“They probably would have helped with that too…”

“Well, I’m doing ok, now. At least the water isn’t in the trailer,” said Darlene Tomczak, referring to the Rainy Lake Basin flooding that started in May. “But the skirting, insulation and ductwork are all ruined.”

Originally from Canada, Darlene moved to the United States in ’64, for – you guessed it – love. She and her late husband survived their share of hardships over the years, including other floods, but “this one is by far the worst – just devastating – worse than 2014,” she added.

“This time the water came up fast. I told the kids, we gotta get you out now or we won’t get you out,” Darlene said referring to her daughters and granddaughters who were visiting her at the time.

View of Darlene Tomczak’s home, Rainy Lake, MN. She and her family had to be rescued from rising flood waters via boat. May 2022. Submitted photo.

Her daughter and sons rescued Darlene from Rainy Lake via boat. “We were lucky,” she said. In the following weeks, she stayed with her daughter and extended family, waiting on mother nature.

Flood waters receded slowly, revealing not only mud and sand, but mementos of drier days. Water pumps drone on keeping additional damage at bay as people watch their electric bills rise like flood waters.

Bill Parker, from Side Lake, MN, is one of the many Red Cross volunteers who helped with those so deeply affected by this disaster. Assessing their immediate needs, including safe shelter, help with food and health services, cleanup supplies, and emotional support, he determines what services Red Cross can provide and what our community partners can do.

Darlene shares a smile outside her home. Submitted photo.

“My jaw dropped open and I almost lost my teeth!”
chuckled Darlene, referring to the support from the Red Cross.
“But they probably would’ve helped me with that too.”

Part of the Red Cross recovery process includes getting money into the hands of disaster victims as soon as possible to support their specific needs. In Darlene’s case, the funds came at the perfect time – helping her pay the electric bill for her water pumps running 24 hours a day. “My jaw dropped open and I almost lost my teeth!” chuckled Darlene, referring to support from the Red Cross. “But they probably would’ve helped me with that too.”

Darlene is just one of the hundreds of people Red Cross disaster responders continue to help as they wait for the flood waters to finally go down.

Since the Rainy Lake Basin waters began to rise in May, more than 70 Red Cross disaster responders (+90% volunteers) have supported sandbaggers, community members and people directly impacted by the floods, including:

32,527 snacks and beverages

1,120 physical and emotional health services

150 residents impacted by flooding received direct financial assistance

1,403 meals delivered from partners at the Salvation Army

1,220 cleanup kits comfort kits and emergency supplies

“Red Cross volunteers were grateful to help people like Darlene affected by these historic floods,” said Dan Williams, Executive Director for the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Chapter. “We always need more people like all of the volunteers who helped with this response to raise their hand to help our neighbors in need,” he added.  

“The support from local Government, business community and response partners was incredible.  Huge thanks to the International Falls Coca-Cola distributor, the Virginia Walmart store, Cub Foods and the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (among many others) for their amazing nimbleness and generosity.” 

Learn more about volunteer opportunities near you at redcross.org/volunteer.

“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.

 

Responding to disasters: “Flexible is the word”

Rick’s got to get on a plane soon. So, let’s get right to this. Rick Emanuel (in the video below) is going south to support people affected by the powerful storm approaching the Gulf Coast.

This will be Rick’s third deployment to a major disaster response in just over a year. His first, last fall, was Hurricane Florence, where he worked at a shelter in Havelock, North Carolina. “Feeding, setting up cots, making sure everybody has what they need,” he says were the main things he did in his volunteer role supporting shelter operations for the American Red Cross. “And getting people to the right resources when they’re in crisis.”

Rick Emanuel

In North Carolina, the water rose so fast in some areas that first responders, national guard soldiers and community helpers were bringing in people, especially the elderly, in massive dump trucks because those vehicles could reach them through the flood waters. “They were bringing in people as fast as they could,” he says. Supplies arrived anytime and needed to be off-loaded as fast as possible. Sometimes this was in the middle of the night when volunteers like him might get some sleep. “That was the biggest part of the deal, finding down time.”

With this deployment to Louisiana he’s even more ready to help others because he knows that “flexible is the word” when it comes to providing disaster relief.

If you would like to support disasters big and small, including training and deploying volunteers like Rick, visit redcross.org/mn.

Story by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Help replenish the blood supply

American Red Cross staff member Deshayla Tran finishes collecting a whole blood donation from Terry Smith, who has been regularly donating blood for the last five to 10 years. Amanda Romney/American Red Cross

Donors of all blood types, especially type O, are needed to help replenish the blood supply as the Red Cross faces an emergency need right now. Blood from generous volunteer donors helps families like the Jolliffes.

In February 2018, Meghan Jolliffe suffered an amniotic fluid embolism. During childbirth her heart stopped beating for 14 minutes resulting in the need for an emergency cesarean section. Her organs began to shut down, and her blood would not clot.

Meghan received nearly 100 units of blood within a seven-hour period during her procedures. The doctors were able to stop the bleeding and stabilize Meghan’s condition. Over the next several days, Meghan underwent five surgeries, dialysis and more to repair the damage to her body.

Type O negative red blood cells are kept in a Red Cross storage refrigerator before being distributed to a hospital. Type O negative is the universal blood type and what emergency room personnel reach for when there is no time to determine the blood type of patients in the most serious situations. Amanda Romney/American Red Cross

After her son Sullivan was delivered, he went without oxygen for seven minutes. Doctors performed a process called therapeutic hypothermia, or whole-body cooling, to preserve his neuro function, and he also received several units of blood.

In all, Meghan and Sullivan received 109 units of blood.

Meghan and Sully

“My family and I are forever grateful for the generosity of Red Cross volunteer blood donors,” says Meghan. “Donating blood is so important. You or a loved one may never need these lifesaving products, but I can assure you that someone, somewhere will.”

Please don’t wait to donate.  You can make an appointment now to give blood or platelets by downloading our free Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Thank you!

LaDeodra Drummond donates blood. Jeanette Ortiz-Osorio/American Red Cross

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. 

Deployment experience in North Carolina

This past fall volunteer Deb Thingstad Boe responded for the first time to a Red Cross call for nurses to support Hurricane Florence relief efforts. Deb deployed to North Carolina where she worked in a shelter. Below is an excerpt of  Deb’s experience originally published in the December 2018 Minnesota Metro Medical Reserve Corps newsletter. Thank you to Deb for responding to the call to serve when you’re needed most!

Deb at Smith shelter in Fayetteville

I found out the deployment process moves fast! I spoke with the Red Cross on September 25, which was almost three weeks after Hurricane Florence made landfall, and six days later I was on the ground in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I was deployed through what is called Direct Deployment (DD), which is a rapid process used to ready healthcare workers for disaster work.

Once I received a call from Red Cross staff affirming my desire to deploy, I completed forms and about 15 hours of required online training and attended a deployment training in-person. At this training I received my disaster response ID, and mission and procurement cards. The mission card was used for my expenses and the procurement card was used to help clients (there is training on this!).

Along the way I also received a suggested packing list that was invaluable. Among those items were a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. I found out later that it’s more difficult if you do not own these items when you arrive on assignment without them.  The best thing I purchased to prepare was a self-inflating air mattress that fit on the cot I slept on. Ear plugs are a must! If I didn’t wear them, then I worried about whether the next breath is coming for some people. I wasn’t the only healthcare volunteer that talked about that.

Red Cross volunteer staff shelter (a.k.a. home)

Although it felt like everything was moving fast, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I decided I would go with the flow, take things as they come and try to do my best.

My assignment was to work 12-hour shifts at Smith Recreation Center. This Red Cross shelter was planned to be the last to close in Fayetteville. This meant that as other shelters closed people who had not been able to find housing were relocated to Smith. The shelter had about 150 people in residence, many who were among the most vulnerable people in the city: people with mobility issues, unstable chronic conditions exacerbated by displacement, chronic untreated mental illness, addiction, in hospice care, and (previous to the disaster) long-term homelessness.

Every day was different and yet alike. Within the first fifteen minutes of the first day, I was instructed on how to administer Narcan and safety precautions related to the environment. I was informed that public health obtained Narcan for the shelters because there was a death due to opioids. The shelter had many residents who accessed Disaster Health Services on a daily basis. I learned about “shelter cough.” When I arrived many residents and staff had upper respiratory symptoms, and I wondered about influenza and whether residents had been offered flu vaccinations. Just listening was an important component of care.

Visiting rural communities in North Carolina

My experience with Public Health came in very handy. Part of the plan to help one woman in the shelter included food as a prescription for her chronic health needs. Listening and choices were critical to helping her. During my three hours with her, I managed to work in stress management tips and the power of positive-thinking and being forward-moving in thought and actions.

I finished my time working in rural North Carolina working with the community to identify unmet needs, assess how migrant farm workers were managing, and identify where the Red Cross could help. We partnered with Spanish-speaking restaurant owners to inform the area churches of our presence. They opened up an area of their restaurant for Red Cross services and allowed a food truck to be positioned in their parking lot. People came for blood pressure and glucose level checks, OTC meds, blankets, diapers, and TLC (tender-loving care). Staff assigned included an interpreter, disaster mental health, and disaster healthcare. Listening and caring were critical elements of care.

Deb and her new friend Lois

One of the things I enjoyed the most was meeting volunteers from other places. The first night a few of us who had met at the shelter gathered together and headed out to dinner. None of us were assigned to the same place, which meant we met more people the next day. I met a retired pulmonologist and two EMTs, and we had dinner together every night starting on night two of a ten-day deployment. We had fun, and it was a good transition to sleep and the next day.

Deb Thingstad Boe is an American Red Cross Volunteer and a Dakota County Minnesota Medical Reserve Corps Volunteer (MRC). Photos provided by Deb. Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

Be a holiday hero at the 6th annual 12 Hours of Giving Blood Drive on Dec. 20

The arrival of the holiday season often means spending time and exchanging gifts with family and friends. But what if the gift you needed couldn’t be bought? For patients like Mike McMahon, the generosity of blood donations was the perfect gift and didn’t cost anything other than a bit of someone’s time.

Following a tragic tree felling accident on Nov. 10, 2016, McMahon, a Stillwater, Minnesota resident, suffered life-threatening injuries. He needed 11 units of blood during emergency surgery to keep him alive.

He spent the next six weeks in the intensive care unit and inpatient rehab, including three weeks during which he had to be intubated as he was unable to breathe on his own.

During his hospital stay, he also experienced an ulcer on a major artery in his intestines. The ulcer was so severe that he needed an additional seven units of blood and the artery was coiled to stop the hemorrhaging.

Mike McMahon

“I remember clearly as my nurse hooked me up to the first bag of blood,” said McMahon. “The thought of blood passing through another person’s heart and now into me, to keep me alive, was very emotional. From the first pint to the last, each one was equally moving.”

McMahon was told that he might not be able to do a lot of things ever again – his future was uncertain. However, just a few days before Christmas he was released from the hospital.

McMahon is thankful for blood donors and credits blood donation with helping save his life. “I’m grateful for the donors who gave me such an amazing gift – to spend Christmas and more holidays with my family. I was an occasional blood donor before the accident – today I donate as often as I can to help ensure others receive the same gift of life.”

You can give patients like McMahon more time and memories this holiday season by donating blood at the American Red Cross 6th annual 12 Hours of Giving Blood Drive at Inwood Oaks in Oakdale, Minnesota. As a special thanks, all who come to give will be treated to free parking, complimentary gift wrapping, a special gift bag, a long-sleeved Red Cross T-shirt, and holiday food and entertainment and will be automatically entered into hourly prize drawings including grand prizes – a large flat panel TV and a HP laptop computer.

To make an appointment to give blood at the 12 Hours of Giving Blood Drive, donors can click here or use sponsor code 12 hours on the Red Cross Blood Donor App, online at redcrossblood.org or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

We hope to see you at the 12 Hours of Giving Blood Drive. Happy holidays from your friends at the Red Cross!

Story and photo by Sue Thesenga/American Red Cross

Hurricane Florence: People appreciate the help

Red Cross volunteer Elaine with a family at a shelter in North Carolina. Photo: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

“…all is well. I am loving this, so satisfying. The people have been so appreciative…” — Elaine, Red Cross volunteer

Many thanks to Elaine (in photo) and around 3,000 Red Cross disaster relief workers, including 62 from the Minnesota Red Cross, who are helping people affected by Hurricane Florence in North Carolina and South Carolina.

More national American Red Cross fast facts about our help:

  • Sunday night, more than 15,000 people sought refuge in more than 150 Red Cross and community shelters across the impacted region. This includes 14,200 people in 137 shelters in North Carolina.
  • Working with partners, the Red Cross has served 150,700 meals and snacks. We’re also working with the Southern Baptists to deploy field kitchens that together can produce 170,000 meals per day.
  •  The Red Cross is mobilizing more than 130 emergency response vehicles and more than 70 trailers of equipment and supplies, including ready-to-eat meals and enough cots and blankets for more than 100,000 people.
  • The storm has forced cancellation of more than 170 blood drives, resulting in more than 4,600 uncollected blood and platelet donations.

The Red Cross will continue to work around-the-clock to do everything possible to provide shelter, food, comfort and other emergency support to victims of Hurricane Florence.

Fast Facts are as of September 17, 2018

The Long Road Ahead: Iowa’s Tornadoes Relief Efforts

The American Red Cross continues its effort to assist affected families since devastating tornadoes ravaged parts of central Iowa on July 19. The tornadoes leveled homes, overturned cars, and injured people.

Jeff Thelen (on the right) from Minnesota is responding to the Iowa tornado relief
efforts with Red Cross volunteers from nearby states, including Ernesto Lindsey
from Illinois. (Photo courtesy of Jeff), July 2018

Red Cross aid workers from Minnesota were among some of the first to reach people in the affected communities. The team has deployed 15 aid workers including six employees and volunteers in senior disaster management roles.

Disaster assessment shows hundreds of homes have suffered major damage. The team is working extensively on first-hand activities in the field as well behind-the-scenes relief to bridge from emergency relief to long- term recovery.

Marshalltown is the most affected area and is serving as the recovery hub for the response. In that area,  Jeff Thelen, a Red Cross volunteer from Farmington, MN, has been instrumental in distributing relief supplies. Along with his friend Ernesto from Illinois, Jeff has been going home-to-home. Already they’ve reached more than 150 households.

Multi-agency recovery center for people affected by tornadoes, Marshalltown, Iowa, July 2018. Photo: Steve Bonine/American Red Cross

“It’s very easy to spot homes in need by mere sight,” Jeff says. Emphasizing the level of destruction, he says they sometimes exhaust their truckload relief supplies mid-way through the day due to the demand and eagerness of the people to reaching out to Red Cross for disaster relief.

Nearly 400 Red Cross workers have mobilized to deliver relief and
hope. This includes 15 aid workers from the Red Cross in Minnesota.

As of July 30, Red Cross cumulative response efforts include:

The Red Cross will continue helping affected communities on the long road ahead that comes with rebuilding life after a tornado. We will provide support as long as it’s needed.  Click here to learn more about the response.

Story by Sohini Sarkar, Red Cross Volunteer

Hurricane Harvey – Close Up

By David Schoeneck, American Red Cross Volunteer

As the winds, rain, and flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey last week pummeled Southeast Texas, first hundreds, then thousands of residents sought refuge at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. By Tuesday night, August 29, more than 9,400 people had sought shelter at the center, a mammoth 5-block long structure with five large halls covering over half a million square feet.

They came as individuals, as families, as extended families, as neighbors. Often with only the wet clothes on their back, they needed a safe, secure place to stay, dry clothes, a hot meal, and most of all, hope. And the Red Cross was there for them. Working closely with government partners such as the city, the county and the state, Red Cross shelter workers welcomed them in, helped them dry off, fed them a hot meal, and saw to their health needs and concerns.

Dave Schoeneck, Red Cross Volunteer

Where only a few days before, there was an empty cement floor, within 48 hours a village, then a town, then a city of over 10,000 residents sprang up. Neighborhoods developed. One hall was reserved for people with pets, another for families. People of many different heritages and backgrounds from all over Texas were united as survivors of a terrible natural tragedy. All entered this giant “lifeboat” mega-shelter knowing that they would now be safe and cared for.

The Red Cross rushed workers from across the nation to Houston, even before Harvey struck. By the end of the week, more than 2,700 trained disaster workers were on the ground, and another 800 were on the way, along with more than Red Cross 200 emergency relief vehicles. Over 37,000 people stayed in 270 Red Cross and partner shelters across Texas on Saturday.

At the George Brown Shelter, hundreds of local Houstonians reached out to help their neighbors. They sorted donated clothes, provided meals and food service, and rendered medical assistance. Boy Scout troops served up an oatmeal breakfast, and were introduced to folks who live outside of their middle-class neighborhoods.

Stories were shared of rescues by strangers from rising flood waters, as neighborhoods were suddenly inundated. Travel around the area was difficult, as major freeways were under water for several days. Sad stories were also shared of relatives who had tried to drive to safety, but were swept away by the floods. Red Cross Mental health and health services professionals have provided over 11,000 contacts to provide support and care for the evacuees.

Shelter for Hurricane Harvey evacuees

Journalists from all over the world rushed to cover the story, with TV crews based here sending stories and pictures back to networks in countries such as Germany, France, Belgium, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, and Denmark. In addition, all of the national networks, the local and regional television and radio stations, were well represented, as well as many Texas and national newspapers.

While squeezing nearly 10,000 people into one shelter isn’t optimal, everyone there was safe, out of the weather, and had access to hot food and medical assistance. Additional shelters opened up the next day and relieved pressure on the George R. Brown Convention Center shelter.

One survivor summed it all up. When told to make sure she held on to a certain document, as she slide it back into a large manila envelope, she simply said, “Don’t worry. My entire life is in this envelope.”

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