30 years of service and still going strong: Nancy McKenney shares her story

“I’ve loved every minute of it,” exclaims Nancy McKenney who has been a Red Cross volunteer for 30 years.

McKenney, from Onida, South Dakota, became a volunteer in 1992 when a friend of hers from Pierre encouraged her to look into it. She joined because she “wanted to help people.”

Since then, McKenney has volunteered on more than 100 local and national disasters – including home fires, floods, wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes – continuing her quest to help others.  

Nancy McKenney – pictured

“We’re so grateful for Nancy’s 30 years of service with the Red Cross,” says Nick Cluppert, Senior Disaster Program Manager, Red Cross Minnesota and Dakotas Region. “Without dedicated volunteers like Nancy, we would not be able to fulfill our mission. She gives so much of her time and is truly a gift to our organization and the people she helps!”

Nick Cluppert, Senior Disaster Program Manager and Nancy McKenney pictured at a volunteer recognition event held in honor of Nancy’s 30 years of volunteer service, Nov. 14, 2022, in Pierre, South Dakota.

One of McKenney’s most memorable experiences was right after the 9/11 attacks when she was volunteering at a satellite office of the Pentagon. A woman who had lost her mother in the attacks approached her and asked if she had time to talk. “She’d talk and I’d listen – I think she had survivor’s remorse and she was a basket case,” McKenney recalls. “I really think I made a difference and I hope that she was able to get through it.”

Being deployed to Canada in August 2017 to help disaster relief efforts following a wildfire in was McKenney’s favorite deployment with the Red Cross. “I had my passport, so I said sure I’d go.” She helped at the front desk of the Red Cross shelter where she directed people, so they received the services they needed. “The countryside was so beautiful and the people where so gracious and glad to have us there,” she recalls. “It was a wonderful experience – you can’t imagine the smiles and gratefulness of all the of the people we helped.”

Nancy McKenney receiving an appreciation plaque for 30 years of volunteer service from Richard Smith, Executive Director, Red Cross serving central and western South Dakota.

“I’ve gone out about four or five times a year,” says McKenney. Last year alone she was in Texas, New Mexico and New Orleans for weeks at a time. “This year it hasn’t worked out because of some health issues and I’m staying closer to home.”

McKenney continues to make her mark. Although for now she’s no longer going across the country to help, she’s putting her energy and compassion to good use right in South Dakota. She’s meeting with Emergency Managers across the state to keep relationships strong and establish locations for Red Cross shelters if needed in the future. And she’s working with local fire departments to make sure they have working smoke alarms to install in homes without them.

“I enjoy staying busy and talking to everyone – if I had to stay cooped up behind four walls I’d go out of my mind,” McKenney adamantly declares. “I need to do something to help people. I can just imagine all my belongings on the sidewalk after a home fire and not have anyone to turn to. I know I need to help them a little bit.”

She always finds ways to talk about the Red Cross including recruiting others to join her. “If you’re a people person the Red Cross offers lots of volunteer opportunities. I’ve made a lot of friends through the Red Cross – we’re one big family!”

Nancy McKenney celebrating 30 years of volunteering with the American Red Cross.

“I love what I do! Some of us are getting old. We need some young blood – it would make my day if I inspired someone to join the Red Cross!”

Whether you’re a people person like Nancy or prefer to work behind the scenes, the Red Cross has volunteer opportunities for you. Visit redcross.org/givetime to find your fit.

Story by Sue Thesenga, American Red Cross

Saving Lives, Inspiring Others

15-Year-Old Receives National American Red Cross Recognition

Sydney Raley, American Red Cross Certificate of Merit recipient. Photo: American Red Cross

Sydney Raley, a 15-year-old McDonald’s employee in Eden Prairie, had been working a typical Saturday shift at the drive-thru window, when she leaned out to inform a customer that her food was on the way and noticed the customer struggling. The woman was choking on a chicken nugget.

Syndey sprang into action, informing her manager and the customer’s daughter to call 911 and then jumping out the drive-thru window to help the customer by performing an abdominal thrust. She was unsuccessful at first, but with the aid of a bystander she was finally able to dislodge the food and clear the woman’s airway.

Sydney credits the bystander and her first aid training, which she received both at the age of 11 at a Red Cross Babysitting and Child Care training class and at Red Cross CPR and AED training in high school, for the successful save. Knowing how to respond during this type of situation allowed her to stay calm and collected as she completed all the necessary checks and steps to save the customer’s life.

This past month, Syndey received the American Red Cross Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action for her heroic actions. This is one of the highest awards given by the American Red Cross to an individual who saves or sustains a life by using skill and knowledge learned in a Red Cross Training Services course. It is intended to exemplify the highest degree of concern from one human being for another who is in distress.

Sydney, center, with her parents and brother. Photo: American Red Cross

At the presentation ceremony Sydney was able to reunite with the reporter who first broke her story along with others who helped spread her story and achieve international recognition for her heroism. Many in attendance were able to reflect on the inspirational nature of her actions, including Sydney’s parents who commented on the letters and messages Sydney has received from around the world detailing the hope for humanity that she has instilled in so many.

We are incredibly proud to be able to recognize Sydney with the American Red Cross Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action and hope that Sydney’s story will continue to inspire others to receive lifesaving training and help others in times of need.

Story by Olivia Wolf, Red Cross volunteer

Dean Brooks: Why I Donate Blood to the Red Cross

I’ve been donating blood to the American Red Cross ever since I was 17 years old.

I’m not sure what attracted me initially to contributing to this non-profit that has been around since 1881. It may have been a desire to give something essential that wasn’t simply money.

I was just a high schooler after all, working at a Save-A-Lot supermarket in upstate Pennsylvania on the weekends at the time. I wasn’t exactly flush with cash.

It may have been a desire to finally overcome my fear of needles. I’d suffered a crippling syringe-phobia ever since I was five and had to be strapped down to the examination table for a booster shot.

Certainly not a preferred early childhood memory.

Probably it had to do with the idea that the simple action of giving a pint of my blood could help someone’s life, or even several people’s lives. That appealed to me more than giving other things, like money, time, or labor. As the Red Cross states, “Blood and platelets cannot be manufactured; they can only come from volunteer donors.”

Since that initial decision to donate blood, I’ve given 23 times.

If I’m able to donate about four times a year for, say, the next 30 years or so, that means I could potentially donate up to almost 15 gallons of blood. I’ve given nearly three so far. You can donate whole blood every 56 days. While it would be great to be able to make it in perfectly on cue, it doesn’t always work out that way.

I’d like to donate 20 gallons of blood over my lifetime. I think that’s a reasonable goal.

When I lived in Philadelphia I donated like clockwork every two months at the donation center on Spring Garden street near Center City. On the way back home, I’d drive past John F. Kennedy Plaza, aka Love Park, and admire the famous red sign with the swooning letter “O.”

After moving to Williston, ND during the oil boom my donations became less frequent. Sometimes, when my work schedule allows, I’m able to make the blood drives that take place on occasion in nearby Sidney or Fairview, MT.

Other times in the past, I’ve actually driven six hours to Saint Cloud, MN to donate at the Red Cross center located in town. The phlebotomists there are friendly, and often they ask where I’m coming from. So when I mention Williston, they give me these weird looks. You drove six hours just to donate blood? At the Red Cross? Aren’t there places closer you can donate? Yeah. There’s United Blood Services, but I don’t give there. I’m a bit of a loyalist. The Red Cross takes me back to high school.

Hey, everyone’s sentimental about something. Music, movies, wine. You stick a Red Cross needle in my arm to draw blood, and suddenly I’m feeling nostalgic.

– Dean Brooks, a loyal and dedicated Red Cross blood donor

While it’s nice to donate blood and know I may have helped save somebody’s life, I also do it because it makes me feel good. I follow a strict dietary ritual the day before, eating foods rich in iron. Lots of fruits and vegetables. A big breakfast.

And, of course, drinking plenty of water. Always make sure you are well-hydrated before donating blood.

Seriously, I’m like an athlete prepping for a big game before I give blood. You’ve probably never met someone as excited to have their blood drained as me the day before a draw.

Giving blood compels me to stay active and in shape. When you donate you receive a mini-physical. They take your temperature, measure your hemoglobin levels, and take your pulse. When you go in for your appointment, the technicians there will have you fill out a lengthy health screening questionnaire.

While the Red Cross check-up is not a substitute for a full-body one by your doctor, it’s a good, cheap way to keep an eye on your health.

The Red Cross screens your blood before giving it to anybody, so if you have a disease or some kind of health problem, they’ll tell you. In my last donation, the Red Cross informed me that I had developed reactive+ Covid-19 antibodies. This means, according to the Red Cross anti-body test results page, that, “Antibody levels were detected at levels high enough that your plasma may be used as convalescent plasma.”

So, hopefully my blood went to someone who needed a leg up fighting that virus.

I have been told by several doctors that I have “great blood.” Which is no surprise. I work hard eating right and staying fit. I expect my crimson essence to be premium 94 octane.

I also think those who donate like me do so out of some unconscious need to affirm their own health and vitality. Some guys rip down the highway at 80 MPH on a Kawasaki motorcycle to “feel alive.” Me, I have a needle stuck in my arm to drain off a pint. It may not make for a Red Bull commercial, but donating blood is essential for millions of people every year who need transfusions or blood components to survive.

There’s also a very cool thing the Red Cross does that makes the ordeal worth it. They let you know where your blood donation went.

Usually just a few weeks or so after your donation, the Red Cross will send you an email with a message like the one above. It’s uplifting to know not just that your donation helps, but specifically where it did so.

Have you donated blood before? Or given thought to doing so? I know a lot of people are held back due to fear of needles, or concerns they’ll pass out or get sick.

Yeah, I’ve been there myself.

The whole blood donation process is mostly painless. I won’t lie, though. Sometimes it can hurt. It usually depends on the person sticking the needle in your arm. There’s a lot of finesse to finding the vein and inserting the syringe just right. I’ve had experiences where I barely felt anything. Other times the technician had to go digging around to find the right spot, and left me with black and blue marks. That sucked.

But look at it this way. You’re almost certainly going to have to have blood drawn at some point in your life anyway. Especially as you get older. You’ve probably already had blood work done up after an appointment.

At least if you get into the habit of donating regularly, you’ll get used to it. And you’ll be saving lives along the way. You might even become a freak like me and actually enjoy giving blood.

The technicians at the Red Cross are considerate professionals. They’ll make sure everything goes smoothly. It’s normal to feel light-headed after a blood draw. Having blood taken effects everyone differently. I’ve only had one instance where I felt like I was going to faint. That was likely due to being underfed and dehydrated before going in for my appointment. But the process has generally been a smooth one for me over my twenty-plus year Red Cross blood donation career.

This is why it’s so important to eat right and drink plenty of water before going in. Check out the Red Cross page on Tips for a Successful Blood Donation for more important details.

Republished with permission from Dean Brooks, novelist. His original post was dated June 14, 2022, on World Blood Donor Day, when Brooks completed his 25th blood donation. World Blood Donor Day is a day the American Red Cross joins blood collection organizations around the world to recognize the importance of a safe and stable blood supply and the donors who generously give to help save lives and enhance solidarity in communities.

I didn’t realize how important blood donation was until my dad got sick and needed it.” 

A family honors husband and father who died from cancer

Throughout his life, Ed Sturm from New Ulm, Minnesota was known for his witty one-liners and his unwavering passion to help others. The 68-year-old served in the US Army, worked for New Ulm Manufacturing and Caterpillar, and later was as a truck driver. Sadly, his life ended following a long battle with cancer in 2020.

Ed Sturm

To honor his legacy of helping others, his wife Jean Sturm and daughter Rachel Sturm hosted an American Red Cross blood drive in his memory. Their family and friends rallied to show support – filling all appointment and collecting 35 pints of lifesaving blood.

Jean and Rachel both donated blood in honor of Ed at the drive. Jean, a regular blood donor, reached her 100th donation milestone! They hope the Ed Sturm Memorial Blood Drive becomes an annual event to help pay it forward and build awareness of the need for blood donations to help treat cancer patients like Ed.

Jean and Rachel Sturm donated at the Ed Sturm Memorial Blood Drive (photo submitted).

“Everyone thought this was a great way to remember him because they knew his long journey and how much he struggled. Blood donation is an easy way for people to help others and give more time to another family going through the same situation,” said his daughter.

Sturm was first diagnosed in November 2012 with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that affects plasma cells — crowding out the normal plasma cells that help fight infection. After a stem cell transplant in April 2013, Sturm’s cancer went into remission but returned in 2015. In March of 2019, their worst fear came true when Sturm was diagnosed with another form of cancer – myelodysplastic syndrome – where healthy blood cells die in the bone marrow or just after entering the bloodstream.

From March 2019 through March 2020, while trying to deal with the two different cancers, Sturm was in the emergency room multiple times getting blood transfusions because his hemoglobin dropped to dangerously low levels. But there wasn’t always blood on the shelves when he needed it.

I didn’t realize how important blood donation was until my dad got sick and needed it.”  – Rachel Sturm

His wife, Jean Sturm, recalls writing in his Caring Bridge journal in March 2020 that Ed had to wait for blood when donations declined during the pandemic. He was moved to the University of Minnesota Medical Center to help ensure blood products would be more readily available. “Cancer is a very physically & emotionally draining disease and having to worry about blood availability is just one more burden piled on,” she said.

Ed and Jean Sturm at Glacier National Park

In total, Sturm received 72 units of blood and 41 units of platelets. “These transfusions gave him the strength and endurance to withstand the chemotherapy and gave him more time with us,” said his daughter. “It was eye-opening to us that one person would need so much blood. I didn’t realize how important blood donation was until my dad got sick and needed it.”

Pictured from left to right: Ed Sturm, Rachel Sturm (daughter), Brandon (grandson) and Jean Sturm

Blood and platelets play a critical role in the treatment of cancer and other chronic diseases, as well as traumatic injuries. Patients fighting cancer need more blood than patients fighting any other disease, using nearly one-quarter of the nation’s blood supply. Healthy donors are needed to ensure that patients have lifesaving blood products available for cancer treatment, emergencies and everyday medical treatments. 

To support families affected by cancer and help prevent a blood shortage this summer you can book a time to give. Simply download the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Story by Sue Thesenga, American Red Cross. Photos provided by Sturm family.

From my years as a competitive swimmer I knew a tired swimmer was not a good swimmer

By Olivia Wolf

In my nineteen years of life, I had never been scared of drowning. But, I never realized how easily it could happen until this past spring.

I have always loved the water. Growing up, I swam competitively for 10 years and relished anytime I got to jump into a pool, lake or ocean. After the restrictions started to lift towards the beginning of last fall, I decided to rekindle my love of the water and join my university’s surf club at St. Andrews, Scotland. I had never surfed before, but with my long swim history, I figured I would feel close to home in any water sport.

“I have always loved the water.” Olivia, pictured poolside, always was a strong swimmer and was comfortable keeping herself afloat. Submitted photo.

I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Over one hundred other students at my university also had the same idea. So, when I finally snagged an opening on a surfing excursion this past February, I jumped on the opportunity.

The day of the excursion was cold but clear. I biked down to the surf shed and met with everyone else who had also managed to land a surf slot. We changed into thick wetsuits and booties to protect us from the North Sea temperatures, grabbed our boards, and headed towards the sea. Because the sky was clear, I thought that the water would only have two to three-foot swells, but as we walked toward the beach, I could hear the roar of crashing waves. When we finally crested the dunes, we were met with five-foot swells all along the beach. The leader of our surf group saw the nerves on our faces and explained to us that all we had to do was paddle through the rough surf and reach the calm spot beyond the breaking waves. He pointed out to another group of surfers sitting on their boards. We watched as one of them paddled out from this calmer area to the breaking point and caught a wave into shore. At this point, any nerves I had at the prospect of such big swells had turned into excitement at the possibility of catching my first big wave.

At the beginning of the year, we attended surf lessons with the club and were taught how to safely duck under big waves with our boards. This came in handy as we set out into the water. It felt like every 15 seconds, I had to duck under another massive wave. Finally, I made it to the calm water beyond the breaking waves. My arms ached, but I was still excited to try and catch a big wave. I rested for a bit in the calm water, trying to regain my strength. After a while, I spotted a promising wave. I lined myself up and started paddling to try and catch it. Just as I finally felt comfortable enough to try and stand up, my weight shifted, and I tumbled off the board.

“Growing up, I swam competitively for 10 years and relished anytime I got to jump into a pool, lake, or ocean.” Olivia, pictured on the right. Submitted photo.

As soon as I entered the water, I was tossed around like clothes in a washing machine. I didn’t know which I was up or down. When I finally felt the pressure of the wave release, I came up sputtering for air, only to have to duck down again to avoid the next wave crashing right on top of me. I managed to swim to my board and start the long journey of paddling back out beyond the breaking point. It took me twice as long as the first time to reach the calm section of the water and my arms were even more drained. Still I was excited and waited patiently on my board for a second chance at a big wave. I repeated the process, lining up and paddling to try and catch a good wave, and this time I managed to get to my knees before falling off the board. I was immediately shoved under and somersaulted through the water before breaking the surface again. I was able to spot my board but didn’t have time to swim for it before another wave crashed right on top of me. After two more waves passed, I was finally able to grab my board but after being tossed around in the sea I hardly had the energy to do more that hold on to the side of the board and float. At this point, I had a crucial decision to make, try to paddle back out against the harsh waves as my strength faded or point my board towards the shore and try and catch a less powerful wave to the sand.

The skyline of St. Andrews viewed across the East Sands. Photo credit: Val Vannet / St. Andrews from Kinkell Braes / CC BY-SA 2.0

I made the decision to paddle back to shore. From my years as a competitive swimmer I knew a tired swimmer was not a good swimmer and I didn’t want to take my chances. I didn’t even realize how tired I was until I had to pick my board up and carry it back to the surf shed. I could barely lift the board and couldn’t even manage to pull off my tight wet suit booties when I tried to change back into dry clothes. It wasn’t until I called my mom to report on my experience that I realized I had come close to drowning. It was only after my mother had said, “Thank goodness you didn’t drown! A couple more waves, and you might not have come back up!” that the seriousness of the situation struck me. She was right. A couple more waves and tumbles, and I don’t know if I would have had the strength to keep my head above the surface. I had always imagined drowning as someone waving around for help, not quietly slipping beneath a wave.

The only reason that my experience ended well that day, and I never once thought drowning was a possibility, was because I had the skills to bring me to safety. I was a strong swimmer and was comfortable keeping myself afloat. I wore a wetsuit to protect myself from cold water shock. I hadn’t gone in the water by myself. I was at least one of ten people out on the water that day. I had told my roommate where I was going and when to expect me back. But that one decision, to stay in the water and paddle back or head for shore, was the major decision that decided my safety on that day. If I had chosen to paddle back out and try and catch another wave, I can not confidently say that I would be here writing this article today, despite all the other safe choices I had made.

I know many of you will not be braving the North Sea cold to try to catch big surf. However, I hope my experience illustrates how strong swimming abilities and strong water safety knowledge can provide happy endings to potentially dangerous water situations. Without these two skills, any experience with water can be just as close a call as mine. So, I encourage everyone to start their journey towards becoming strong swimmers or brush up on their water safety as summer rounds the corner so that everyone can enjoy the lake, pool, or ocean this summer.

The Red Cross offers a free Swim app that helps families and kids have fun while learning about water safety.

A great place to start is on the Red Cross website! We offer lots of great resources, from swim lessons for children and adults to a free Swim app that helps families and kids have fun learning about water safety. On our website, you can find Red Cross partner swim lessons that are being offered near you and find lessons for parents about children’s water safety. In addition, the Swim app has videos and activities to make learning about water safety more engaging for young children. You can even track your kids’ progress, allowing them to earn badges as they learn to swim.

Resources like these make water safety more accessible than ever, so please don’t hesitate to take a look! One more person who learns how to be a safe swimmer is one more person whose story ends like mine, safely on shore.

Olivia Wolf is an American Red Cross volunteer for the Minnesota and Dakotas Region. She’s attending university in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Showing how much has to be done

Photo credit: John Decker/American Red Cross

The photo above, sent from one of our Red Cross volunteers, captures a tiny fraction of the sandbags being used to fight back water rising in the Rainy River watershed (and others) across northern Minnesota since last Friday. These sandbags are filled by community volunteers: families, students, neighbors and out-of-towners. They get thirsty, they get hungry and they get blisters. So, we’re there supporting them with hydration and snacks as well as basic health services – we’re helping the helpers! We’ve been working primarily in International Falls (Koochiching County) and doing deliveries to Lake Kabetogama and surrounding areas (Northern St. Louis County).

FAST FACTS

By end of day today, we’ll have provided since last Friday:

💧 Bottled water: 3,288

✔️ Powerade/Gatorade/BodyArmor: 1,370

🍿 Snacks: 1,942

🍊 Fruit: 392

🚚 Remote distribution of Salvation Army meals: 60 meals

🤕 First aid services at sandbagging location: 96

Many thanks to the great groups below, and to all of our amazing partners, for supporting the flood response – Boise Paper/PCA, Walmart in Virginia, MN, United Way of Northeastern Minnesota, Coca Cola Bottling of International Falls, International Falls Hockey Arena, and Cub Foods Duluth. You’re the best! 🤩

May is Military Appreciation Month

As part of our Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) activities, we’re proud to celebrate national Military Appreciation Month with service members, veterans and their families.

The American Red Cross has a long history of serving the U.S. military going back to the Civil War. Our founder, Clara Barton, also known as, “the angel of the battlefield,” participated in 16 separate battles during the war.

This proud service to our Armed Forces continues today in our region:

✔️ In April 2022, the Minnesota and Dakotas Region assisted with 56 emergency communications requests. The Red Cross is federally chartered to handle all emergency communications to our active-duty forces.

✔️ In April, we participated in deployment events where 54 military members and their families received much needed resiliency training. The Red Cross provides much needed resiliency training to deploying units and their families.

✔️ We also follow up with family members of deployed service members. In April, for example, 240 critical community service cases were completed.

🤗 These services happen only with the outstanding efforts of our SAF volunteers. We’d like to share our profound thanks to them for their generosity of time, kindness and expertise. You’re the best!

📷 This May, Red Cross youth volunteers delivered messages of gratitude and Girl Scout cookies at Veterans Affairs clinics in Hibbing, MN and Superior, WI and to VA homes in Silver Bay and Fergus Falls. Photo credit: Dan Williams/American Red Cross

Why I volunteer to install smoke alarms

By Lowell Perman, Red Cross volunteer

About five years ago, I was looking for a volunteer opportunity and decided to join the American Red Cross. I went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and trained for sheltering because there was a call for volunteers before some hurricanes were heading to the state of Texas. I did my training for sheltering. A couple days later I got asked to deploy to Texas, and then it changed very soon because another hurricane came in to Georgia and I ended up going to Georgia and doing a two week deployment in sheltering.

Red Cross volunteer Lowell Perman. Submitted photo.

I flew into Atlanta and caught a ride to Macon, Georgia and was deployed there in a warehouse. Waiting to be sent to a shelter and having lunch one day in the back table with other people, I met someone from Georgia that was involved with the Pillowcase Project and since I’m a former educator I was really interested in the project and I never heard of it. So, she explained it to me and when I got back after my deployment I took the training and became a pillowcase instructor.

I’ve always enjoyed presenting the Pillowcase Project to kids and talking about emergencies and home fires and smoke alarms and this leads to my volunteering to help install smoke alarms in my local community as part of Sound the Alarm. The first time I volunteered I was paired with a cable installer from Midco. We went door to door, knocking on doors and asking to come in and check smoke alarms or install them if there weren’t any. It was really exciting for me because I am a public facing type of person and love boots on the ground type of work.

It’s a great feeling to know that you can do something in your local community and you just know that you’re making a difference.  

Lowell Perman, Red Cross Sound the Alarm Volunteer

Before we started I told the Midco installer gentleman that we can switch off every other time if he wants and he can do the presentation and I can do the installing. So, after the first one I said do you wanna switch and he said absolutely not – you keep doing the talking and communicating with the people and I’ll do the installing so that really worked. We had a really good day, we made a great organized team and covered a lot of blocks.  It was always interesting to talk to people, to meet new people, and it was a really good feeling knowing that I was doing something really good in the community like installing smoke alarms.  

What was really interesting and amazing to me was, I believe, about 25% of the smoke alarms that we installed were replacement of ones that had missing pieces or were non-functional or were just too old and didn’t work. So it was actually giving people a false sense of security having smoke alarms in their house that actually didn’t work. So that was a great feeling replacing old smoke alarms.

Red Cross volunteer Lowell Perman is a Pillowcase Project instructor. Photo, used with permission, by Curt Nettinga/Huron Plainsman.

What was also fun was the little kids that were watching me and asking me ‘what are you doing to our house’ and I would say we’re fixing your house and I would take out one of the smoke alarms and do a little presentation to show them what it sounds like when it goes off by pressing the test button on the smoke alarm and to stay low and get out of the house and stay out if there’s a fire. And I would also talk to them and their family about picking a meeting spot outside to meet in case of a fire emergency at their house.

It was a really fun project. I’ve also been paired with firefighters and that is a fun experience also going door to door. It’s a great feeling to know that you can do something in your local community and you just know that you’re making a difference.  

Lowell Perman is a volunteer with the American Red Cross serving Eastern South Dakota, which is part of the American Red Cross Minnesota and Dakotas Region. Sound the Alarm is a critical part of the national Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, which has helped save 1,243 lives, including 25 in our Minnesota and Dakotas region, since launching in October 2014. To volunteer for upcoming smoke alarm installation and home fire prevention activities, including events in Mobridge, SD, and Minot, ND, this May, click here.

“We need more Annas in the world”

Many Red Crossers are committed to changing the world – one community, one person at a time. That is exactly what Anna Sieben’s mission was.

Sadly, Anna passed away unexpectedly on September 3, 2021, following complications from severe pneumonia.

Anna Sieben
1990 – 2021

To honor Anna’s legacy of making a difference, and her passion for the lifesaving mission of the American Red Cross, her friends and family have organized a blood drive in her memory on May 20, 2022, at Crossroads Church in Hastings, Minn. where Anna attended.

Throughout her life Anna had unwavering passion for helping others. “She was 110% about helping other people regardless of whether she knew you well or if you were a stranger,” said her best friend, Alea Gaughn, who’s helping to organize the blood drive in memory of Anna. “Anyone who knew Anna knew that she had three passions in life: her son Afton, living a healthy lifestyle and helping others.”

Anna and son Afton

Before Anna became a Red Cross employee, she worked at a nursing home. “Anna showed so much passion for the residents there – it was her calling to help others,” says Alea.

In 2019, Anna joined the Red Cross in the biomedical services scheduling department. Her spirit of giving and passion for helping others was quickly evident by her enthusiasm to host blood drives at several of her church’s campuses and volunteer at an annual Christmas Eve blood drive sponsored by the Red Cross.

“Anna was a shining light,” said Dee Carlson, manager of the scheduling department and Anna’s supervisor. “It was amazing to witness how she carried the mission of the Red Cross through everything she did. She made an impact on me, and our entire team, that will change us forever. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her – I miss her sweet smiles, her silly moments and her infectious laugh.”

Anna touched many at the Red Cross. Co-workers across departments enjoyed working with her.

“Anna was a beautiful person,” said Nicole Perlstein, donor recruitment account manager. “To me, she was a one in million type of gal! Anna deeply loved the lifesaving mission of the Red Cross, and I appreciated her passion to help in the community as a blood program leader.” 

Cathy Stapel, a donor recruitment account manager, recalls that Anna always had a glow about her and a smile on her face.

Selflessly, Anna volunteered at Red Cross blood drives including the annual St. James Thanksgiving Day blood drive. She brought homemade cookies to share with blood donors when they finished their donations (pre-Covid). Her son Afton volunteered too, handing out pumpkin pies. “I could tell she adored Afton and I remember thinking how nice it was that she gave up her holiday to help and got him involved in giving back,” said Cathy.  

Anna and Red Crossers Amber Swing and Cathy Stapel at the annual St. James Thanksgiving Day blood drive

Anna, an avid blood donor herself, encouraged her friends and family to donate blood regularly, and many continue as an ongoing tribute to her. “Anna impacted so many lives in such a positive way – she taught us how important it was to give back,” said Alea. “Anna would be so proud to have us donate blood in her name. My wish is for everyone to gather to roll up a sleeve one more time for Anna!”

Anna was a dedicated blood donor and encouraged others to donate

All appointments have been filled for the May 20 blood drive being held in memory of Anna. Those who want to donate in Anna’s honor are welcome to make an appointment to donate at other blood drive locations by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Story by Sue Thesenga /American Red Cross. Photos courtesy Alea Gaughn

Local Disaster Relief Rolling Snapshot – 2022

When the worst happens, we’re there. After disasters, mostly home fires in our region, Red Cross volunteers work with fire departments and other response partners to connect with families and support needs like emergency lodging, financial assistance and emotional support.

We’d like to share our deepest gratitude with our volunteers for their abiding devotion to helping people rebuild their lives after devastating home fires.

January

🔥 Our winter home fire season continued to disrupt lives during this difficult time. In January across the Minnesota & Dakotas Region, our disaster relief volunteers responded to 115+ home fires, helping 560+ people.

February

🔥 Across our three-state region during February, we responded to 90+ home fires and helped 290+ people affected by these fires. Help us change these statistics. Learn what to do before, during and after a fire! Visit redcross.org/mndaks for fire prevention and safety tips! #endhomefires

March

🔥 During March, our Disaster Action Team was as busy as ever helping people affected by the devastation and trauma that a home fire brings. Across our region, comprised of South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota, our relief workers (90% volunteers) responded to nearly 80 home fires and helped 300+ adults and children. Some families were displaced for a short period of time while others needed to find new housing. Many thanks to all for being there for people when they needed you the most.

April

🔥 During April, responding to help people affected by flooding, freezing weather, home fires and even a tornado in Taopi, MN, filled the hands of our disaster services volunteers. Our trained volunteers supported 60+ disasters and helped 225+ people. Their efforts included working with local partners to support shelters in northwest Minnesota and western North Dakota. Thank you to everyone, especially our volunteers, for stepping up to help people when they needed you the most.

May

🔥 Our trained disaster responders (90% volunteers) responded to 70+ home fires and helped 260+ people.

June

🔥 Home fire relief doesn’t take a summer break. Our trained disaster responders (90% volunteers) helped around 100 people affected by nearly 430 home fires.

July

🔥 Home fires continue this summer throughout our three-state region. Our trained disaster responders (90% volunteers) helped more than 260 people affected by nearly 70 home fires. More trained volunteers are needed to serve on local “Disaster Action Teams” who help people affected by disasters. Apply here.

August

Most of us have not lost a home to fire in the middle of the night. Those who have know the uncertainty that such a disaster can bring. In August, our disaster responders helped more than 300 people affected more than 70 disasters, nearly all home fires, in our three-state region. More than 90 percent of our responders are volunteers. Thank you for your ongoing commitment to supporting people during terrible times in their lives.

September

Our region responds to multiple home fires every day. These are mostly fires affecting single-family dwellings. This month, our Disaster Action Team workers (more than 90% volunteers) supported 71 home fires and helped 325 adults and children. We encourage everyone to practice home fire safety and have a plan. Find helpful resources here.

October

This month was on par with September for home fires responses across our region. Our trained Disaster Action Team responders helped 280 people affected by 77 home fires, including several multi-family fires. More trained volunteers are needed in local communities. Click here to find opportunities in your area.

You Can Help

DONATE – Thanks to donations, our services are free and available for all those in need. Visit here to support our lifesaving work.

VOLUNTEER – The need is constant to help families affected by home fires and other disasters. Click here to become a volunteer.

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