As part of our Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) activities, we’re proud to celebrate national Military Appreciation Month with service members, veterans and their families.
The American Red Cross has a long history of serving the U.S. military going back to the Civil War. Our founder, Clara Barton, also known as, “the angel of the battlefield,” participated in 16 separate battles during the war.
This proud service to our Armed Forces continues today in our region:
In April 2022, the Minnesota and Dakotas Region assisted with 56 emergency communications requests. The Red Cross is federally chartered to handle all emergency communications to our active-duty forces.
In April, we participated in deployment events where 54 military members and their families received much needed resiliency training. The Red Cross provides much needed resiliency training to deploying units and their families.
We also follow up with family members of deployed service members. In April, for example, 240 critical community service cases were completed.
These services happen only with the outstanding efforts of our SAF volunteers. We’d like to share our profound thanks to them for their generosity of time, kindness and expertise. You’re the best!
This May, Red Cross youth volunteers delivered messages of gratitude and Girl Scout cookies at Veterans Affairs clinics in Hibbing, MN and Superior, WI and to VA homes in Silver Bay and Fergus Falls. Photo credit: Dan Williams/American Red Cross
Military veterans have a critical role in their local communities, often times continuing to serve in both small and large ways.
Take the example of David Schoeneck who uses skills he learned early in his career to continue serving through the American Red Cross. In September 1964, while a freshman in college, he began working as a reporter and photographer for his hometown newspaper – the New Ulm Daily Journal in southern Minnesota. Four and a half years later, after graduating from Minnesota State University in Mankato, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
He served a tour of duty with the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, first as a combat correspondent and later as editor of the Division’s weekly newspaper, The Ivy Leaf. He returned to the U.S. and was discharged in July 1970.
Back in civilian life, Schoeneck worked in public relations and communications as a manager and director for a number of Minnesota-based corporations. Upon retirement in 2002, he was approached by a long-time friend, David Therkelsen, who was serving as executive director of the Red Cross St. Paul Chapter.
“David explained to me that the Red Cross had very important public affairs activity during disasters, as well as on-going public affairs needs,” Schoeneck said. “I had been actively involved in community affairs as part of my work, and working with the Red Cross very much appealed to me.”
Since joining the Red Cross 20 years ago, Schoeneck has been involved in local public affairs responses, supporting countless home and apartment fires, floods in various parts of Minnesota, four tornado responses in the state and six national deployments. He has worked as a Red Cross public affairs service associate, supervisor or manager for Hurricanes Irene, Sandy, Mathew, Harvey and Florence, as well as during the eastern Washington state wildfires.
In 2015, Schoeneck was invited to join the Red Cross National Advanced Public Affairs Team (APAT). More recently, he was selected to join the Red Cross North Central Division’s Disaster Resource Management Team (DRMT), which provides qualified and experienced management teams to supplement local resources when larger scale disasters occur.
“The fundamental principles of the Red Cross – humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality – appealed to me,” Schoeneck said. “It fit very well with my belief that everyone needs to give back to the community and serve others. Working with the Red Cross also allows me to use the skills I have developed over many years in a very positive way.”
“The Red Cross is an amazing organization. It aids victims of home fires and other smaller disasters on a local level, but also comes together when needed to answer the call for large scale disasters such as Hurricanes Florence and Michael,” Schoeneck noted. “In addition to disaster services, the Red Cross has a long-standing role in providing service to our Armed Forces.”
“I have met and been privileged to work with wonderful people from all over the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Canada who, as part of the Red Cross, respond to disasters. Their spirit of service and dedication is very inspiring. Many of the Red Cross volunteers I have met are also veterans who continue to serve their country and community, long after their active military duty ended.”
A version of this story originally was published on the Red Cross Chat. To learn more about Red Cross volunteer opportunities, click here.
Crucial role helps active duty military and their families
The American Red Cross alleviates human suffering in several different capacities, but people may not know that the Red Cross is the only authorized organization to verify and relay emergency messages to activated service members through our Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Hero Care Network.
“When the Red Cross is alerted of a family emergency, we verify the information and contact the service member’s command within a matter of hours so they can get home as soon as possible,” says Alex Smith, who directs our SAF program in Minnesota.
Impact Fact Each year the American Red Cross provides more than 422,000 services to service members, veterans and their families.
The Red Cross in Minnesota is seeking 5 volunteers to do SAF casework so that our military members can be alerted when there is a family emergency. SAF caseworkers have three main responsibilities, which can be done remotely or at the office (volunteers can choose). The time commitment is about 3 hours per week.
1. Briefing families and verifying contact card information. This step is an effort to get to know the family after military enrollment so that if the family reaches out with a family emergency in the future, it won’t be their first time speaking with us. This is also an opportunity to explain what the family should do in case of an emergency that necessitates contacting their service member.
2. Family follow-up. This is what Red Cross does after facilitating contact when an emergency has occurred. We ask how they are doing and if there is anything else they need.
3. Referral services. Caseworkers can provide referral and information to organizations that provide assistance resources for emergency needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter, and referrals to counseling services.
For more than 100 years, the Red Cross in Minnesota has provided comfort and support to members of the U.S. military and we continue to serve, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“We have a huge need,” says Sean Lundy, a Red Cross volunteer recruitment specialist in Minnesota. “Volunteers are more than 90 percent of our workforce. They have a crucial role in supporting our service members at home and abroad. “
Impact Fact Last year Minnesota Red Cross volunteers supported 2,099 emergency communications and critical community cases.
Ideal candidates are supporters of the military with a desire to give back. Start your journey by creating a Red Cross volunteer ID here. For any questions about the role, send an email to our Volunteer Services team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Post by Caroline Nelson for the American Red Cross
Starting this August and continuing through fall, the Minnesota Red Cross will be among many organizations providing services for military veterans at Stand Down events. Below, we explain.
What is a Stand Down?
In times of war, exhausted combat units, requiring time to rest and recover, were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety. At secure base camp areas, troops were able to take care of personal hygiene, get clean uniforms, enjoy warm meals, receive medical and dental care, mail and receive letters, and enjoy the camaraderie of friends in a safe environment. Stand Down afforded battle-weary soldiers the opportunity to renew their spirit, health and overall sense of well-being.
Today, Stand Down refers to a grassroots, community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 200,000 homeless veterans “combat” life on the streets. Homeless veterans are brought together in a single location and are provided access to the community resources needed to begin addressing their individual problems and rebuilding their lives. A Stand Down also affords the same respite and renewal to all veterans in an atmosphere conducive to change and recovery.
What happens at a Stand Down?
Hundreds of homeless and at-risk veterans are provided with a broad range of necessities including food, clothing, medical, legal and mental health assistance, job counseling and referral, and most importantly, companionship and camaraderie. It is a time for the community to connect with the homeless veteran population and address this crisis that affects each and every town, city and state in this country. The hand up, not a handout philosophy of Stand Down is carried out through the work of hundreds of volunteers and organizations throughout the nation.
Who organizes and delivers theses services?
Hundreds of caring volunteers and professionals give of their time and expertise to address the unique needs of homeless veterans. Most Minnesota Stand Downs are organized by Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MAC-V), a non-profit focused on ending veteran homelessness in our state.
What does the Red Cross do at Stand Downs?
The Minnesota Red Cross, led by the Service to the Armed Forces team, comprised mostly of volunteers, has a booth at every Stand Down. We provide comfort kits containing items, such as soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, comb, and other personal hygiene items. Many of these kits are generously donated to us by supportive members of our community. We might also provide other support items, such as socks, emergency blankets, and first aid kits. We also help to connect veterans to other resources the Red Cross and our community partner’s provide.
Where are the Minnesota Stand Downs held?
This year’s upcoming Minnesota Stand Downs are taking place at the following locations:
Minneapolis: Target Field, Aug. 16
International Falls: Backus Community Center, Aug. 22
Duluth: Bayfront Festival Park, Aug. 23
Bemidji: National Guard Armory, Sept. 25
Grand Rapids: IRA Civic Center, Sept. 26
St. Cloud: River’s Edge Convention Center, Oct. 18
Mankato: Civic Center, Oct. 26
Want to Learn More?
If you have any questions or would like to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer supporting service members, feel free to contact Alex Smith at email@example.com — author of this post. Thanks Alex!
Click here to learn more about our history providing relief to the wounded during times of war. And watch the video below.
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!
During this time of year, Red Cross volunteers in Northern Minnesota are particularly busy supporting Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MAC-V) ‘Stand Down’ events, collecting and distributing Holiday Mail for Heroes cards for local military members and veterans, and participating in Veterans Day events. These activities help fulfill our Service to the Armed Forces, which is a core service that the American Red Cross delivers. And, is always an honor to provide.
“It felt like a scoop of ice cream”
At the Veteran Stand Down event in August in Virginia, MN, one of our newest volunteers, Wendy Frederickson, and an experienced disaster relief volunteer, Lisa Kvas, participated in the event as their first time delivering Red Cross services to military members and veterans. Wendy shared that the best part of participating in Red Cross work with veterans was the privilege to meet a Vietnam War veteran named Richard Krisean, who had never attended a veteran-focused event since returning from Vietnam.
Richard was a Radar Intercept Officer with the Marines in Vietnam and flew in 192 combat missions. Wendy shared that Richard’s experience in returning from Vietnam was not positive at all and that Richard was shocked at the depth and breadth of the services that were made available at the event for veterans.
Richard shared his point of view: “What I took from going to the Veteran’s Stand Down in Virginia was the openness of all of the organizations, but the Red Cross particularly was so open and helped Veterans break down the barriers of sharing their experiences – in my case in Vietnam. The Red Cross volunteers Wendy and Lisa were just so open and wanted to know your story, and there were no walls and no barriers, they were just there to help the veterans. That made me a little emotional, which I usually don’t get in front of other people.”
When Richard was asked about his experience with the Red Cross while he was serving in Vietnam, Richard said: “When I was on a medivac flight back from Vietnam, it was so nice to see people like that. They really cared about me when they were giving me coffee or donuts, and after being shot at in Vietnam and everything else that was going on – it felt like a big scoop of ice cream, that is how I felt.”
Wendy said that when she was sitting down with Richard for lunch that she told him that “Something is telling my heart that you are the reason I am here today.” Richard said that he felt the same way. Lisa Kvas added, “Meeting Richard really struck home to me as to how proud that we really are of all of them. Showing that, and sharing that, was really much more important than the blanket that we handed them. That is what has the impact.” When Lisa was asked about what it might take for a volunteer to be able to make a difference with our Service to the Armed Forces, she shared that it is very similar to the qualities that make a good disaster volunteer – compassion and hope.
This year, we had the added resource of new blankets to give out to the veterans attending the Stand Down events in Virginia, Duluth, Grand Rapids, and Bemidji though a partnership with the Duluth Fire Department. Through a national charity, we were able to give out 1,000 blankets to both veterans at these events, as well as to victims of disaster across our Northern Minnesota Chapter area.
80% of success is ‘showing up’
Our take is that that 80% of success is ‘showing up.’ This means two of the most important pieces of the work we do with our military service members and veterans at the Northern Minnesota Chapter are 1) showing up; and 2) not waiting for our military heroes to raise a hand for help. By making a commitment to being at events that support our military units and veterans, it gives us the opportunity to make a difference when it is needed.
Though programs like Holiday Mail for Heroes, we distribute bundles of holiday cards written by local community members to all of the members of the units we support locally; as well as to all of the veterans living in nursing homes that we supply cards to. The reason is that on any given day it is impossible to identify exactly who would benefit from getting the bundle of cards thanking them for their service and wishing them a great holiday season. By giving the cards to everyone, we are letting our local communities share their appreciation of the commitment our veterans have made. This year we expect to distribute over 16,000 cards.
On Veterans Day, we will participate in four events happening in the Duluth area. We will support the Veterans Day parade in downtown Duluth by providing donuts, coffee and hot chocolate for our veterans who will be marching in the parade. We also have card-signing events going on at Bent Paddle Brewing and the College of St. Scholastica hockey game. Lastly, at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) hockey game, the UMD Greek Life Club will be supporting a card-signing table, and the UMD Athletic Department will recognize our Northern Minnesota Chapter Board Chair (and retired Colonel from the MN Air National Guard) Penny Dieryck, as well as Richard Krsiean, the veteran we met in Virginia, for their service to our nation.
If you are a veteran, please accept our sincerest thanks for your service to our country. If you would like to get involved with the work of Red Cross Service to Armed Forces, reach out to your local Red Cross chapter to find out how you can help.
Story by Lanet Hane – American Red Cross Volunteer
American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program is an annual program focused on bringing a little more holiday thanks and cheer to veterans, those currently serving in the armed forces, and their families. Individuals send cards, with handwritten notes of holiday tidings and thanks, to the Red Cross. The Red Cross distributes the cards to those who will most appreciate them during the holiday season. Veteran’s hospitals, Veteran’s homes, and families of currently deployed personnel are frequent recipients of Holiday Mail for Heroes holiday cards.
For the 2014 holiday season, the Red Cross is changing the format of the Holiday Mail for Heroes program to better serve military personnel as well as make effective use of donor resources. Rather than send all cards to a centralized national location, as has been done in the past, the Red Cross is empowering individual Red Cross chapters to collect cards from their own communities. Mike Booth, the Services to Armed Forces Director at the American Red Cross, says this new decentralized approach to the program will continue to be effective, but will reduce the number of financial and human resources.
Mike also emphasizes the fact that this program is designed not only for active military members. While Holiday Mail for Heroes does provide cards for those in active service, the program has a much wider scope. The cards contributed by community members may go to any number of people connected to the military.
Because the program is not limited to currently active military personnel, it also provides a unique opportunity for people to partner with the Red Cross in remembering veterans. Many veterans receiving holiday cards are patients in VA hospitals or residents at State Veteran’s Homes, and have little contact with friends or family. Holiday Mail for Heroes connects these veterans with individuals who have taken the time and care to personalize a holiday card and send it to them in thanks for their sacrifice.
And, while a holiday card may seem a small triviality, they are anything but trivial to those who receive them. “This program continues to hold great value,” says Mike. “The veterans, wounded warriors, and military families who receive these tokens appreciate them in ways that might surprise many of us. For some of these people, one of these cards can really make their day.”
If you plan to participate in this program, please review program guidelines for creating and sending your cards. To ensure card delivery in time for the holidays, the local Red Cross office must receive cards no later than Friday, December 5.
On a beautiful summer day, Bob Hilleshiem basks in the sun as he waters flowers and tomatoes in the garden at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis.
“Growing up on a farm, my mother had three gardens that I tended to,” says Hilleshiem, a current patient at the VA hospital. “I like keeping an eye on the progress the plants make each day.”
Hillsheim is one of many veterans who are able to enjoy the outdoors by cultivating flowers and vegetables in the gardens at the VA Hospital and the Minnesota Veterans Home, also in Minneapolis.
“The veterans and their families appreciate the gardens as a place to get out and enjoy nature,” says Shirlee Peterson, Director of Recreation Therapy at the Veterans Home. “It’s therapeutic for them to get fresh air, dig in the dirt and feel the sun on a nice day.”
The American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program donated the gardening supplies to the veterans hospital and home. Funding for the donation came from a U.S. Federal Government grant of $4,500 for direct patient support for veterans.
The VA Hospital and Veterans Home were given planters of flowers, peas, tomatoes, peppers, beans, herbs, strawberries, mint, and rhubarb. In addition, the Red Cross provided special ergonomic tools and plentiful amounts of soil.
The Red Cross also used the grant money to buy art supplies for the VA Hospital in Minneapolis and the Veterans Home in Silver Bay, MN. The art supplies– such as oven-baked clay, painting materials, and model cars– will be used in art therapy programs for the veterans.
“These types of therapy give veterans a chance to use both motor skills and creativity,” says Angie Erickson, an art therapist at the VA Hospital. “All of the supplies are being put to great use and are very generous.”
Click here to learn more about Red Cross services for military members and their families. Story and photos by Shannon Lewis, Communications Intern, American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region.