Desperately Seeking Sewers

Red Cross is asking home stitchers to make face coverings for service members, veterans and their family members

Face coverings volunteers sent to the Fargo VA for veterans and their families, May 2020.

Continuing Legacy
For more than 130 years, the American Red Cross has provided comfort and care to service members, veterans and their families. One long-standing activity is the Red Cross program to knit socks and helmet liners, sew coverings for casts, and crochet or quilt lap blankets for injured wheelchair patients.

We’re continuing this legacy during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis because an ongoing need exists for face coverings that people can wear on military installations, at veteran’s homes and hospitals, and other areas where they are required. To help, our volunteer workforce is joining others to help sew and distribute these coverings.

Take for example Judi, a long-time Red Cross volunteer in Minot, North Dakota. She made 170 (wow!) of the 262 we’ve given so far to the VA in Fargo, ND. “I’ve always felt that everyone should take care of our veterans, in any way that we can. It’s a small gesture, but one that’s greatly needed. It’s a privilege to be able to help,” says Judi, who’s also a military veteran.

Get Sewing
If you’re interested in making face coverings to support service members, veterans and/or their families, please read this article from the CDC for sewing and design details. We’re particularly looking for face coverings made with gender neutral, masculine, or patriotic fabrics and sewn at home by hand or machine. We especially recommend that they’re sturdy enough for industrial laundry machines.

Community stitcher JoAnn sews face coverings for distribution at the VA in Hot Springs, SD, May 2020.

JoAnn, pictured above at her sewing machine, made face coverings for the VA in Hot Springs, South Dakota. For her, taking up the sewing project was a way to come together during a time when lives have changed so much and so quickly. “I learned about the need for face masks and just one mask turned into forty!  The challenge encouraged me to keep reaching out. Thank you for the privilege and honor to assist the Red Cross and the VA.”

Stitching Tips
• Consider expanding the sizes seen in the link above to accommodate a wider variety of face types/sizes (man vs. woman, facial hair, etc.).
• Using a softer material for the interior part of the covering can make it more comfortable to wear.
• Launder and dry material prior to making face coverings to reduce the chance of shrinkage.
• Tie closures provide greatest size and comfort accommodation as well as making them sturdier for multiple washings in heavy-duty laundry machines.

Final Step
When your home stitched face coverings are ready, reach out to our Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) team at minnesotadakotassaf@redcross.org for mailing or drop-off information. Working with our volunteers, our team will verify the need for face coverings with service member partners and make arrangements for delivering your home-sewn coverings to where they’re needed most across our Minnesota and Dakotas region.

Thank you so much for helping our military heroes!

An American Red Cross historical poster from World War I.

Step aside Baby Yoda: Red Cross gets soldier home in time for Baby Cory love

By Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Late on January 25, Sergeant Cory Hicks was preparing for the next day of training in Virginia when he answered a call from his fiancé, Sergeant Shanyn France in Minnesota.

“They hold each other up,” says Janelle France about the relationship of her daughter Sergeant Shanyn France and Sergeant Cory Hicks. (Family photo)

She had just taken a shower but could not get dry. “Just dry off, I told her. I can’t, she said, water is running down my leg. I got a call back later that said her water broke and that she was going into labor.”  This was one month before their baby was due.

Cory remembered his training packet and a Red Cross brochure tucked inside. The ‘Hero Care Network’ brochure explained the steps for requesting emergency communications assistance. Cory reached out to his course instructor who said maybe the Red Cross could help.

Once the test results confirmed Shanyn’s water had definitely broke, her mom Janelle France made the call to Red Cross that would get Cory home. She provided all the information needed to give him the best chance of getting home. “We were also texting Cory to try to not have him panic,” she says.

Cory rarely panics these days. He has served 12 years in the U.S. Army Reserves with the 353rd Transportation Company based in Buffalo, Minnesota. When he was 19 years old, he deployed to northern Iraq where he supported fuel missions. “If you get me behind the wheel of a trailer, I’m phenomenal at it,” he says. The premature birth of his first child was another matter. “It was nerve racking because Shanyn was dilating a centimeter every hour.”

Sergeant Shanyn France, Cory Junior, and Sergeant Cory Hicks together as a family for the first time. (Family photo)

At around 4 a.m. on January 26, a verified Red Cross message arrived and requested his return. He’d have to drop leadership training for now. It was, his instructor said, Cory’s decision. That day, he got the last seat on the last flight going to Minnesota. Word of the crisis made its way to the Delta pilots, who asked everyone to stay seated while Cory exited. “The whole plane erupted, and I got to run off the plane. It was pretty cool. That could have been the difference between me making the birth because I had just an hour to spare until baby Cory was born.”

Shanyn was scared. “I was excited, but I was scared that he was not going to make it in time because airports are always tough to get through.” She hung on while Cory raced to the hospital in Coon Rapids. “He didn’t have time to change out of his uniform. I don’t even think I gave him a hug because I was so miserable.” She then asked for an epidural after 23 hours in labor.

Being there for the birth of his child was only part of Cory’s urgency. The other part was “just being able to comfort Shanyn while she was in a lot of pain,” he says.

Baby Cory arrived one month early. “It’s pretty amazing,” says his dad Sergeant Cory Hicks who arrived with only an hour to spare before Cory Jr.’s birth. (Family photo)

“They hold each other up. And there’s nothing these two won’t do for that little boy,” says Janelle, who has worked every reserves drill weekend at unit headquarters since her daughter joined in 2016. “Without the Red Cross he would not have made it home.”

Baby Cory, also known as “CJ” for Cory Junior, is doing well at home after spending six days in a neonatal intensive care unit. Cory was there throughout each. He’s grateful for what the Red Cross does for service members. “Over the 12 years of my military experience I’ve heard about Red Cross, saw it work for others. I was skeptical until I had to use it. Someday I hope to give back.”

Click here to learn more about Red Cross services for military and veteran families.

Volunteers needed to support casework for service members

Crucial role helps active duty military and their families

The American Red Cross alleviates human suffering in several different capacities, but people may not know that the Red Cross is the only authorized organization to verify and relay emergency messages to activated service members through our Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Hero Care Network.

Photo by Roy Cox/American Red Cross

“When the Red Cross is alerted of a family emergency, we verify the information and contact the service member’s command within a matter of hours so they can get home as soon as possible,” says Alex Smith, who directs our SAF program in Minnesota.

Impact Fact  Each year the American Red Cross provides more than 422,000 services to service members, veterans and their families. 

The Red Cross in Minnesota is seeking 5 volunteers to do SAF casework so that our military members can be alerted when there is a family emergency. SAF caseworkers have three main responsibilities, which can be done remotely or at the office (volunteers can choose). The time commitment is about 3 hours per week. 

1. Briefing families and verifying contact card information. This step is an effort to get to know the family after military enrollment so that if the family reaches out with a family emergency in the future, it won’t be their first time speaking with us. This is also an opportunity to explain what the family should do in case of an emergency that necessitates contacting their service member.  

2. Family follow-up. This is what Red Cross does after facilitating contact when an emergency has occurred. We ask how they are doing and if there is anything else they need.  

3. Referral services. Caseworkers can provide referral and information to organizations that provide assistance resources for emergency needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter, and referrals to counseling services.

Minnesota Red Cross volunteers supported WWI relief efforts. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

For more than 100 years, the Red Cross in Minnesota has provided comfort and support to members of the U.S. military and we continue to serve, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“We have a huge need,” says Sean Lundy, a Red Cross volunteer recruitment specialist in Minnesota. “Volunteers are more than 90 percent of our workforce. They have a crucial role in supporting our service members at home and abroad. “

Impact Fact  Last year Minnesota Red Cross volunteers supported 2,099 emergency communications and critical community cases.

Ideal candidates are supporters of the military with a desire to give back. Start your journey by creating a Red Cross volunteer ID here. For any questions about the role, send an email to our Volunteer Services team at mnrecruit@redcross.org.

Post by Caroline Nelson for the American Red Cross

“Thank you for your service and sacrifice.”

A Holidays for Heroes message from a UMD student-athlete.

Our Holidays for Heroes program is an effort to collect handwritten messages on holiday cards to thank and recognize service members and veterans for their service and sacrifice.

This year, the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota teamed up with University of Minnesota Duluth student hockey teams to sign cards that will bring holiday joy to the men and women who keep, and have kept, us safe.

UMD Women’s Hockey captain Jalyn Elmes  signs Holidays for Heroes cards.

“It’s a really good way to reach out and show our appreciation to people that we may never get the chance to tell in person. It took less than an hour of our time,” says Jalyn Elmes, captain of the University of Minnesota Duluth, Women’s Hockey team.  Elmes has participated in Holidays for Heroes in the 2018 and 2019 holiday seasons.

Director of the local Red Cross, Dan Williams, has helped facilitate Holidays for Heroes for a number of years. Dan says his favorite part about this proactive effort is reminding service members and veterans that they’re cared about. “We’re not waiting for service members to raise their hand and say ‘I wish the community would show me how much they appreciate us.’”

UMD Men’s Hockey team thanks military veterans.

During the past four years, UMD student-athlete teams have signed around 4,000 cards. Football, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s hockey have joined these efforts. The signed cards will be distributed to local military service units and veterans clinics and homes.

Other upcoming activities include blood drives and humanitarian law training through our Red Cross Youth outreach. And getting involved Holidays for Heroes s as easy as bringing holiday cards to your local Red Cross chapter. We’ll do the rest!

Story by Caroline Nelson and photos by Dan Williams, American Red Cross Minnesota Region. Click here to learn more about Red Cross services for military families and veterans.

 

Supporting Service Members: What is a Stand Down?

Starting this August and continuing through fall, the Minnesota Red Cross will be among many organizations providing services for military veterans at Stand Down events. Below, we explain.

Minneapolis Stand Down for veterans, 2016. Photo by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

What is a Stand Down?

In times of war, exhausted combat units, requiring time to rest and recover, were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety. At secure base camp areas, troops were able to take care of personal hygiene, get clean uniforms, enjoy warm meals, receive medical and dental care, mail and receive letters, and enjoy the camaraderie of friends in a safe environment. Stand Down afforded battle-weary soldiers the opportunity to renew their spirit, health and overall sense of well-being.

Today, Stand Down refers to a grassroots, community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 200,000 homeless veterans “combat” life on the streets. Homeless veterans are brought together in a single location and are provided access to the community resources needed to begin addressing their individual problems and rebuilding their lives. A Stand Down also affords the same respite and renewal to all veterans in an atmosphere conducive to change and recovery.

December 1970. Firebase Tomahawk, Vietnam. Grunts just in from the field open Red Cross ditty bags on Christmas morning. “This lonely outpost is  located in northern South Vietnam about 30 miles northwest of DaNang.” Photo by American Red Cross

What happens at a Stand Down?

Hundreds of homeless and at-risk veterans are provided with a broad range of necessities including food, clothing, medical, legal and mental health assistance, job counseling and referral, and most importantly, companionship and camaraderie. It is a time for the community to connect with the homeless veteran population and address this crisis that affects each and every town, city and state in this country. The hand up, not a handout philosophy of Stand Down is carried out through the work of hundreds of volunteers and organizations throughout the nation.

Who organizes and delivers theses services?

Hundreds of caring volunteers and professionals give of their time and expertise to address the unique needs of homeless veterans. Most Minnesota Stand Downs are organized by Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MAC-V), a non-profit focused on ending veteran homelessness in our state.

What does the Red Cross do at Stand Downs?

The Minnesota Red Cross, led by the Service to the Armed Forces team, comprised mostly of volunteers, has a booth at every Stand Down. We provide comfort kits containing items, such as soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, comb, and other personal hygiene items. Many of these kits are generously donated to us by supportive members of our community. We might also provide other support items, such as socks, emergency blankets, and first aid kits. We also help to connect veterans to other resources the Red Cross and our community partner’s provide.

At Stand Down events, the Red Cross provides comfort kits containing items, such as soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, comb, and other personal hygiene items. Minneapolis Stand Down, 2016. Photo by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross.

Where are the Minnesota Stand Downs held?

This year’s upcoming Minnesota Stand Downs are taking place at the following locations:

  • Minneapolis: Target Field, Aug. 16
  • International Falls: Backus Community Center,  Aug. 22
  • Duluth: Bayfront Festival Park, Aug. 23
  • Bemidji: National Guard Armory, Sept. 25
  • Grand Rapids: IRA Civic Center, Sept. 26
  • St. Cloud: River’s Edge Convention Center, Oct. 18
  • Mankato: Civic Center, Oct. 26

Want to Learn More?

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer supporting service members, feel free to contact Alex Smith at alexis.smith3@redcross.org — author of this post. Thanks Alex!

Click here to learn more about our history providing relief to the wounded during times of war. And watch the video below.

Remembering the greatest sacrifice

“We cherish too, the Poppy red
Which grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.”
– Moina Michael

Around this time of year, you may see American Legion members distributing handmade red flowers, but may not know why. These are remembrance poppies, created and shared for Memorial Day to remind us of those who have fallen in war.

Memorial Day, celebrated on the last Monday in May, was created as a day to remember the approximately 620,000 troops who lost their lives during the Civil War. In 1971 it was declared a national holiday and was expanded to honor those who have died in all American armed conflicts, which has now totaled to over 1.1 million lives. It is for those 1.1 million lives that we pause to remember their sacrifice.

The American Red Cross pays tribute to those who have given their lives and works to aid the service members, veterans, and their family members within our communities. Our Service to the Armed Forces volunteers and staff work hard to provide services starting at the day of enlistment, on through their life journey.

After her humanitarian work during the Civil War, Clara Barton returned home to found the American Red Cross in 1881.

The Red Cross was founded as a response to the damages of war, standing firm to protect the rights and dignities of those who were casualties. This drive of humanity has remained at the core of the Red Cross through time as we never forgot those who fought and sacrificed. From this need to prevent and alleviate human suffering, the organization has grown to further serve the needs of our communities.

Today, the American Red Cross provides multiple assistances to our service members, veterans, and their families. We provide 24/7 global emergency communication services for military families, home comforts and community services, and community outreach to name a few. Our resiliency training workshops, taught by licensed and experienced instructors, are designed to help prepare for, cope with, and respond to the challenges of military service.

We would like to thank not only those who have volunteered their time to serve those who have served our country, but to all those who volunteer with the Red Cross; because of you we can combine our efforts to help those who need us. Most of all, we want to thank and honor those who gave the greatest sacrifice.

Post by Alex Smith, Services to the Armed Forces Director for the American Red Cross Minnesota Region. Photo of Clara Barton by Matthew Brady, c. 1865; now in the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; acquired through the generosity of Elizabeth A. Hylton. 

Wishing Marian the happiest of birthdays

Earlier this year Marian Krinke turned 104 !

To mark this occasion, American Red Cross
President and CEO Gail McGovern sent Marian a letter expressing
gratitude and best wishes for reaching this milestone.We’d like to share our appreciation as well.
And say Happy Birthday Marian!  You’re a remarkable woman.
Thank you for your service to the American Red Cross !

 

The more things change …

…. the more they stay the same.

That’s a spot-on adage when we consider fulfilling our Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

For example, one hundred years ago Junior Red Cross volunteers in Duluth made care packages for World War I veterans overseas.

This year our Service to the Armed Forces volunteers will distribute donated socks to veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Donated socks ready for distribution to military veterans in nursing homes. Photo by Jennifer Landeros

There are more examples and yet, whatever the year of the new year, the basics of life remain the same.

People need shelter, food and clothing. People need blood and blood products. People need to reach loved ones during emergencies.

The Red Cross helps meet these and other basic needs within the context of being impartial and neutral, of empowering volunteer service, and keeping an eye on preserving and promoting human dignity in all of our work.

With those thoughts in mind, this year we encourage you to look to the stars while keeping your feet on the ground. Make a regular commitment to:

  • supporting people affected by disasters
  • providing safe lifesaving blood and blood products
  • helping military members of our armed forces and their families
  • being trained in life-saving skills for emergency response
  • giving resources that help neighbors around the world

This quiz will help you choose which action is best for you.

Story by Lynette Nyman — pictured above last year with women living in Bangladesh in camps for people who have fled violence in Myanmar.  

Armistice Day, World War I, and the Birth of the Minnesota Red Cross

Minnesota Red Cross volunteers supported World War I efforts. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

By Nancy O’Brien Wagner

This Sunday morning, at eleven o’clock, you may hear the ringing of church bells pealing out over the state. This tribute marks the centennial of Armistice Day – the end of World War I, which occurred on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month– November 11, 1918.

Nowadays, we celebrate November 11 as Veteran’s Day – a holiday to acknowledge the impact and efforts of all of our nation’s veterans. This year, however, it seems appropriate to draw special attention to the history and legacy of World War I – or the Great War as it was called then.

It is impossible to over-state how significant World War I was to our country. Beyond the military events, the War impacted our economy, our transportation system, our politics, and our culture. One of the greatest legacies of the War was the impact on the development of the American Red Cross.

Though the American Red Cross was founded in Washington D.C. in 1881, its presence and impact throughout the nation had been sporadic. During its first three decades, local and national Red Cross volunteers had responded to floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes, and the Spanish-American war of 1898. By the 1910s, the organization was muted – and the Minnesota Red Cross chapters were frail- if they existed at all. World War I changed that.

Within weeks of the U.S entering the war, the critical importance of the Red Cross was evident. In May 1917, the Red Cross was placed under the direction of President Woodrow Wilson’s War Council, which directed organizations and industries needed in the war effort. Across the nation, millions of people donated and signed up to volunteer for the Red Cross. In Minnesota, hundreds of thousands joined the Red Cross. They stepped forward in a spirit of can-do optimism, loyalty, and sacrifice. Most of those worked locally, but others served overseas.

“I summon you to comradeship in the Red Cross” – U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s call to service. Poster by Harrison Fisher, 1918. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Locally, Red Cross volunteers operated canteens for soldiers at the railroad depots, offered support to soldiers’ families, and organized recreation events for soldiers at Fort Snelling. They offered classes in First Aid, Elementary Hygiene, and Home Dietetics. For overseas, Minnesota members sponsored Base Hospital No. 26 in Allerey, France, and raised nearly $50,000 to supply the hospital with equipment and bandages. Members sent new and used trucks, ambulances, and cars to Europe. In addition, volunteers produced 5,842,078 surgical dressings, knitted 94,439 sweaters, produced 14,522 garments for refugees, and packed 38,551 “comfort kits” with shaving supplies, cigarettes, chewing gum, and other essentials.

For many local volunteers (who were mostly women), this effort expanded their social circles and built up their sense of community: As one Red Cross scholar said, “The big thing…in this Red Cross work has been the bringing together of women of all nationalities, all social strata, all creeds, and all religions onto a common, harmonious unit.”

In addition to local efforts, hundreds of Minnesotans served as Red Cross volunteers in Europe. Red Cross volunteers established and offered service from 551 stations, including 24 hospitals and 12 convalescent homes for soldiers and 130 canteens. They established emergency depots of medical supplies for the American Army and for French hospitals. The Red Cross also produced and supplied all necessary splints, nitrous oxide anesthetic, and oxygen for the Army. There were also reconstruction and re-education efforts for crippled and disabled men, recreation and welfare service, hospital service, hospital farms and gardens, moving pictures for hospitals, grave photography, civilian relief, relief of French soldiers’ families, children’s relief, and anti-tuberculosis relief. The largest group of Red Cross volunteers was nurses, who faced particular dangers. Nurses Miss Anna M. Dahlby of St. Paul and Miss Mary H. Cummings of North St. Paul both died while on duty.

The red poppy is the flower symbolic for remembering those who fought in WWI and the wars following, especially overseas. Photo by Lynette Nyman

After the war ended on November 11, 1918, the Red Cross continued to its war-related work. Overseas, the Red Cross helped at hospitals, camps, and transportation depots. Locally, Red Cross volunteers continued to staff booths at train depots to assist soldiers as they traveled home, and completed paperwork to apply for support services. While many Red Cross chapters shuttered or closed completely, other chapters in larger cities began to shift their attention to address issues such as public health (the Spanish Flu) and natural disasters (the Cloquet Fire). Both the St. Paul and the Minneapolis Chapters offered continuous service from 1917 on- and mark that year as their true foundation date.

In Minnesota, many of the women who served overseas and lead local Red Cross efforts used their strengthened problem-solving, organizational, and networking skills to tackle local needs. Many became active in the Women’s Overseas Service League, and others took an active role in promoting the women’s right to vote and the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Local museums, hospitals, libraries, schools, orchestras, and charities all benefited from this generation of generous and civic-minded women.

In the decades since, the Minnesota Red Cross has continued to respond to both international and local needs, evolving to fulfill new roles such as blood services, and shifting out of old ones — no more knitting sweaters.

When you hear the bells toll this Sunday, recall both the relief and joy at the conclusion of the Great War, but also mark the creation of the Minnesota Red Cross – and the spirit of optimism, loyalty, and sacrifice that continue to define us as Minnesotans.

Happy Armistice Day.

Nancy O’Brien Wagner is a local historian and author of Alice in France: The World War I Letters of Alice M. O’Brien. She is the proud granddaughter of two World War I soldiers, and great-niece of two World War I Red Cross volunteers.

Veteran becomes Red Cross volunteer

Story by Kathleen Todd for the American Red Cross Minnesota Region

Sharon Azan (Credit: ARC/LynetteNyman)

On  Veterans Day, the American Red Cross honors people like Sharon Azan.

In 1985, Sharon Azan was stationed in Naples, Italy, with the United States Air Force when she got a call from the American Red Cross. Five thousand miles away, Azan’s uncle had passed away, and her family contacted the Red Cross to relay an urgent message about his death.

It was that one phone call—all those years ago—that recently prompted Azan to connect with the American Red Cross in Minnesota. Now, she’s training to become a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteer.

“I figured this was a good time for me to help someone else,” Azan says. “I am so appreciative of what the Red Cross does and what it stands for.”

For more than 100 years, the Red Cross has been hard at work supporting the men and women of the American armed forces. Today, no matter where American armed service members are in the world, the Red Cross is dedicated to delivering emergency communications messages through the American Red Cross Hero Care Network, which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Minnesota State Veterans Day Celebration 2016 (Credit: ARC/LynetteNyman)

The Red Cross provides around 370,000 services each year to active-duty military, veterans, and their families—including more than 3,000 in Minnesota last fiscal year. In addition to emergency communications, the Minnesota Red Cross provides courses and workshops to help military families cope with life after deployments.

The Red Cross invites you to say “thanks” by signing and sending cards through Holidays for Heroes to U.S. military and veterans. Click here for information, including where cards to send cards, the program deadline, and other important guidelines for the cards.