Help the Red Cross and the Red Cross Helps You

For Liz, not working for the Red Cross is like not breathing. Wherever she goes, she wants to know: “Où est la Croix Rouge?”… “Where is the Red Cross?”

Let’s start with a war in east Africa in the 1990s. We know this war that happened in Rwanda and how people fled to nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“Help the Red Cross and the Red Cross helps you,” says Liz, who started with the Red Cross in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “I am going to help the Red Cross until my death.” Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Some know this war better than others. Among them is Liz, a former Red Cross nurse who lived in a DRC border town with Rwanda.

“We gave food to refugees, put up tents, gave medical care, sent messages to families,” says Liz.

Liz responded for four years. As a Red Cross nurse, she tended to the war wounded, or in French “les blessés de guerre.” She helped until it was time to leave.

“Soldiers came and they tried to recruit my sons for the war,” she says.

She fled when her family left for Zambia and became a refugee. Even so, she turned to the Red Cross and started helping others.

“We helped friends and when others arrived from the Congo. We helped them with food, blankets, dishes, and pots. We approached them, to help them.”

Then she flees again. This time to South Africa where her passion for the Red Cross was put aside for getting food and money to support her children.

“Life there was hard. I could not work for the Red Cross in South Africa,” explains Liz.

Jump ahead several years to 2009 when she lands in the United States. One day while riding a bus in Minneapolis, she exits at a wrong (or perhaps a right) bus stop. That’s when she saw the Red Cross flag flying near the Mississippi River.

Dozens of manikin face masks need cleaning everyday for the next CPR + First Aid training classes. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

“I went there and I spoke to someone who asked me ‘what do you do?’ I told them and they said I will find a place for you.”

We could in this brief story dwell on the horror and trauma of war, but we will not. Instead, let’s turn to Liz and what inspires her to look for and serve with the Red Cross.

“The Red Cross helps me. It helps me to help people, to reduce suffering, to rescue people. They help me everywhere, not just in the Congo. They help people even back in the forest, sharing information. They go deep in the forest, even by foot, to help people.”

Like Red Cross people around the world, Liz serves without boundaries. In her country, she says, there’s a Red Cross song: “Night or day, blood or wound, always we serve.”

For Liz, this means serving for a lifetime, “I am going to help the Red Cross until my death.”

Liz is currently serving as a Red Cross volunteer cleaning manikins used in health and safety training classes such as CPR and First Aid for the American Red Cross Twin Cities Area Chapter in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.

Story, photo, & video credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Many hands made Minneapolis tornado clean-up day possible

Paul Vanderheiden is among more than 340 Red Cross disaster relief workers responding to the May 22 tornado in Minneapolis. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

When volunteers arrived for their shifts during the Minneapolis tornado clean-up day on June 4, a Habitat for Humanity volunteer likely received them, a Salvation Army worker probably handed them a meal, and American Red Cross responder gave them bandage packs, gloves, and other useful field supplies such as hand sanitizer and sunscreen.

Once in the disaster area, workers might have made contact with Red Cross mobile feeding trucks supporting the workers on what felt like the first day of summer.

“We’re out here to make sure these folks have enough water and snacks in all this heat,” said Paul Vanderheiden, a Red Cross volunteer from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Parking his van near a group of workers, Paul offered them advice. “Make sure you get some salt. Want some chips with that?”

Red Cross disaster relief worker Chris Thomsen surveys the unloading of water during the Minneapolis tornado clean up day on June 4. Photo credit: Bill Fitler/American Red Cross

Paul and fellow volunteer Chris Thomsen had been driving their mobile feeding vehicle around these neighborhoods every day since they had arrived the previous Saturday.

“Back home I’m a surgical nurse,” said Chris. “This is the first time I’ve worked outside the chapter on a disaster. We’ve been out here long enough so I’m starting to know folks, and I’ve been so touched by some of the stories I’ve heard.”

Paul and Chris are among more than 340 Red Cross workers, from as far away as California and Connecticut, helping people affected by the Minneapolis tornado.

To date, Red Cross disaster relief workers have distributed more than 145,000 meals and snacks to affected families and clean-up crews responding to this tornado disaster.

(Reporting by Bill Fitler, Red Cross volunteer)

Personal strength inspires Red Cross disaster responder

Red Cross disaster relief worker Jacob Tolle (l) and Daniel Schultz (r) are meeting one-on-one with families affected by the May 22 tornado in Minneapolis. Photo credit: Jason Viana/American Red Cross

Volunteers have come from many Red Cross chapters across the country to help the north Minneapolis residents recover from the devastating tornado that swept through town on May 22.

Take Jacob Tolle, 20, a caseworker for the Red Cross. Here from Cinncinati, Ohio, he has been trained for Red Cross disaster relief deployment for only five months.

“I want to give my attention to the families in need,” says Jacob.

His inspiration is one of amazing strength. At the age of 16 Jacob decided to take part in a demolition derby. The night before the derby Jacob’s stepfather told him he was nervous and thought participating in the derby was a bad idea. Despite what his father told him, Jacob took the risk.

“Not more than ten minutes into the derby my car started on fire and the whole car shot into flames while I was trapped inside with my seat belt on,” Jacob explains.

He was rescued from the burning car and rushed to Adams County Hospital where he was given multiple numbing medications.  From there he was sent Shriners Hospital Burn Center.

“From day one of treatment, the doctors told me that I would be unable to walk for at least 6 months,” says Jacob.

With perseverance on his side, Jacob walked with a gait belt support within 3 days of his recovery treatment. A week later he walked on his own to check-up at the hospital.

Jacob has used his accident as a way to inspire others to never give up.

“That’s why I volunteer for the Red Cross, because of the devastation of someone telling you that you won’t walk,” say Jacob.

Jacob arrived in Minneapolis on May 27, just a few days after the tornado,and he plans to stay and help until things settle down.

(Reporting by Nicole Baier, Red Cross volunteer)

Red Cross shelter night shift suits former theater manager

Red Cross shelter night manager Sharon Collin says that she prefers volunteering during the night shift because "it's when you get to know the people and talk through the day." Sharon and McKai have a nightly chat. Photo credit: Amanda Mark/American Red Cross

Red Cross volunteer Sharon Collin is a natural organizer. A former movie theater manager, accountant and school teacher, she’s at ease while directing the flow of traffic that comes through the North Commons Recreation Center where the Red Cross shelter is housed.

Sharon is the night manager at this Red Cross shelter where 43 residents are attempting to rebuild their lives after the May 22 tornado destroyed blocks of North Minneapolis. One week into working at this shelter and Sharon has her routine down.

“I’m calling it organized disorder,” she says. “People are welcomed to come and go as they like as we try to create normalcy in the abnormal.”

Nearly all at once, Sharon sends someone to the snack room, finds a caseworker for another shelter resident, and hugs three kids in between the two tasks, promising one that she’ll tuck her in later.

“We have a lights out time,” she explained. “But one man works nights. Other people are night owls. I offer to fix snacks and hot meals during the night as people come through.”

Red Cross shelter night manager Sharon Collin shares a quiet moment with Willtin, 4. Photo credit: Amanda Mark/American Red Cross

While Sharon has responsibilities and organizational tasks to ensure that the shelter runs smoothly, she says she spends most of her time listening.

“No one wants to be here,” she said. “I listen to where they’re at, answer Red Cross questions, and match them up with services so they can move forward.”

Sharon travelled from Cumberland Foreside, Maine, to be the shelter night manager. She’s volunteered for the Red Cross in various ways for the past 6 years: working on disaster teams, supporting call centers and filling in any way she can, but her favorite assignment is working at shelters.

“People often enter a shelter at their lowest point. Red Cross volunteers enter a shelter, fresh with adrenaline and ready to help. Sometimes that’s really what people need. Someone to support them and provide the energy they don’t have.”

(Reporting and photos by Amanda Mark, Red Cross Volunteer)

Red Cross Strata

Red Cross disaster responder, Ann Layton, offers a slice of her homemade "strata," an Italian casserole she made from leftover bread slices at the Red Cross tornado response headquarters in Minneapolis. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Red Cross disaster response volunteers are extraordinary in many ways, but only a few would turn unused slices of bread into something yummy for dozens of fellow responders who’ve been working for days helping hundreds of families rebuild their lives after the May 22 tornado in Minneapolis.

Ann Layton, a Red Cross volunteer, saw the bread on her way out the disaster operation doors last night and brought the bread back this morning all done up as “strata,” an Italian casserole that’s darn comforting.

“The bread was dry and I needed to add more milk,” said Ann, who made three variations of the dish, which you assemble and refrigerate before baking and serving.

We think your strata dish is perfect… and we thank you’re extra great, Ann, for taking time to provide additional comfort for Red Cross disaster responders who are working hard helping others recover from this awful disaster.

Preparedness Has Made the Difference

Joan Egge's family is safe from the Red River’s high waters because of preparedness measures, such as temporary clay dikes. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

By Lynette Nyman, American Red Cross

To appreciate the rising of the Red River, you have to see it. Water appears to spread from horizon to horizon across this northern prairie landscape.

With waters reaching nearly 40 feet in some areas, what would have been a major crisis in past years is mostly a threat under control because of preparation.

For example, clay dikes and sump pumps are protecting many homes, including one in Oakport Township north of Moorhead, Minnesota, where Joan Egge has lived for eighteen years.

“Because we’ve been preparing and preparing you’d kind of hate it if didn’t flood,” says Egge.

Red Cross vigilance remains high as the Red River’s high waters continue to move north and threaten rural communities. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Sandbagging started in early February. Since then the Red Cross has providing more than 150,000 beverages and meals to community volunteers and other responders who have worked to hold back the water both day and night.

“Preparedness is in many ways the greatest piece of what the Red Cross does,” says Tom Tezel, a Red Cross emergency services director leading the response on the ground.

Every disaster is different, but in general the Red Cross responds when the disaster is done, such as when a tornado has swept through a town or an earthquake has struck.

Since early February, Tom Tezel has been leading the Red Cross disaster response to the 2011 Red River flood. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Here, the Red Cross response started during the preparedness phase before the waters started to rise.

“Our mission includes preparedness,” says Tezel. “We can’t wait for disaster.”

Red Cross disaster responders continue to watch and respond, especially as the high water flows north into largely rural areas, cutting off families from essential resources.

Egge, whose family and dog Henry are safe only yards from the Red River, agrees that preparedness is very important. She’s grateful for the help her community has received.

“I know the Red Cross does a wonderful job,” says Egge. “The people here are true heroes.”

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