Volunteers needed to support casework for service members

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.

Photo by Roy Cox/American Red Cross

“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.

Minnesota Red Cross volunteers supported WWI relief efforts. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

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 mnrecruit@redcross.org.

Post by Caroline Nelson for the American Red Cross

12 Reasons to Donate at 12 Hours of Giving Blood Drive

It nearly goes without saying that the reason to donate blood during the 12 Hours Giving Blood Drive on December 19 is that your donation could help save up to three lives this winter. But since this is the festive season, we’ve added some sparkles to our list of reasons for you to donate the gift of life at this holiday drive.

1. Free gift wrapping!  Bring gifts that still need to be wrapped and we’ll wrap them for you.

2. Hourly prize drawings!  Prizes include but are not limited to a television, gift cards, and small appliances.

3. Free food and refreshments!  Scrumptious food, cookies, and drinks will be provided.

4. Convenient location! Finish up last minute holiday shopping at the nearby the outlet mall.

5. Help save lives! Our goal is 500 units of blood for patients in need.  Each unit could save up to three lives.

6. Photo opportunities!  Festive photos with Santa or Buddy the Blood Drop. Post on social media with hashtag #MNRedCross.

7. Easy sign-up!  Book your appointment online at RedCrossBlood.org or on the Blood Donor App. Sponsor code: 12 Hours

8. Share Your Story Tree! Share a story about donating or receiving blood products to hang on our Giving Tree.

9. Live Music! Instrumental and vocal groups will perform throughout the day.

10. Family tradition!  Donors return to this annual event year after year with their families to help save lives together.

11. Face art! Get a festive-themed face painting (hours: 2 to 7 p.m.).

12. New Year’s resolution! Kick-off the New Year now by becoming a regular blood donor or a Red Cross volunteer supporting blood donation.

Join us in Oakdale on Dec. 19.  Schedule your appointment here.

Happy Holidays!

Red Cross helps find a sister and best friend

After years of not knowing, a Minnesota couple from Cuba learn their beloved family member is alive and well

In one way, it took hardly any time at all to find Felipe’s sister in Cuba. Just months, in fact, once the Red Cross search formally started. In another way, it lasted years: Felipe lost contact with his sister Carmela in 1992 when he and his wife moved to Minnesota. Around that time, they exchanged their last letter with Carmela.

There was no phone number to call. More letters were sent. They received no replies. Maybe she was sick. Or worse. They assumed something bad had happened. This struck Nila the hardest. “I love her too much,” she says. For her, Carmela was more than her husband’s sister: Carmela was her sister, her family, her best friend.

Felipe and Nila left Havana in 1966 and moved to the United States where they joined her mother. Photo: Susan Bourgerie/American Red Cross

JoAnn, a long-time family friend in Minnesota, alerted Felipe to the possibility of working through the Red Cross to find Carmela. JoAnn knew that every day for years Felipe wondered about his sister. Papi and Mami are “like my parents,” she says.

JoAnn reached out through email to the Red Cross to learn more about family tracing. Once Felipe agreed to search, local volunteers moved the process forward, informing JoAnn, who updated Felipe. When she knew it worked – meaning, when she knew Carmela was found and, most importantly, alive – JoAnn went to Felipe and Nila at once with the great news.

Married 60 years, Felipe and Nila have 4 children, 12 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. For five years in Cuba, they went on dates always with a chaperone.

The first phone call was short. Felipe’s sister used a friend’s phone to reach him. Nila was on the call too.  They shared short phrases. Hardly said anything in word count. And yet the meaning of Nila’s basic words — my sister, I miss you, I love you – say everything. “Are you well?” Felipe asked Carmela. They’ve had several more calls and exchanged more email messages with JoAnn receiving and translating them.

Red Cross volunteer Kalay helped reconnect Felipe and Nila with their sister in Cuba. Photo: Susan Bourgerie/American Red Cross

“I appreciate the Red Cross,” says Felipe, who was excited and happy to learn that his sister was alive and well. His sister Carmela was excited, too. Her blood pressure went up, he says. They’ll have more calls, emails and letters. They’ll not lose contact again.

Story by Lynette Nyman / American Red Cross. To learn more about family reconnecting services, click here.

Holiday safety in Minne-snow-ta

In Minnesota, the holiday season requires us to be extra cautious. While holiday cooking and decorations increase risks of fire and injury, the winter weather conditions create additional hazards on the roads. For example, every year across the country there are on average more than 150,000* crashes due to icy roads. With the spirit of safety first, we offer below some helpful tips for a fabulous and fun holiday season.

Roads

1. Keep a windshield scraper and emergency kit including food and warm clothing in your vehicle.

2. Test your car battery. As temperature drops, battery power drops as well.

3. Allow extra time to drive to your destination. Not only will there be more traffic than usual, but it is safest to drive more slowly on snowy roads.

4. Practice braking on icy roads in an empty parking lot.

5. Check tire pressure and tread life. Consider installing winter tires.

Homes

1. Check all smoke alarms to verify that there is a working smoke alarm on each level of the home. Review your home fire escape plan.

2. Turn off decorative lights and blow out candles before leaving the house or going to sleep.

3. Remain in the kitchen while something is cooking.

4. Wash hands and cook food to safe minimum standards to avoid food poisoning.

5. Keep children and pets at least 3 feet away from hot ovens and stove tops.

For immediate access to weather updates and information on treating common first aid emergencies, download the American Red Cross Emergency App for free.

*Source: NHTSA and Federal Highway Administration

“Thank you for your service and sacrifice.”

A Holidays for Heroes message from a UMD student-athlete.

Our Holidays for Heroes program is an effort to collect handwritten messages on holiday cards to thank and recognize service members and veterans for their service and sacrifice.

This year, the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota teamed up with University of Minnesota Duluth student hockey teams to sign cards that will bring holiday joy to the men and women who keep, and have kept, us safe.

UMD Women’s Hockey captain Jalyn Elmes  signs Holidays for Heroes cards.

“It’s a really good way to reach out and show our appreciation to people that we may never get the chance to tell in person. It took less than an hour of our time,” says Jalyn Elmes, captain of the University of Minnesota Duluth, Women’s Hockey team.  Elmes has participated in Holidays for Heroes in the 2018 and 2019 holiday seasons.

Director of the local Red Cross, Dan Williams, has helped facilitate Holidays for Heroes for a number of years. Dan says his favorite part about this proactive effort is reminding service members and veterans that they’re cared about. “We’re not waiting for service members to raise their hand and say ‘I wish the community would show me how much they appreciate us.’”

UMD Men’s Hockey team thanks military veterans.

During the past four years, UMD student-athlete teams have signed around 4,000 cards. Football, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s hockey have joined these efforts. The signed cards will be distributed to local military service units and veterans clinics and homes.

Other upcoming activities include blood drives and humanitarian law training through our Red Cross Youth outreach. And getting involved Holidays for Heroes s as easy as bringing holiday cards to your local Red Cross chapter. We’ll do the rest!

Story by Caroline Nelson and photos by Dan Williams, American Red Cross Minnesota Region. Click here to learn more about Red Cross services for military families and veterans.

 

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

12 Safety Tips for a Booooo-ti-ful Halloween!

Halloween is approaching and it’s safest to plan well in advance. It’s fun to dress up and collect candy, but there’s nothing fun about getting hurt! Children are twice as likely to be struck by a car on Halloween than any other night of the year. By following these simple tips, everyone can enjoy the holiday without injury.

  1. Use only flame-resistant costumes.
  2. Plan the trick-or-treat route – make sure adults know where children are going. Set a time when older children must return home. Children under 12 years old should not trick-or-treat unsupervised.
  3. Make sure trick-or-treaters can see and be seen. Give them a flashlight to light their way. Add reflective tape to costumes and trick-or-treat bags. Have everyone wear light-colored clothing to help be seen.
  4. Use face paint instead of masks that can potentially obstruct vision.
  5. Swords and wands should be short and flexible.
  6. The FDA recommends consulting an eye doctor before using colored contact lenses. Non-prescription contact lenses can cause permanent vision impairment.
  7. Only visit homes that have a porch light on. Accept treats at the door – never go inside.
  8. Walk only on the sidewalks, not in the street. If no sidewalk is available, walk at the edge of the roadway, facing traffic. Look both ways before crossing the street, and cross only at the corner. Don’t cut across yards or use alleys. Don’t cross between parked cars.
  9. Make sure an adult checks the treats before eating. Remove loose candy, open packages and choking hazards. Discard any items with brand names that you are not familiar with.
  10. Drivers – use extra caution. Excited kids may forget to look both ways before crossing.
  11. People distributing candy should turn lights on to provide visibility and remove any tripping hazards, such as a garden hose. If snow is on the ground, shovel a path.
  12. Download the American Red Cross Emergency App for free. It provides immediate access to weather updates and information on treating common first aid emergencies.

Post by Caroline Nelson/American Red Cross Minnesota Region