“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.

“That” season is here

Red Cross flooding clean-up kits in Minneapolis. Photo by Jill Hallonquist.

It’s officially “that” season as we unload Flood Clean-up Kits at the Minneapolis Red Cross office. Those pictured above will head to Carver and Scott Counties. More will go to Ramsey County and other places soon. Many more will stay here in our warehouse for distribution to individuals and our partners who will be helping others during this spring flood season.

For example, we partnered with Scott County Emergency Management to open a shelter for people who evacuated their homes in a community in Jordan.  Local Red Cross volunteers arrived quickly to set up cots and other shelter necessities. We’ll continue to be there until the need passes.

Red Cross volunteers at the shelter for flooding evacuees in Jordan, Minnesota, March 15, 2019. Photo provided by Jennifer P.

This is going to be a huge response not only in Minnesota, but also in many parts of the country. To those fighting their own basement flood fight, we wish you strength and at least a little sleep here and there. We’re all in this together in whatever way we can help!

By Jill Hallonquist, Disaster Program Manager, Twin Cities Area of the American Red Cross Minnesota Region. Click here for flood prep and response safety tips and resources. For relief assistance related to this disaster please call (612) 871-7176. 

Were you a Flood Baby?

By Lori Peterson/American Red Cross

Lori Peterson (far right), and other Red Cross responders. Photo provided courtesy of Ms. Peterson.
Lori Peterson (far right), and other Red Cross workers. Photo provided courtesy of Ms. Peterson.

I call myself a flood baby. I was born on April 28 during the height of the great flood of 1965. In my scrapbook, I have collected pictures of the St Croix River reaching Highway 95 in downtown Stillwater, Minnesota. Every year, I enjoy driving past Boom Site park, seeing how high or low the river is in the spring. Are the islands showing yet? How do the trees survive each year covered in water for so long? (I am sure there is a scientific reason for all of this, but science was not my best subject in school.)

Because of the river and its mighty strength, I learned to swim at a young age. My mother never learned to swim so this was a big concern living so close to the river. We learned at a very young age to respect the river. It is constantly changing each year from the snowfall, the many creeks that flow into it and the number of trees that float down during the annual thaw. (My great, great grandfather was one of the loggers that hauled lumber down the river many years ago. I bet that he knew how to swim!) When I was five, my mother signed me up for Learn to Swim classes, which was my first experience with the American Red Cross. My siblings and I continued to take swimming lessons until we passed the test to tread with our clothes and shoes on while blowing up our long sleeved shirt to serve as a life preserver.

The Stillwater Lift Bridge during the 1965 flood. Image provided courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society.
The Stillwater Lift Bridge during the 1965 flood. Image provided courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society (http://wchsmn.org/).

The St. Croix Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross also has helped friends and families during fires and other natural disasters throughout the St. Croix Valley in Minnesota and across the river in Wisconsin. Most often trained Red Cross volunteers are those who perform these mini miracles of comfort and care quietly in the background. We often don’t hear of these amazing, local humanitarians, but they are out there assisting our communities everyday.

So, are you a flood baby, too? Were you born during the great flood of 1965? How did the flood affect your family in 1965, 1967, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s? If you grew up in the St. Croix Valley area, enjoying the scenic views, camping on one of the islands, watching the ice come off the river in the spring, fishing in the river with your grandfather or learning to swim because of the river’s strong current, then it’s likely that the American Red Cross touched you or a family member along the way.

I challenge you and other flood babies born throughout the years to respect our beloved river and honor the Red Cross this spring by supporting Evening in Red, our annual fundraiser supporting local programs and services.

Will you join me April 25, 2014, in honor the community we have been so blessed to live in? If so, click here to purchase tickets online. I would love to see you there!

When Disaster Hits, You Know the Feeling

Guest blog post by Jim Rettew, American Red Cross Volunteer

You know the feeling…when you see the devastation on TV, you can’t help yourself from volunteering to do something. All disasters are hard, but when it’s your former hometown, there’s even a greater sense of urgency. When I saw the flooding in Boulder, Colorado, I was on a plane in hours, deploying to the relief operation. It was still raining when I got there.

For me, responding to the flooding disaster was especially important: before moving to Minnesota in 2011, Boulder was my hometown for 15 years. It’s considered to be less disaster-prone than most places, but for the last three years, it’s been under fire (and under water). Historic wildfires have ripped through Boulder County each year since 2010. When Boulder seemed to dodge the wildfire season this year, it was hit with a 500 year flood.

Jim Rettew (r), and Weather Channel journalists, including Jim Cantore (c), during the flood relief response in Boulder, Colorado, September, 2013. Submitted photo.
Jim Rettew (r), and Weather Channel journalists, including Jim Cantore (c), during the flood response in Boulder, CO, September 2013. Submitted photo.

As part of the American Red Cross “APAT” (Advanced Public Affairs Team), I’m charged with telling the Red Cross story to the national media. Yes, I get to meet some cool people like Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel, but let’s remember, a 7AM live, television interview east coast time. is 5AM mountain time, and that wake-up call is usually preceded by a 1AM radio interview in the Middle East. My sleeping pattern resembled that of a parent with a newborn baby.

Since my team was in the field all day, we were often the eyes and ears of the operation and the front line of problem solvers. When someone in need sees the Red Cross on my shirt, I can’t tell them, “sorry ma’am, I only talk to the press.” I solve their problem, or find someone who can. As a result, I was on a first name basis with everyone from the staff at the Boulder YMCA, which served as our primary shelter, to the state’s Emergency Operation Center folks.

What struck me on this disaster relief operation was seeing so many familiar faces in our shelter, people who had stayed with us during the previous year’s wildfires and now were chased out of their homes by the flood. I was in awe of their resiliency. Can you imagine – losing your house in a wildfire, finally moving back into a permanent home, only to see that one washed away in a flood? Yet those same folks put on smiles and showed fortitude to rebuild…again.

I loved returning to Boulder, but I hated the circumstances. It was like watching a good friend get beat up. My saving grace was that I could return with a big Red Cross on my back, empowered to deliver hope, comfort and restitution to a community that I love.

Click here to learn more about the American Red Cross and how you can help. Click here for more stories and updates about the Red Cross response in Colorado. Thanks Jim!

Every Donation Counts

Ruby Born, 6, held a lemonade stand and raised money for Red Cross disaster relief. Photo credit: Nancy Rogers/American Red Cross

When Ruby Born, 6, came to the Red Cross office in Duluth, Minnesota, after the flash flooding, she had a sparkly yellow skirt, a beautiful smile, and a plastic bag filled with cash for the American Red Cross disaster relief operation helping affected families. “We sold lemonade,” she told the Red Cross.

Ruby held a two-day lemonade stand in her Superior, Wisconsin, neighborhood (just across a bridge from Duluth), selling an estimated 60 cups of lemonade.  Her parents Jeanne and Hector matched Ruby’s $150 in sales. And Enbridge Energy in Superior matched their combined gift for a total contribution of $600.00.

Red Cross disaster relief workers distribute clean up supplies in flood damaged Willow River, MN. Photo credit: Judy Hanne-Gonzalez/American Red Cross

The Red Cross continues to respond to flash flooding that resulted after a storm dumped more than 9 inches of rain across northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, causing widespread damage and displacing hundreds of people. The Red Cross supported around 200 people in shelters.  Red Cross disaster relief workers conducted damage assessment across several counties in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Other Red Cross workers are still on the ground distributing water, food, and cleaning supplies to people in the most impacted areas.

Asked why she raised the money, Ruby’s mom said the family talked together about the flood and discussed ways to help.  Ruby said, “I want to give the money to the Red Cross.”

Red Cross disaster relief workers provide food from mobile trucks, Fond du Lac, Minnesota. Photo credit: Judy Hanne-Gonzalez/American Red Cross.

Thank you Ruby, and to everyone, for supporting the American Red Cross and helping fulfill our mission to reduce human suffering in the face of emergencies.

Every dollar counts, including those made from selling lemonade. If you would like to help people affected by the Northland flooding and other disasters here and around the world, you can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to your local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross P.O. Box 37423, Washington, DC 20013.

Out processed and headed home

Our Red Cross chapter mobile feeding on the road in Pennsylvania after the flooding. Photo credit: Rick Campion/American Red Cross

(from Rick and Karen Campion, Red Cross Emergency Services Volunteers based in Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Today is day 16 of our Red Cross deployment to the Pennsylvania flood response and we’re on our way home to Minneapolis.  This morning we cleared the final mobile feeding truck inspection and out-processing without a hitch.

This Red Cross national disaster response was well organized with a full complement of volunteers covering nearly 12,000 sq. miles of flood ravaged territory. Rick and I had a mobile feeding route in some of the hardest hit areas right along the banks of the Susquehanna River. We went from house to house to deliver meals.  Many of the recipients said we were the first disaster relief people they had seen.
It was difficult to not get teary eyed when they expressed their sincere

We have traveled nearly 4000 miles since we left home on 9/11 and today was
a quiet ride allowing us time to reflect on our Pennsylvania experience.  It’s easy to
be grateful for your blessings when you see the huge loss of so many.

We plan to be home this week and will see many of you soon.

Take care,
Karen and Rick

A field report from Pennsylvania following the flood


One destroyed house along the route where Red Cross volunteers are providing meals and snacks following the Pennsylvania flooding. Photo credit: Rick Campion/American Red Cross

It’s now day 11 in our Pennsylvania flood deployment with the Red Cross and we’ve settled into a regular mobile feeding route in the mobile feeding truck (ERV).  We travel about 2 hours to get to our first scheduled stop and then serve between 100-150 meals.  Our route follows the river and some of the homes that were very close to the river bank (see pic).  We recognize our “regulars” and it’s fun to give and get hugs from people who really appreciate the help that the Red Cross provides.  Ah, this our reward.

When people see “Minneapolis, MN” on the side of our truck, they’re always surprised and grateful at how far we’ve traveled to serve them.

The Red Cross disaster relief effort in Pennsylvania has served more than 221,000 meals/snacks and it is now down to 4 open shelters.  We can see that people are slowly getting back on their feet.  Many of the original shelters were opened in schools and it causes some logistical problems with the school’s now regularly scheduled activities.  So after 3 weeks, those affected by the floods are encouraged to find alternate housing arrangements.

We expect to be released from the operation next week and look forward to coming home.

Take care and God bless,
Rick and Karen

Red Cross TC asks: Is the Red Cross ready if it floods?

Jill, our director of emergency services, answers:

A Red Cross volunteer hands out snacks during the flood preparations in Hastings, Minnesota. Photo credit: Andrea Bredow/American Red Cross

We have shelters ready to open their doors for us in the Twin Cities metro area if flooding displaces people from their homes.  We have clean-up kits containing mops, brooms, cleaning supplies, gloves, and other necessities, ready to hand to people who are cleaning up their homes.  We have thousands (literally!) of snacks and bottles of water in our garage, for us and other chapters around the state to share from mobile feeding trucks (ERVs) or at shelters.  We have lots of trained and willing volunteers, many who have stepped forward and have added to their training in recent months so their skills are fresh.  Many, many volunteers have stepped forward to help in all of these efforts so that we’re more ready to quickly help people…whether it floods or not!  So my answer is a resounding, “yes!”

Red Cross TC: Thank you!! We suspected this was the case, but wanted to ask anyway, being the curious types that we are!!

Red Cross “mass care” means food + drink

The Red Cross has served thousands of meals to people working to hold back the rising Red River waters. Right now, Mark Doble, a Red Cross volunteer from the Twin Cities, is up north managing mass care (aka watering and feeding) for this disaster operation.

Mark reports: “In Fargo, we are getting ready to start sandbagging operations. What I mean is that we are going to start feeding people as all of the sand bags that have been pre-made are now being put around the homes. It’s been great here and the Red Cross Minn-Kota Chapter has been wonderful. I’m looking forward to getting home.”

Our mass care man, Mark Doble, up north. Photo credit: Tammie Pech/American Red Cross

Overwhelming Response Includes the Red Cross

Story and photos by Andrea Bredow, Red Cross Volunteer

Scott Webber & Mary Ellen Fox, volunteers on the sand bagging line in Hastings, Minnesota. Photo credit: Andrea Bredow/American Red Cross

It was a chilly 17 degrees on Saturday morning, but the cold spring air and piles of snow did not stop the Hastings, Minnesota, community from banding together to fight the looming Mississippi River waters.

An estimated 700 volunteers spent Saturday sandbagging homes along the river.  The American Red Cross Twin Cities Chapter volunteers were there as well. The Red Cross feeding vehicle, also know as the ERV, was on hand to provide hot beverages and snacks to keep volunteers warm and energized.

Red Cross volunteers served coffee, hot chocolate, & snacks to people sand bagging in Hastings, Minnesota. Photo credit: Andrea Bredow/American Red Cross

The call for volunteers went out early in the week and hundreds responded with shovel in hand.  Family’s worked filling bags, youth groups stood in the “bucket line” delivering sandbags to homes and Scott Webber even showed up on his birthday to help.

“This is what the city of Hastings does. We help each other,” said Webber.

Webber and a hundred other volunteers were sent to surround Lloyd Fanum’s river side home with sandbags.  Fanum has lived on the river for 30 years and is always overwhelmed by the communities outpouring of help.

“The boys and girls giving their weekend to help me is overwhelming!  I can’t thank them enough,” said Fanum.

Homeowner Lloyd Fanum is interviewed about the outpouring of help to save his home from the impending flood. Photo credit: Andrea Bredow/American Red Cross

The army of volunteers turned out 20,000 sandbags in only four hours!

“When the neighbors are in trouble, we are ready to reach out and help,” said Patrick Walker, one of the sand bagging organizers.

Walker says they are ready to gear up the sandbagging operation at any time.  If more homes along the river need help, the Hastings community will be there.

Click here to learn more about Red Cross services and opportunities.

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