“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.

Partnership in pictures: Women in manufacturing

On July 23, 2019, at the Women in Manufacturing conference in Cloquet, women made hygiene kits that American Red Cross volunteers will distribute to people in need of humanitarian aid. Photo by Jamie Lund with Pine Journal and published with permission.

USG Corporation hosted more than 50 women during the conference, which was held July 23 and 24. Part of the program included a day of service activity, which focused on supporting the Red Cross mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

To support service day, USG donated the kit supplies, including pillowcases, that turned into 250 comfort and hygiene kits. The kits will help at-risk military veterans and families affected by disasters, mostly home fires in northern Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin.

The service day event showed great leadership, teamwork and camaraderie. Special thanks go to local Red Cross volunteers Kyra, Penny, Mattie, Diane and Sophia, as well as Northern Minnesota Red Cross executive director Dan Williams.

For more about the conference, read this Pine Journal article by Jamie Lund. Click here to help the Red Cross provide shelter, food, and other relief during disasters. To learn more about Red Cross support for military families and veterans, click here.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos are provided by Dan Williams with the American Red Cross Minnesota Region. Thanks Dan!

Red Cross workers: Tirelessly delivering disaster relief services

"I am so thankful to this community, my neighbors, and the Red Cross," says Monica Smith lost nearly everything when her home in floods in Deweyville, Texas. Photo Credit: Danuta Otfinowski/American Red Cross
“I am so thankful to this community, my neighbors, and the Red Cross,” says Monica Smith lost nearly everything when her home in floods in Deweyville, Texas. Photo Credit: Danuta Otfinowski/American Red Cross

As much of the country looks forward to Easter weekend, thousands of people in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi are still dealing with the impacts of severe and widespread flooding.

For more than two weeks, communities across the South and Gulf Coast have endured intense rainfall and record-breaking flooding. The Sabine River flooding on the Texas and Louisiana border has broken records held since the 1880s and the Red River in Louisiana hit its highest level in more than 70 years. And this week, portions of the southern U.S. will face the return of severe thunderstorms and flooding, raising additional flooding concerns for already drenched terrain throughout the lower Mississippi Valley.

The American Red Cross is there on the ground, working around the clock to support individuals and families in need. On Tuesday, March 22, more than 270 people spent the evening in 16 Red Cross and community shelters in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Since severe storms and flooding began earlier this month, more than 1,500 Red Cross disaster relief workers, both staff and volunteers have:

  • Opened 60 shelters which have provided more than 4,000 overnight stays;
  • Distributed more than 70,000 relief items; and
  • Served more than 170,000 meals and snacks for impacted residents.

As people return to their neighborhoods, many are finding their homes inundated with muddy brown water and sewage, and their property strewn with heavy piles of debris. Even if their homes don not appear destroyed from the outside, some people have mobile homes that were immersed in several inches or a foot of water and inaccessible for over a week—many of those homes are a total loss because of the duration they spent with water inside.

Monica and Robert Smith lost nearly everything when their Deweyville, Texas home filled with five feet of water last week. “Everything that we own is now in the yard. We only had a few hours to evacuate, so we left it all behind,” says Monica who has lived with her family in Deweyville her entire life and has never seen a flood of this magnitude. In the photo above, Monica shows a Red Cross volunteer just how high the water was. “I am so thankful to this community, my neighbors, and the Red Cross,” says Monica. “I am not sure how I would have handled this situation without help.”

“Everyone here is so friendly and kind,” says Maybel Bordelon who received Red Cross relief supplies in Orange, Texas. Photo Credit: Danuta Otfinowski/American Red Cross

In addition to sheltering, the Red Cross is also helping to operate Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARC) throughout impacted areas. At these resource centers people can sit down a with Red Cross caseworker, as well as with government and community partner organizations that are offering assistance. Recovering from a disaster can be a confusing and trying process; resource centers help streamline relief information and aid so people can more easily find the help they need.

Impacted residents visit MARCs for cleanup supplies, hot meals, emotional counseling and health services, including 75-year-old Maybel Bordelon (pictured above) from Orange, Texas. “Everyone here is so friendly and kind. Everyone is town is talking about the help that Red Cross is providing. We are so thankful you are here.”

You can help
We need your continued support now to help people affected by disasters big and small. Those who would like to help people affected by disasters like flooding and countless other crises can make a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief. People can donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. These donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.

Thank you!

This Year’s Training Institute is a Wrap!

NDSI_2By Dave Schoeneck/Red Cross Volunteer

Nearly 170 Red Cross volunteers and staff from Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas spent three and a half days at the 2nd North Star Disaster Institute, held October 16-19 at Camp Ripley near Little Falls, Minnesota. A total of 39 Red Cross courses were offered, and a total of 636 courses were completed by the attendees.

Highlights of the Institute included keynote speaker Mark J. Lindquist of Fargo, an entertainer and motivational speaker, who described his experiences as an AmeriCorps Red Cross volunteer following the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the Kitchen Training course and the “What’s New?” panel, which reviewed the 2017 organizational plan.

NDSI_1As always, the best part of the Institute was greeting old friends, meeting and making new friends, and learning new  skills in courses taught by experienced Red Cross instructors.

Institute leaders included Art McIntyre, Steve Bonine, Mike Hoffman, Cheryl Thompson, Lindsey Lanigan and Carrie Taylor. Many others supported the event.

Stay tuned for more details about the 2016 training institute. Meanwhile, click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer and click here to learn more about Red Cross disaster relief services.

Learning Preparedness in Spanish

On May 29, our Red Cross region hosted its first Latino Leadership Summit. Held at Urban Ventures in Minneapolis, the summit brought together local Red Cross leaders and Latino community representatives for a conversation about emergency preparedness. Eleven people representing Latino groups, businesses or service organizations attended. They learned more about the importance of being prepared before disasters happen as well as Red Cross services and programs. They offered, in return, insights into how the Red Cross can do a better job sharing its preparedness message with Spanish-speaking communities and helping them become more disaster resilient in Minnesota.

Here are some highlights:

Victoria Krook, a K-12 educator in Brooklyn Center, says that reaching families one-on-one is best. Winter, she says, is a major emergency issue to address: "Parents don't know frostbite, how quickly it can happen."

Victoria Krook (above), a K-12 educator in Brooklyn Center, says that reaching Latino families one-on-one is best. Winter, she says, is a major emergency issue to address in Latino communities: “Parents don’t know frostbite, how quickly it can happen.”

Maria Arboleda, a program coordinator in higher education, says that many people have resources to be prepared, but that "if we want get this education out to communities, then we need more Spanish speakers and more people from the communities."

Maria Arboleda (above center), a program coordinator in higher education, says that many Latino families have resources to be prepared for disasters, but that “if we want to get this education out to communities, then we need more Spanish speakers and more people from the communities.”


“Every mom is a first responder,” says Arturo Lopez (above left), a cadet in law enforcement training. Lopez says that building trust, reaching children and training women are keys to sharing preparedness messages with Latino families.

Our Latino community partners left the summit with fresh enthusiasm and concrete action steps for preparing and preventing emergencies at home and work. Our Red Cross action plan includes helping them reach their goals and building on our new shared energy.

Story and photos by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Advance community outreach helps after disaster

Red Cross and African immigrant community field trip,  Minneapolis, MN, December 5, 2013. Photo credit: Jenn Vander Woude/American Red Cross.
Red Cross and African immigrant community field trip, Minneapolis, MN, December 5, 2013.

The tragic explosion and fire on January 1 in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis was a reminder for us that working ahead of disaster to reach out to diverse communities remains a top priority for the Red Cross. Most recently, on December 5, 2013, nine Red Cross volunteers and staff, representing multiple aspects of disaster prevention, relief, and recovery, met with five African immigrant community leaders to discuss the ways in which we could work together in a culturally sensitive manner. Together, we toured the Cedar Cultural Center, the Brian Coyle Center and areas around a Cedar-Riverside apartment building. Each step of the way there were conversations about the ways they could partner together on different projects including sheltering, cultural training, and preparedness. We know that connections made during this community walk-about, as well as previous community outreach activities, has helped lessen the stress of a tragic event and enabled the Red Cross and its community partners, both organizations and individuals, to provide emergency aid to people during a time of great need.

Story and photo from Jenn Hamrick, a preparedness coordinator for the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. Several community partner groups are taking donations for the Cedar-Riverside fire survivors. Click here for information about how to help. 

Balloon Toss + Lollypop Pull = Disaster Relief

Aliyah Robran, age 9
Aliyah Robran, age 9

Balloon tosses, lollypop pulls and county fairs… those were sure signs of summer in Minnesota.  These three things have something else in common: each played a part in ensuring that when disasters strike the Red Cross is prepared to respond.

Let me explain the connection for you.  As the Fundraising Events Director at the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region, anytime a community member or group wants to raise funds on behalf of the Red Cross, the call is sent my way.  I work with this group of donors to make sure they have everything they need in order to hold a successful fundraiser.  These can range from canisters on a store counter to choir concerts and bake sales.  If someone wants to raise money in the community, I’m their gal!

One day this past summer, I received a call from Chad, the father of Aliyah Robran.  Aliyah and her friends Brianna and Alyssa Brolin were planning to have a booth at the Corcoran Country Daze Fair and wanted to raise money for the American Red Cross.

Brianna Brolin, age 14
Brianna Brolin, age 14

In keeping with the hot summer days we had, the girls decided on a water balloon toss as one of the fundraisers.  For $.25, fair goers could pop a water balloon to reveal a ribbon inside.  The color of the ribbon determined the prize won.  Items came straight from the closets of the girls. The other fundraiser was a $.25 Lollypop Pull.  Those lucky enough to pull a sucker with the correct marking, won a prize as well. All together, the girls raised $126.56 for the Red Cross and wanted to have the money go towards Disaster Relief!

These creative kids are just one example of the generous support we receive from the community. Often people feel called to action once a disaster has happened, but these community fundraisers are a great way to make sure the Red Cross is prepared year round before, during and after disasters.

During their county fair, Brianna Brolin, age 14, and Aliyah Robran, age 9, raised money for American Red Cross disaster relief.
During their county fair, Brianna Brolin (l), Aliyah Robran (r) and Alyssa Brolin (not pictured) raised money for American Red Cross disaster relief.

If you’re interested in hosting a community fundraising event, give me a call at our region offices in Minneapolis: 612-871-7676. I love to hear from people in our community who are passionate about our mission–to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies–and want to help fulfill it. 

Guest post by Kristin Peters, Fundraising Events Director for the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. Click here for the Region’s website and to learn more about the Red Cross.

Your Disaster Kit: Better Than a Magic Wand?

Magic Wand or Bust? Or, Our Favorite Disaster Kit Fail courtesy of Carrie Carlson-Guest.
Magic Wand or Bust? Or, Our Favorite Disaster Kit Fail courtesy of Carrie Carlson-Guest.

September is National Preparedness Mont and a great time to get Red Cross Ready for disasters. 

We know – so far your approach to preparedness has looked like a magic wand in a bin. Or maybe it looks like this “kit you don’t want to have” or one of these disaster kit fails.

While we can’t auto-magically get you prepared for disasters, we can give you the tools you need.  The basic steps include making a plan, building a kit and being informed.

Make a Plan Planning together is important. Everyone in the household should help develop the emergency plan and know what they should do if something occurs. The plan should include ways to contact and find one another. Include two places to meet – one near the home in case of a sudden emergency like a fire, and one outside the neighborhood in case circumstances prevent people from returning home. The plan should also identify an emergency contact person from outside the area in case local telephone lines are overloaded or out of service.

Often people are not at home when a disaster occurs and they may not be able to get back into their neighborhood. Plans should include decisions about where everyone will go if ordered to evacuate and what route they will take to get there. When discussing evacuation, everyone should include several different routes in case roads are closed. If pets are part of the household, they should be considered, including where they could be safe if the family has to evacuate such as pet-friendly motels and animal shelters along the evacuation route.

Get a Kit Another step to get ready is to build an emergency kit. Use an easy-to-carry container so the family can use it at home or take it with them if asked to evacuate. It should contain a three-day supply of water (one gallon, per person, per day), nonperishable food, a flashlight, battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit, a 7-day supply of medications, a multi-purpose tool, sanitation and personal hygiene items and copies of important personal documents. The Red Cross also recommends having at least two weeks worth of supplies at home.

Be Informed Everyone also needs to stay informed about what types of disasters are most likely to occur where they live or where they plan to visit, and how officials will communicate with you during an emergency. It’s also important to take a first aid and CPR/AED course—a vital component of disaster preparedness in case emergency help is delayed. Click here to find a class near your local Red Cross chapter.

Red Cross Apps People can be ready for whatever comes their way by downloading the free Red Cross apps for mobile devices which not only help people during emergencies, but offer help creating their emergency plan. The apps give people vital information to use during emergencies, even if they can’t connect to the internet. The apps can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross.

Happy National Preparedness Month!

Dollhouses Spark Conversation about Fire Safety

Armed with screwdrivers and one page of instructions, Red Cross volunteers build dollhouses for fire safety instruction, July 31, 2013.
Armed with screwdrivers and one page of instructions, Red Cross volunteers build dollhouses for fire safety instruction, July 2013.

Upon walking into the Preparedness office at the Red Cross in Minneapolis late last July, you may have thought you had instead stepped into a preschool playroom.  You were, in fact, in the correct place. The confusion was caused by 10 pastel colored dollhouses, all of which include over 50 pieces of furniture and two dolls.  These dollhouses, built by Red Cross volunteers, and will be used throughout the region to teach families, especially children, about fire safety.

A new dollhouse was first used during National Night Out in Maple Grove, Minnesota.  At this event it was clear the dollhouse was a hit.  Children loved them. And conversations about what to do during a fire started easily with the dollhouse prompt.  Volunteers engaged both children and adults when they asked, “Do you have a plan if there’s a fire in your home?”

A Red Cross volunteer sparks the conversation about fire safety using a new dollhouse, Maple Grove, Minnesota, 2013.
A Red Cross volunteer sparks the conversation about fire safety using a new dollhouse, Maple Grove, Minnesota, July 2013.

The dollhouse project was adopted from our Safety Mobile Program. The next step for the dollhouses will be distribution around the Northern Minnesota Region, especially during October, fire safety month, when the dollhouses will be present at fire department open houses.   

If you’d like to help teach others about fire safety or would like a dollhouse to come to your city’s fire department open house, you can call the Red Cross at 612-871-7676. You can also download our First Aid mobile app with helpful information about preparing for home fires and other emergencies.

Story and photos by:  Ellie Decker, Preparedness Intern, American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region

Children, too, are grateful for Red Cross

Clear Springs Elementary Students with their well earned donations.
Clear Springs Elementary Students with their well earned donations.

While the American Red Cross has hundreds of people donating money or blood every day, some of the Northern Minnesota Region’s most enthusiastic donors, as well as the cutest, are children.

Within the past year our region has received generous donations and letters of encouragement from several elementary schools across the state of Minnesota. Recent contributors have included children from Clear Springs Elementary, Lake Country Elementary, Oxbow Creek Elementary, and Richardson Elementary.

Most of these donations were given to support victims of the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado which occurred on May 20, 2013. Students and staff of Richardson Elementary School from St. Paul, Minnesota, raised an impressive $1,021.95 specifically for Oklahoma tornado relief efforts.

Four Lake Country Elementary students raised money for the Red Cross.
Four Lake Country Elementary students raised money for American Red Cross Disaster Relief.

Not only has our region received various donations, we have also received letters of encouragement from students as well. Clarissa, from Oxbow Creek Elementary of Champlin, Minnesota, sent a wonderful letter expressing her gratitude for all of the American Red Cross’s hard work, “The United States are very grateful for the American Red Cross.”

The support of children like Clarissa brings hope for a new generation of Americans who are learning to help each other in times of crisis. The American Red Cross would not be able to do what it does without the continuing support of the community around it.

Story by Lia Capaldini, Communications Intern, American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region

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