
Emily Johnson, a senior at Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial High School is hosting her second blood drive this year because she credits blood with helping save her mom’s life.
“My mom is my inspiration and I’m grateful she is alive,” said Emily Johnson. “If blood had not been available when she needed it, she might not be here today – I might not have had my mom growing up. It’s my honor to be able to promote blood donation and help pay it forward to others in need.”
In 2005, when Emily was just two years old her mother, Leslie Johnson, was in a farming accident that left her with broken bones including a shattered pelvis in five places, her right leg was severely injured and detached from her spine, a severed artery in her abdomen and head trauma. The injuries caused massive bleeding and she received platelets while being airlifted to the hospital.
Leslie Johnson underwent surgery that same day to repair the severed artery and head trauma. She received nine units of blood in the first 24 hours. She spent the next six days in an induced coma and received additional units of blood. Eleven days later following a second surgery to repair her crushed pelvis she was discharged from the hospital. The next three months were spent in a wheelchair and learning to walk again.
“I am so proud of Emily,” said her mother. “She is such an amazing young woman and is making a positive impact in this world!”
Leslie Johnson is facing another surgery to fully replace both of her hip sockets that were also crushed in the accident and may need additional blood products.
Thanks to Emily for making such a huge impact and helping the Red Cross maintain a stable blood supply through the holiday season and this winter.
We want you to stay safe from home fires—the nation’s most frequent disaster—by testing your smoke alarms (English, Spanish) and practicing your home fire escape plan. In addition, we have these 10 simple safety tips as you put up lights and ornaments:
Check all holiday light cords to make sure they aren’t frayed or broken. Don’t string too many strands of lights together—no more than three per extension cord.
If you’re buying an artificial tree, look for the fire-resistant label. When putting it up, keep it away from fireplaces, radiators and other sources of heat.
If you’re getting a live tree, make sure it’s fresh and water it to keep it fresh. Bend the needles up and down to make sure no needles fall off.
If you’re using older decorations, check their labels. Some older tinsel is lead-based. If using angel hair, wear gloves to avoid irritation. Avoid breathing in artificial snow.
When decorating outside, make sure decorations are for outdoor use and fasten lights securely to your home or trees. If you’re using hooks or nails outside, make sure they are insulated to avoid an electrocution or fire hazard.
If you’re using a ladder, be extra careful. Make sure to have good, stable placement and wear shoes that allow for good traction.
Don’t use electric lights on metallic trees.
Remember to turn off all holiday lights when going to bed or leaving the house.
Keep children, pets and decorations away from candles.
If you’re hanging stockings on the fireplace mantel, don’t light the fireplace.
Each year in Minnesota, the American Red Cross celebrates everyday people who perform extraordinary acts of compassion in local communities. The actions of these Heroes demonstrate the Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering. This year our Heroes are being recognized with a virtual celebration because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Presented by US Bank, the annual Heroes Awards celebrate Heroes in six categories including: Community Hero, Give Life Hero, First Responder Hero, Good Samaritan Hero, Military Hero and Youth Hero.
Congratulations to our 2020 Heroes Awards honorees!
Here are their outstanding stories.
2020 Military Hero – Sergeant First Class Raul Muñiz
The American Red Cross Military Hero Award is presented to an active, reserve or retired member of the Armed Forces or ROTC or civilian that has made a significant impact on the military community.
Buffalo resident and Active Guard Reserve Soldier, Raul Muñiz organizes an annual Veterans Day Program at the Waters Church in Sartell, Minnesota, which has generated over 600 participants in the last 2 years. Raul brought in almost 20 community partners to his event including American Legions, Vet Centers, Homeless Resources, and therapy animals. This event is an amazing way to provide resources for veterans and their families while also honoring them for the service they’ve given to our country.
“Raul shows great dedication and commitment to the veterans in our community,” says nominator Anthony Poff.
Sponsored by CenterPoint Energy, the American Red Cross Good Samaritan Hero Award is presented to an individual(s) who displayed courage and compassion upon encountering an unusual, significant or unexpected incident.
Early this June a devastating electrical fire broke out at a group home in New Hope, Minnesota. Adventor Trye, a direct care worker at the home, was doing laundry in the basement when he saw smoke coming from the garage. He ran upstairs and helped resident Ken Mundale to safely exit the building. Adventor then heroically ran back into the burning building to ensure that there were no other residents still inside the home.
“Adventor jumped into action at work, courageously putting aside his own safety to help the individual in his care,” says nominator Cyndi Lesher. “He’s a model citizen in our community.”
Adventor immigrated to the U.S. 20 years ago from Liberia. Alongside his work as a care provider, Adventor is working towards a university degree in Theology. Adventor shows commitment and compassion to those he works with not just during an emergency, but every day he comes to the job.
Sponsored by Ceridian Corporation, the American Red Cross Give Life Hero Award is presented to an individual whose commitment to blood and platelet donation played a significant role in ensuring the health of patients in our local communities and throughout the country.
St. Cloud, Minnesota resident John Schenk has been donating blood through the Red Cross for 50 years and recently reached his 35-gallon milestone. He started donating in college at the age of 18 and hasn’t stopped since. John has donated whole blood more times than anyone else in the state of Minnesota. With 280 donations over the past 50 years, John has consistently donated approximately every 66 days. That is amazing dedication to saving lives in his community.
“John’s dedication to the Red Cross blood program is outstanding,” says nominator Sue Thesenga. “He’s a hero who hopes to inspire the younger generation to save lives through giving blood.”
2020 Community Heroes – Dina Colville and Alan Haus
Sponsored by Eide Bailly LLP, the American Red Cross Community Hero Award is presented to individuals who display leadership and commitment to their community by making a positive and significant impact.
On December 5, 2019, a routine test flight of a National Guard helicopter took a turn for the worst and a fatal crash ensued near the small town of Marty, Minnesota. Local residents Dina Colville and Alan Haus organized a community response to assist first responders and military personnel as a search for the helicopter was underway. Within hours, Dina and Alan had set up food and supplies in a local school. The community worked alongside the Red Cross for five days, cooking warm meals, offering condolences, and transforming the school into a refuge for military, first responders, and law enforcement on the scene. Dina and Alan dropped everything to bring the community together and support the effort in whatever way they could.
“I watched supplies pour into the school from peoples’ personal freezers, cupboards, and wallets without question,” says nominator Jacklin Steege. “The time, emotion, and dedication they put into their efforts, went above and beyond what I’ve seen at any disaster before.”
Sponsored by Medica Foundation, the American Red Cross Youth Hero Award is presented to an outstanding young person who displayed courage and compassion upon encountering an unusual, significant or unexpected incident. This could be a onetime incident or involvement in an on-going commitment to the community through an act/s of kindness, courage, or selflessness.
Sanya displays ongoing dedication to her community and the world through her nonprofit called Sanya’s Hope for Children. Sanya founded Sanya’s Hope for Children in 2017 with the mission to help children with the basic necessities of life, fund educational endeavors, and make an impact on vital community issues. Sanya has organized many successful projects and fundraisers to provide for both her local community and children worldwide.
“Education is the only way out of poverty,” says Sanya. “I’m on a mission to make sure every child has access to basic life necessities and a quality education.”
2020 First Responder Heroes: Tyler Sowka, Jim Penberthy, Joe Nielsen, Margaret Morin, Andrew Haider, Rick Lonetti, Nate Van Heel, Becky Nilius, Martha Tack, Petrea Miketey, Skylar Stevenson, Ron Hansen, & Steve Hacken
Sponsored by Abbott, the American Red Cross First Responder Hero Award is presented to an individual(s) or group of the public service community (for example: EMS, firefighter, or law enforcement officer) who went above and beyond the call of duty.
Dave Keiser suffered a heart attack on the golf course in Rush City, Minnesota, the night before his 41st wedding anniversary. Dave’s ‘widowmaker’ artery was 100% blocked and he was moments away from death. A nearby golfer named Tyler Sowka, an Airforce Serviceman from North Branch, stepped in immediately and performed CPR, saving Dave’s life. In less than one hour, Dave went from golfing in Rush City to being wheeled into an operating room at the University of Minnesota. The work of Tyler and local first responders ensured that Dave survived his heart attack and could live to tell his story.
“If Tyler would not have stepped up to perform CPR, Dave would not have survived,” says Dave’s cardiologist. “Dave’s life was saved by immediate and proper CPR being administered.”
Fulfilling our humanitarian mission to alleviate human suffering continues in response to disasters in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, 17 volunteers from across our three-state region are helping people affected by Hurricane Hanna in Texas. These deployments include volunteers like Carol Holm (pictured above and below) who are on-the-ground in Texas while others are responding remotely from home.
In response to Hurricane Hanna, more than 200 Red Cross disaster workers are beginning detailed damage assessment work across Texas, in addition to supporting additional response efforts. Feeding missions are underway in the hardest hit counties where the power has been out and food is unavailable. So far, more than 5,900 meals and snacks have been served with partners. Over 470 overnight shelter and hotel stays have been provided with partners. More than 400 contacts have been made to support any physical, mental health, disability and spiritual needs.
Throughout the 2020 hurricane season, dedicated Red Cross relief workers, mostly volunteers, will continue to prepare for and respond to each round of storms providing comfort and care as affected communities assess damage and attempt to return to daily life, amidst the continued struggle against the Coronavirus Outbreak.
We’ve undertaken a suite of risk mitigation activities for our disaster workforce, including prioritizing non-congregate lodging for our responders, mandating the use of face coverings for everyone working at a Red Cross work site, pre-arrival COVID-19 testing when required by the receiving state, departure testing for all deployed workers, and maximizing virtual work.
You can help people affected by disasters like storms and countless other crises by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief or by becoming a Disaster Relief Volunteer. You can donate or start your volunteer journey at redcross.org/mndaks.
Animals can sometimes be overlooked when creating a disaster preparedness plan for your household but are still at risk during an emergency.
Floods and home fires are some of the most common disasters that families in Minnesota and the Dakotas face. It’s important to have a plan in place for your family members, pets, and livestock in the event that a disaster strikes close to home. Below are some ways to include your pets and livestock in your disaster preparedness plan. Note: This post mainly focuses on cats, dogs, and livestock. For information on other pet species, visit the links in the Additional Resources section at the end.
10 Ways to Include Your Pets in Your Disaster Preparedness Plans
1. Include pets in evacuation practice drills so they feel comfortable riding in their travel carriers. Practice transporting your pet by taking them for rides in a vehicle similar to one you would be evacuating in.
2. Microchip your pet(s). Register your pet’s microchip with the manufacturer and keep your contact information updated at all times.
3. Prepare a Pet Disaster Kit so evacuation will go smoothly for your entire family. This kit should include:
– Sturdy leashes, harnesses and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that they can’t escape.
– Food, drinking water, bowls, cat litter/pan and a manual can opener.
– Medications and copies of medical records stored in a waterproof container
– A first aid kit.
– Current photos of you with your pet(s) in case they get lost.
– Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.
– Pet beds and toys, if easily transportable
4. Communicate which family member is tasked with grabbing the emergency pet disaster kit. Make sure each member of your family knows your pet evacuation plan.
5. Ensure that your pet’s vaccinations are current and that all dogs and cats are wearing collars with securely fastened, up-to-date identification. Many pet shelters require proof of current vaccinations to reduce the spread of disease.
6. Know where your pet might hide when stressed or scared. Practice catching your pet, if needed.
7. Identify which pet friendly hotels and motels along your evacuation route will accept you and your pets in an emergency. The majority of Red Cross shelters cannot accept pets because of health and safety concerns. Service animals that assist people with disabilities are allowed in Red Cross shelters.
8. Create a buddy system with neighbors so everyone is prepared to help if a disaster strikes when a family is away.
9. Affix a pet alert window cling to a visible front window and write the number of pets in your house. This is critical for first responders to know how many animals may need to be evacuated.
10. Download the Red Cross Pet First Aid App for access to training on dog and cat first aid and other resources to be prepared for a disaster.
When Disaster Strikes
If you must leave your pet behind in the event of a disaster NEVER leave them chained outside. Leave them loose inside your home near entrances with plenty of food and water.
While the best way to ensure your pet stays safe during a disaster is to evacuate them with you, remember never to delay escape or endanger yourself or family to rescue a family pet.
Caring for Pets After Disaster
Be aware of hazards at ground level, particularly debris, spilled chemicals, fertilizers and other substances that could injure your pet.
Watch your animals closely and keep them under control as fences and gates may be damaged or destroyed.
Disasters can alter the scents and the appearance of areas your pet is familiar and comfortable with. Make sure you monitor their well being and be aware that changes in levels of aggression and defensiveness are possible.
10 Ways to Prepare Livestock for Disasters
1. Ensure all animals have some form of identification.
2. Evacuate animals whenever possible. Map out primary and secondary routes in advance.
3. Hold disaster drills and practice emergency procedures with all employees and animal owners.
4. Make sure you have the trailers needed for transporting and supporting each type of animal.
5. Make available experienced handlers and drivers that understand your evacuation plans.
6. Help organize safe holding facilities in your community such as fairgrounds, farms, and racetracks for use in an emergency.
7. Ensure destinations have food, water, veterinary care, and handling equipment.
8. For flooding disasters, move animals, feed, and water supplies to higher ground. Act quickly at the first sign of rising water.
9. Do not let animals loose to fend for themselves during a disaster unless a wildfire threatens your area. Animals on the road can be injured and can create a hazard for evacuating motorists.
10. Post a sign for rescue workers noting the number and types of animals left behind.
This year, celebrating Independence Day will be different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We have safety tips that you can follow, especially if your community is re-opening.
• Continue to social distance by staying 6 feet away from others, especially if you are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19 (over age 65 or any age with underlying medical conditions).
• Continue to wear cloth face coverings in public. Face coverings are most essential when social distancing is difficult.
• Follow guidelines for your area when it comes to how large gatherings can be. Avoid crowds and mass gatherings.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
• Stay home if you are sick.
Many public fireworks shows are canceled this summer to avoid holding events where large crowds will gather. If you plan to use your own fireworks, check first if it is legal in your area.
• Never give fireworks to small children, and never throw or point a firework toward people, animals, vehicles, structures or flammable materials. Always follow the instructions on the packaging.
• Keep a supply of water close by as a precaution.
• Make sure the person lighting fireworks always wears eye protection.
• Light only one firework at a time and never attempt to relight “a dud.”
• Store fireworks in a cool, dry place away from children and pets.
Grilling fires spark more than 10,000 home fires on average each year in the U.S. Do these things to help prevent a home fire:
• Always supervise a barbecue grill when in use.
• Don’t add charcoal starter fluid when coals have already been ignited.
• Never grill indoors — not in the house, camper, tent or any enclosed area.
• Make sure everyone, stays away from the grill, including children and pets.
• Keep the grill away from the house or anything that could catch fire.
• Use the long-handled tools especially made for cooking on the grill.
DYK: The Red Cross offers a series of free mobile apps to put lifesaving safety information in the palm of your hand. Download these apps by searching for “American Red Cross” in your app store or at redcross.org/apps.
With the summer season upon us, many Minnesotans and Dakotans are headed outside to be on the lake and in the pool enjoying time with family and friends. As everyone prepares to get out of their houses and spend time in the water, we must all be reminded of the importance of practicing water safety. Now is a great time to take a few minutes to review safe water practices and the multitude of resources available to you through the Red Cross. With the continued impacts of COVID-19, public pools, lakes, and recreation centers may not be able to offer swimming lessons and lifeguarding in the same ways they have before. Continue reading to see the resources available to ensure you and your family can stay safe during these uncertain times.
Water Safety and COVID-19
Before heading to public beaches and pools this year, make sure you review the following guidelines to ensure your family and community members stay safe amidst the continued dangers of COVID-19.
Continue to practice social distancing of at least 6 feet between yourself and others when at the beach and pool.
Wear cloth face coverings whenever you are out of the water and around others. Do not place face masks on children under age 2.
Keep an eye on your children at all times to decrease emergencies and the need for lifeguard contact with guests.
If a swim area seems too crowded to be able to safely socially distance, find somewhere else to go.
Check with your local pool or beach to see what guidelines they are putting in place to limit capacity and ensure safe practices for guests and employees.
Ensuring Water Safety in Every Environment
The Red Cross water safety page contains information on topics including drowning prevention, the need for water competency, and educational resources for families with children.
This summer, with physical distancing necessary, many families will be spending more time at their home pools, lake cabins, and boats away from lifeguards and public places. It is imperative, now more than ever, to ensure you are prepared for drowning emergencies and take necessary precautions. The Red Cross recommends following the Circle of Drowning Prevention and ensuring layers of protection are in place.
Provide close and constant contact with children you are supervising near the water.
Fence pools and spas with adequate barriers, including four-sided fencing.
Children, inexperienced swimmers, and all boaters should wear U.S. Coast Guard- approved life jackets.
Always swim in a lifeguarded area.
Make sure you and your family members are water competent before partaking in any water activities. The Red Cross recommends these five basic water safety skills to ensure you can save your life in the water:
Step or jump into the water over your head.
Return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute.
Turn around in a full circle and find an exit.
Swim 25 yards to the exit without stopping.
Exit from the water. If in a pool, be able to exit without using the ladder.
If you or any members of your family struggle with completing these tasks, continue reading to learn about the educational materials available to improve upon these skills.
Educational Materials for Families with Small Children
This summer, many communities will keep their local pools and aquatic facilities closed amongst the continued dangers of COVID-19. Without access to swimming lessons and lifeguards, families must find other resources to ensure their children are safe in the water. The Red Cross has developed an interactive program called WHALE Tales where Longfellow the Whale can help your children learn to be safe in the water. This program has multiple interactive videos and activities to teach the basics of water safety. WHALE Tales also comes with a discussion guide for Parents and Caregivers to help facilitate a discussion on water safety with your child.
Whale Tales can be found online here and on the Red Cross Swim app available for download for Apple and Android.