Red Cross Shelter Even Better The Second Night

By Lynette Nyman, Red Cross Staff, Twin Cities Area Chapter, October 22, 2010

Sharon Madigan, 62, and her grandson

Everyone would rather be comfortable, cozy and warm in their own beds at night, but when there’s a fire people have to get out and sometimes stay out for days.

When a fire disaster hit the Whittier Co-op apartment building in Minneapolis on October 20, fire responders went across the street to see if a church could provide a safe place for displaced residents.

Walking out the Calvary Church door on Blaisdell Avenue was Matt Gresham, 45, who had just finished choir practice.

Normally he maintains the church building built more than 100 years ago.

“If this wasn’t here, I don’t know where these folks would go,” says Gresham.

Church doors are now shelter doors

Gresham and other church members invited people inside, giving them blankets and hot beverages. The church opened its doors to the Red Cross as well.

Around 20 people have stayed at the shelter since the blaze. Among them is Sharon Madigan, 62.

“I thought this fire was another false alarm,” says Madigan. “My brother, who lives one floor down from me, called and told me to get out. Outside, I looked up and saw the roof on fire.”

The church people, Madigan, says came to them and told everyone to come inside for hot coffee and to wait for the Red Cross, which was on its way.

Madigan, who has lived in the Whittier Co-op building for more than 30 years, says that she was able to return home and gather a few personal belongings. She says that her second night sleeping on a cot will be better than the first.

“I’ll be used to it,” says Madigan. “I have a roof over my head and I feel secure. I’m thankful for everything. It feels as if the Red Cross is doing everything for us.”

Matt Gresham, 45, was homeless before he found his church

The Red Cross does a lot, but not everything. It depends on local communities to help during disasters, such as this building fire affecting more than 90 people.

Gresham, the man who opened the church doors after all, says that they’ll stay open as long as the displaced families need a place to be warm and safe.

Early Morning at a Red Cross Shelter

By Mark Smith, Disaster Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross Twin Cities Area Chapter, October 21, 2010

Mozell, 8, and Zyiomna, 2

The Blaisdell Avenue fire in Minneapolis displaced more than 90 people, forcing several dozen to stay overnight in a Red Cross shelter.

Two of them were Mozell, 8, and his sister Zyiomna, 2.

Mozell started his day out by keeping an eye on his little sister, letting mom get a little extra sleep after a long night.


Being the watchful brother, he helped his sister get a plate of food for breakfast and sat with her as she ate her breakfast.

After I took his picture, Mozell asked to use the camera and, with my help, he was able to take pictures of his sister.

Of course little sister, seeing what big brother was doing, wanted to review the picture and was excited to see herself and her brother on the camera.


Zyiomna  insisted in taking his picture as he had taken hers.

With a little help, she was able to snap the shot of her brother and push the buttons to take a look at her efforts.

The Red Cross shelter was a safe and warm place for families to stay.

The Red Cross will continue providing immediate recovery assistance, such as shelter, food, clothing, and emotional support, to the families affected by this disaster.

Red Cross Recognition

Henry Nyenteah (left) receives an American Red Cross Certificate of Recognition from Red Crosser Jason Viana. Photo courtesy of Dakota Communities

In September, the American Red Cross Twin Cities Area Chapter awarded its Certificate of Recognition to two staff with Dakota Communities, a non-profit in Eagan, Minnesota, that provides services for people with disabilities. Certificates of Recognition were given to both Maureen Desmond and Henry Nyenteah for using lifesaving training during two separate choking incidents.

In each case, Red Cross training enabled them to perform extraordinary personal actions that helped save the life of someone in their care.

To learn more about Red Cross services and training, please visit

Red Cross Disaster Dispatcher: Sopheak Srun

Red Cross Dispatchers Help Get Disaster Response Off the Ground

by Jason Viana, Red Cross Staff, Twin Cities Area Chapter

Sopheak Srun is a volunteer disaster response dispatcher for the American Red Cross Twin Cities Area Chapter. Photo provided by Sopheak Srun.

You won’t see them in pictures, they don’t grab headlines, and most of those they help don’t even know they exist.  Yet without Disaster Action Team (DAT) dispatchers, the Red Cross disaster response would have a hard time getting off the ground.  While they may never set foot on the scene, the decisions they make and the moves they orchestrate are key to almost every Red Cross disaster response.

Twenty six-year-old Sopheak Srun recently joined the group of unsung DAT heroes as he chose to become a DAT dispatcher in the fall.  Srun spends the majority of his days working as a microbiologist and engineer at his family’s medical device assembly and packaging company in Bloomington and says he really enjoys his work as a Red Cross volunteer.  The Red Cross first crossed Srun’s radar while completing his graduate work in St. Louis and once he returned to the Twin Cities he completed training and became a DAT volunteer.

Having responded to numerous local disasters over the last two years as a DAT member, Srun already had a good understanding of the importance of dispatchers in disaster response.  However, after having become a dispatcher himself, he quickly gained a deeper appreciation of the role he now plays in coordinating Red Cross efforts.

As Srun coordinated the disaster response efforts in response to a recent house fire in St. Paul, Srun not only consoled a family who had just lost a child, but also connected them with all of the help and resources that the Red Cross had to offer.  The full-time microbiologist quickly and compassionately prepared each of the DAT members for what they were about to face and ensured that all of the proper team members were selected to respond.

“It was really sad, “Srun recalled.  “They had just lost their child and they were pretty incoherent.  I just tried to stay calm and get them all the help I could.”

Srun has learned since taking on the role of dispatcher that the key to the position is about more than calling other volunteers and passing along information, it’s really about judgment and leadership.  “We are the voice of the Red Cross to these people…we are pivotal in the response because we coordinate nearly everything,” said Srun as he looked back on his first six months as a dispatcher.  “After hours it’s just us.”

The thought of serving as a DAT dispatcher had crossed Srun’s mind on several occasions, but an email appeal from local disaster coordinator Ruth Talford convinced him to take the next step.  “It seemed like a logical extension to the work I was already doing, “Srun said.  “With my experience as a DAT first-responder I felt like I was ready for a leadership role.”

Srun has embraced his new role and found that he really enjoys coordinating the disaster response efforts of the DAT volunteers.  While the role of dispatcher has proven demanding, Srun said it also comes with its perks.  “It’s nice, I don’t really have to get up and leave in the middle of the night to actually help someone…I can do it from home.”  The smile was obvious in Srun’s voice as he described the convenience of being able to do a great deal of dispatching right from the palm of his hand…with his IPhone.

Srun says that all you really need is an internet connection, a telephone, access to the DAT list and the willingness to help people during exceptionally difficult times.  “The situations are all pretty heavy.  These people have usually lost their homes and most of their possessions.”   Srun stated matter of factly.  “But that’s the nature of our work.  I am just glad we are there to help.”

Red Cross Cakes

Serving with style are Red Crossers Phil Hansen and Ann Olson. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Today we held what was perhaps our first pancake breakfast to support giving to the Greater Twin Cities United Way.  So far we’ve raised nearly $2,000 in pledges. Thank you  “Red Rovers” for hosting this and other chapter staff events.

New Red Cross Friends

Red Cross disaster response means making new friends: here are Lynette from Minnesota and Allen from Maine meeting up on Long Island in response to Hurricane Earl. Photo credit: Craig Cooper/American Red Cross
%d bloggers like this: