“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.

From Army Correspondent to Red Cross Volunteer – A 48-Year journey

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.

Veteran David (Dave) Schoeneck served a tour of duty with the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Submitted photo.

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.

Since joining the Red Cross 20 years ago, David Schoeneck has been involved in countless national and local public affairs responses during disasters. Submitted photo.

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.”

David Schoeneck – Red Cross volunteer for 20 years. Submitted photo.

“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.

Red Cross volunteer spotlight: Marilee of Marshall, Minnesota

When you see hope start to grow, that’s the most rewarding thing.

Marilee Thomas volunteers in many capacities with the Red Cross, including as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member providing comfort and essentials for people after local disasters such as home fires or floods.

“Going on a DAT call, you never know what you’re going into,” says Marilee. “Typically, you’re meeting someone during what they’re probably going to remember as one of the worst times in their life.”

We were interested to hear more about her experience especially, as she says, “I can talk all day about the Red Cross because that’s what I love.”

Marilee Thomas, on the left, pictured with volunteer Amanda Schafer.

Have you deployed to national disasters? 

I went to Houston for flooding. I went to Kentucky for another flood; it was a very violent flash flood—that was different. I went to North Carolina. I was in Wilmington. I did a virtual deployment for South Dakota and I did casework review for them.  

What is your favorite part about volunteering with Red Cross? 

Doing casework is probably my most favorite thing, I always come back to casework. Starting out just listening to them, letting them tell their story, then making the connection of referrals or what we can do to help them so that they start on their path to recovery. And it’s very rewarding to see them—sometimes they’re upset, sometimes they’re still kind of in shock, trying to process things. But then, when you see hope start to grow, that’s the most rewarding thing.  

What memories of responses stand out to you?

In Houston, I’ll always remember this man that [said] “I’m sorry if this is too much information, but I don’t even have a pair of dry underwear.” Just the story of how he had taken in his niece—her father had recently passed away from cancer and her mom was going through foreclosure. So, he gave her a stable place to live—or so he thought. Then the flood came, and they eventually sat on their kitchen counter tops. He was nearly crying when he said she looked at him and asked if ‘we’re going to die’ and he didn’t know what to say to her.  

In Texas, we had gone into a restaurant to eat supper and as we left, all the people stood up and they applauded—we got a standing ovation! It was just nice to know that we were appreciated that much. We don’t ask for the recognition, but we were pleased that they were that happy about us being there to help. No matter what you do with the Red Cross, you’re going to make a difference in someone’s life.

We’re always looking for more volunteers to help their neighbors in need after disasters like home fires. Tuesdays this November (5, 12, 19 and 26) from 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m., the Red Cross is hosting informational calls to learn more about volunteering. Please email mnrecruit@redcross.org for call-in details or to set up a time that works for you.

Interview by Caroline Nelson/American Red Cross Minnesota Region

Volunteer spotlight: Blood Donor Ambassador Flora Holmberg

From serving meals to disaster victims to briefing soldiers before deployments, Red Cross volunteers contribute throughout our communities in many ways. Flora Holmberg serves in another important role: Blood Donor Ambassador at blood drives and fixed donation centers.

Flora Holmberg

What do you do as a Red Cross volunteer?
I work as a Donor Ambassador in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Stillwater areas. I greet people who are coming to donate, thank them for coming in, and register them for their donation appointment.

What’s your favorite part or memory of volunteering?
I enjoy meeting and visiting with all the great people who come in to donate.

Would you recommend volunteering with the Red Cross to others?
Yes!  Very much so!! It’s a great organization to volunteer for – it gives you such a great feeling to know that you are a part of something that helps so many people.

How does it feel to help save a life? Watch this video:

We’re always looking for volunteers to help their neighbors in need after disasters like home fires. To volunteer or for more information, click here. Or join us during upcoming 30-minute “Call to Serve” conferences calls:

  • Tuesday, April 23, 12-12:30 pm
  • Thursday, April 25, 4-4:30 pm
  • Wednesday, May 1, 12-12:30 pm
  • Sunday, May 5, 2-2:30 pm

RSVP to MNRecruit@redcross.org.

Volunteer spotlight: Desiree Haupert

Desiree with her son, Dylan, volunteering at Home Fire Campaign event in Marshall, MN. Photo courtesy of Desiree Haupert.

“This is an excellent way to give back to the same community and with our surrounding communities.”  Desiree Haupert, Red Cross Home Fire Campaign volunteer team lead for Marshall, Minnesota 

Story by Zabiba Sameru/American Red Cross

When I listen to Desiree Haupert, a mom and volunteer, speak about her experience with the American Red Cross, I can hear the excitement in her voice as she tells her story about being fulfilled as she continues to give her time to the Red Cross.

What started out as future planning to keep busy for Desiree in April of 2018 is turned into a lifetime rewarding experience. In her time volunteering at the Red Cross, she has been involved in many activities, such as Sound the Alarm by installing home smoke alarms and sharing fire safety tips in Slayton.

Red Cross volunteers responded to flooding in southwest Minnesota during 2018. Photo: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

During the flood in Tracy, Desiree also was involved in helping residents find shelter, food and additional resources that could support them during their recovery from the flooding. She also is involved with the Pillowcase Project, campaign that teaches kids in grades 3 to 5 how to prepare for home fire emergencies and other disasters like tornadoes and blizzards.

As a duty officer, she takes calls for assistance requests, and then responds by reaching out to local Red Cross volunteers who give assistance to people who are affected by disasters. To top it all off, Desiree attends youth preparedness conferences to learn about engaging communities and provide support to them in the face of a disaster.

This year Sound the Alarm takes place April 27 – May 12.

It’s important and rewarding for Desiree to give back to her community and be an example for her kids with all the work that she’s doing with the Red Cross. Being a Red Cross volunteer gives you an opportunity to help your local community, says Desiree. “It gives me the opportunity to take ownership of something and grow in a way that I didn’t know I was needing. It’s amazing.”

On Saturday May 4, 2019, Red Cross volunteers and their partners will be installing free smoke alarms in Worthington.  Join us! Click here to learn more about the campaign. Click here to become a Red Cross volunteer. 

Red Cross needs health professionals

The American Red Cross relies on more than 20,000 nurses and other health professionals who bring our mission to life each day. If you’re a nurse, nursing student or other health professional, we need your help! There are volunteer opportunities in direct service, leadership and behind-the-scenes.  A few examples are:

 • Disaster Health Services –team members and leaders

• Disaster Mental Health Services –team members and leaders

• Pillowcase Project Instructor (educating 3rd-5th graders about disasters)

• Blood Donor Ambassador Leader

• Nursing Network Regional Nurse Leaders and team members

• Service to the Armed Forces Hero Care Case Management

We hope that you consider volunteering with the Red Cross – you can have a meaningful impact by serving individuals and communities.

Get started here.

My son’s superheroes are Red Cross volunteers

Story and photos by Kristen Threinen, Nurse Assistant Training Program Manager, American Red Cross 

rco_blog_img_noah-t-shirt-2Following a quick visit to our Red Cross centennial kick-off celebration in Minneapolis, my son Noah has had a lot of questions about the Red Cross.

And then, several days later, Noah’s 2nd grade class was given the option to dress-up as their favorite superhero. When I asked him that Tuesday evening (the day I received communication about dress-up day) if he wanted to dress-up he promptly responded, “YES!” He then stated he wanted to dress as a “real-life superhero,” a Red Cross volunteer.

img_0650-3I frantically emailed a co-worker, asking if there was any way I could purchase a Red Cross T-shirt. The co-worker came through as my Red Cross superhero with the shirt Noah’s wearing above.

Noah was beyond proud going to school dressed as a Red Cross superhero. And then, having the opportunity to walk with me in the St. Paul Winter Carnival parade was the icing on the cake!

rco_blog_img_noahI’m so grateful to have the opportunity to expose my son to the Red Cross mission to reduce human suffering…it’s humbling and inspiring.

Click here to learn more about Minnesota Red Cross Century of Service events throughout 2017. Also, use the social media hashtag #MNRedCross100 to share your Red Cross stories with us.

Vonnie Thomas, a courageous Red Cross volunteer for 65 years

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Vonnie Thomas on her official day, June 28, 2016. Photo: Lara Leimbach

June 28, 2016 was officially Vonnie Thomas Day in Minnesota after Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed it so in honor of Ms. Thomas’s sixty-five years of courageous Red Cross volunteer service. Read the proclamation below to learn about this remarkable woman and how she has helped and inspired many people in many ways. 

State of Minnesota Proclamation for Vonnie Thomas

Whereas, the American Red Cross depends on the power of volunteers to accomplish its mission of preventing and alleviating suffering; and

Whereas, Nurse Vonnie Thomas has generously volunteered thousands of hours in distinguished leadership service through the American Red Cross over the past 65 years; and

Whereas, she courageously cared for those hurt by more than 40 local, national and international disasters such as the 2012 tornadoes in Minneapolis, the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, Hurricane Katrina and the 35-W Bridge Collapse; and

Whereas, she has served in many roles on a local, division and national level and is currently a member of the Minnesota Region volunteer leadership team and Disaster Health Services lead and a Staff Wellness Consultant for 13 states;  and

Whereas, she is an exceptional leader, innovator, medical professional, skilled instructor, and humanitarian and mentor, and is beloved by staff and volunteers alike; and

Whereas, she is a vibrant, engaged and active volunteer leading a statewide effort to build Integrated Care Teams in Minnesota to help families who’ve lost a loved one, and greatly contributed to the  development and implementation of the training materials; and

Whereas, her tremendous voluntary service has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest international honor awarded by the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, which celebrates the contributions of nurses and nursing aides to the work of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement;  and

Whereas, she finds inspiration in the words of the founder of the American Red Cross, Nurse Clara Barton: “You must never so much think as whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.”; and

Whereas, she embodies the principles and spirit of the Red Cross and is a wonderful example of unselfish, humble and dedicated service, and an inspiration for us all;

Now, therefore, I, Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim June 28, 2016 Vonnie Thomas Day in the State of Minnesota.

Peter Spokes, a wholehearted Red Cross volunteer for 65 years

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Peter Spokes has served 65 years as a Red Cross volunteer. Photo: Lara Leimbach

The Governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, declared June 28, 2016, as Peter Spokes Day in recognition of 65 years of volunteer service to the American Red Cross. Read below the proclamation words to learn more about the wholehearted leadership Mr. Spokes has given to us all. 

State of Minnesota Proclamation for Peter R. Spokes

Whereas, the American Red Cross depends on the power of volunteers to accomplish its mission of preventing and alleviating suffering;

Whereas, Peter R. Spokes has generously volunteered thousands of hours in distinguished leadership service through the American Red Cross since 1950; and

Whereas, he was recognized and appreciated by the British Red Cross Society for his valuable services rendered during World War II; and

Whereas, he has served as a division and national level volunteer leader, including as a member of the Northwest Division Advisory Council, a member and chair of the National Red Cross Committee on Nominations, as Chairman of the 1974 National Convention in Minneapolis; and

Whereas, he accepted and embraced wholeheartedly his Lifetime Board Membership with the American Red Cross in 1980; and

Whereas, he has led in multiple officer positions on the Board of Directors in Minnesota, including Chair, Vice Chair and Treasurer, and has served on a dozen Board Committees throughout the years, and continues committee service to this day; and

Whereas, his inspirational leadership, wisdom, energy, and generosity led to the successful capital campaign and construction project to complete the regional chapter headquarters building in Minneapolis; and

Whereas, his steadfast commitment and incredible vision played a vital role in unifying the Minneapolis and St. Paul Chapters into the Twin Cities Area Chapter; and

Whereas, he is described by his fellow Red Crossers as a bright, shining example, and as having a true sense of servant leadership; and

Whereas, through his kindness and compassion, dedication and leadership, thousands of people around the state, across the country and around the world have been helped through the American Red Cross;

Now, therefore, I, Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim June 28, 2016 as Peter Spokes Day in the State of Minnesota.

Red Cross volunteers deserve our thanks

Red Cross volunteer Susan Cebelinski checked in at the Red Cross office in Duluth, Minnesota, on April 6, 2016, before going to Louisiana where she will provide emotional support to people impacted by the flooding. Thank you Susan!
Red Cross volunteer Susan Cebelinski checked in at the Red Cross office in Duluth, Minnesota, on April 6, 2016, before going to Louisiana where she will provide emotional support to people impacted by the flooding. Thank you Susan!

Volunteer /välənˈtir/
Noun
someone who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task

American Red Cross Volunteer
/əˈmerəkən/ /red/ /krôs/ /välənˈtir/
Person
someone who freely donates time to community and country by participating in life changing and saving service 

Without volunteers the American Red Cross and its mission to help others would never be fulfilled. The Red Cross depends on volunteers to embrace service within their communities and to come together in times of crisis. During National Volunteer Week, April 10-16, we have the chance to express our gratitude to the women and men, heroes and leaders, and old and young, who voluntarily give their time and expertise, and wear the Red Cross on their shirt sleeves, while working to reduce human suffering.

National Volunteer Week is important to the Red Cross because it has nearly 330,000 volunteers nationwide. From a disaster worker helping one or hundreds, to a military responder comforting an injured solider or family member, or to a blood donor ambassador welcoming someone who’s about to roll-up a sleeve for a cancer patient waiting for lifesaving blood, the Red Cross offers a range of volunteer positions that serve others, both neighbor and stranger. Whether Red Cross volunteers are waking up in the night to assist a family after a fire or teaching a class on how to give first aid, all of them deserve a sincere thank you from us and many others.

To this we say, THANK YOU RED CROSS VOLUNTEERS! Without you, who knows where so many people in need would be today. You’re the light that shines from this organization and you continue to make a difference in your local communities, and across our country, one voluntary service action at a time. Thank you for the hours and hours you’ve given and the number of lives you’ve made better. We know that you generally take the humble path, but during National Volunteer Week it’s your turn to take a bow and accept our applause. We’re grateful for all that you do!

If you’re not a Red Cross volunteer but you know someone who is, give them a hug and say thanks. Ask them about their volunteer service. The many hours they spend helping others is remarkable and worth hearing about. Maybe their stories will inspire you to become a Red Cross volunteer and be the hero in someone’s life.

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