The more things change …

…. the more they stay the same.

That’s a spot-on adage when we consider fulfilling our Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

For example, one hundred years ago Junior Red Cross volunteers in Duluth made care packages for World War I veterans overseas.

This year our Service to the Armed Forces volunteers will distribute donated socks to veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Donated socks ready for distribution to military veterans in nursing homes. Photo by Jennifer Landeros

There are more examples and yet, whatever the year of the new year, the basics of life remain the same.

People need shelter, food and clothing. People need blood and blood products. People need to reach loved ones during emergencies.

The Red Cross helps meet these and other basic needs within the context of being impartial and neutral, of empowering volunteer service, and keeping an eye on preserving and promoting human dignity in all of our work.

With those thoughts in mind, this year we encourage you to look to the stars while keeping your feet on the ground. Make a regular commitment to:

  • supporting people affected by disasters
  • providing safe lifesaving blood and blood products
  • helping military members of our armed forces and their families
  • being trained in life-saving skills for emergency response
  • giving resources that help neighbors around the world

This quiz will help you choose which action is best for you.

Story by Lynette Nyman — pictured above last year with women living in Bangladesh in camps for people who have fled violence in Myanmar.  

Deployment experience in North Carolina

This past fall volunteer Deb Thingstad Boe responded for the first time to a Red Cross call for nurses to support Hurricane Florence relief efforts. Deb deployed to North Carolina where she worked in a shelter. Below is an excerpt of  Deb’s experience originally published in the December 2018 Minnesota Metro Medical Reserve Corps newsletter. Thank you to Deb for responding to the call to serve when you’re needed most!

Deb at Smith shelter in Fayetteville

I found out the deployment process moves fast! I spoke with the Red Cross on September 25, which was almost three weeks after Hurricane Florence made landfall, and six days later I was on the ground in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I was deployed through what is called Direct Deployment (DD), which is a rapid process used to ready healthcare workers for disaster work.

Once I received a call from Red Cross staff affirming my desire to deploy, I completed forms and about 15 hours of required online training and attended a deployment training in-person. At this training I received my disaster response ID, and mission and procurement cards. The mission card was used for my expenses and the procurement card was used to help clients (there is training on this!).

Along the way I also received a suggested packing list that was invaluable. Among those items were a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. I found out later that it’s more difficult if you do not own these items when you arrive on assignment without them.  The best thing I purchased to prepare was a self-inflating air mattress that fit on the cot I slept on. Ear plugs are a must! If I didn’t wear them, then I worried about whether the next breath is coming for some people. I wasn’t the only healthcare volunteer that talked about that.

Red Cross volunteer staff shelter (a.k.a. home)

Although it felt like everything was moving fast, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I decided I would go with the flow, take things as they come and try to do my best.

My assignment was to work 12-hour shifts at Smith Recreation Center. This Red Cross shelter was planned to be the last to close in Fayetteville. This meant that as other shelters closed people who had not been able to find housing were relocated to Smith. The shelter had about 150 people in residence, many who were among the most vulnerable people in the city: people with mobility issues, unstable chronic conditions exacerbated by displacement, chronic untreated mental illness, addiction, in hospice care, and (previous to the disaster) long-term homelessness.

Every day was different and yet alike. Within the first fifteen minutes of the first day, I was instructed on how to administer Narcan and safety precautions related to the environment. I was informed that public health obtained Narcan for the shelters because there was a death due to opioids. The shelter had many residents who accessed Disaster Health Services on a daily basis. I learned about “shelter cough.” When I arrived many residents and staff had upper respiratory symptoms, and I wondered about influenza and whether residents had been offered flu vaccinations. Just listening was an important component of care.

Visiting rural communities in North Carolina

My experience with Public Health came in very handy. Part of the plan to help one woman in the shelter included food as a prescription for her chronic health needs. Listening and choices were critical to helping her. During my three hours with her, I managed to work in stress management tips and the power of positive-thinking and being forward-moving in thought and actions.

I finished my time working in rural North Carolina working with the community to identify unmet needs, assess how migrant farm workers were managing, and identify where the Red Cross could help. We partnered with Spanish-speaking restaurant owners to inform the area churches of our presence. They opened up an area of their restaurant for Red Cross services and allowed a food truck to be positioned in their parking lot. People came for blood pressure and glucose level checks, OTC meds, blankets, diapers, and TLC (tender-loving care). Staff assigned included an interpreter, disaster mental health, and disaster healthcare. Listening and caring were critical elements of care.

Deb and her new friend Lois

One of the things I enjoyed the most was meeting volunteers from other places. The first night a few of us who had met at the shelter gathered together and headed out to dinner. None of us were assigned to the same place, which meant we met more people the next day. I met a retired pulmonologist and two EMTs, and we had dinner together every night starting on night two of a ten-day deployment. We had fun, and it was a good transition to sleep and the next day.

Deb Thingstad Boe is an American Red Cross Volunteer and a Dakota County Minnesota Medical Reserve Corps Volunteer (MRC). Photos provided by Deb. Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

Be a holiday hero at the 6th annual 12 Hours of Giving Blood Drive on Dec. 20

The arrival of the holiday season often means spending time and exchanging gifts with family and friends. But what if the gift you needed couldn’t be bought? For patients like Mike McMahon, the generosity of blood donations was the perfect gift and didn’t cost anything other than a bit of someone’s time.

Following a tragic tree felling accident on Nov. 10, 2016, McMahon, a Stillwater, Minnesota resident, suffered life-threatening injuries. He needed 11 units of blood during emergency surgery to keep him alive.

He spent the next six weeks in the intensive care unit and inpatient rehab, including three weeks during which he had to be intubated as he was unable to breathe on his own.

During his hospital stay, he also experienced an ulcer on a major artery in his intestines. The ulcer was so severe that he needed an additional seven units of blood and the artery was coiled to stop the hemorrhaging.

Mike McMahon

“I remember clearly as my nurse hooked me up to the first bag of blood,” said McMahon. “The thought of blood passing through another person’s heart and now into me, to keep me alive, was very emotional. From the first pint to the last, each one was equally moving.”

McMahon was told that he might not be able to do a lot of things ever again – his future was uncertain. However, just a few days before Christmas he was released from the hospital.

McMahon is thankful for blood donors and credits blood donation with helping save his life. “I’m grateful for the donors who gave me such an amazing gift – to spend Christmas and more holidays with my family. I was an occasional blood donor before the accident – today I donate as often as I can to help ensure others receive the same gift of life.”

You can give patients like McMahon more time and memories this holiday season by donating blood at the American Red Cross 6th annual 12 Hours of Giving Blood Drive at Inwood Oaks in Oakdale, Minnesota. As a special thanks, all who come to give will be treated to free parking, complimentary gift wrapping, a special gift bag, a long-sleeved Red Cross T-shirt, and holiday food and entertainment and will be automatically entered into hourly prize drawings including grand prizes – a large flat panel TV and a HP laptop computer.

To make an appointment to give blood at the 12 Hours of Giving Blood Drive, donors can click here or use sponsor code 12 hours on the Red Cross Blood Donor App, online at redcrossblood.org or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

We hope to see you at the 12 Hours of Giving Blood Drive. Happy holidays from your friends at the Red Cross!

Story and photo by Sue Thesenga/American Red Cross

Volunteer spotlight: Disaster responder Willen Korkowski

Red Cross volunteer Willen Korkowski. Photo: Carrie Carlson-Guest

Recently we were pleased to speak with Willen Korkowski about her volunteer experience. A transcript of the conversation is below. To see Willen tell it, click here. Thanks Willen for your service helping others!

Please introduce yourself and your role with the Red Cross.
Hi. I am Willen Krokowski. I am a Disaster Action Team volunteer with the Red Cross since 2004.

What do you do as a Red Cross volunteer?
As a volunteer I respond to local disasters such as house fire, could be a single house unit or multiple units in an apartment. What we do when we respond to a fire is we make sure that the clients have what they need. Is there an immediate need that we are so concerned for; could be a safe place to stay for the night, food and clothing, or for the kids to let them know that there is someone there that cares for them especially when they are in need.

What’s your favorite part or memory of volunteering?
My favorite part is when the clients smile and you see the hope in their eyes. So it’s, to me, it’s giving back to my community.

Would you recommend volunteering with the Red Cross to others?
If you care about your community, you care about your neighbor, if you want to live in a place where it is safe and loving then I would suggest you volunteer for the Red Cross. You would love it too.

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.

Dates and times:

  • Thursday, Dec. 6 at 8:00 a.m.
  • Saturday, Dec. 8 at 12:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 6:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 3 p.m.

RSVP to MNRecruit@redcross.org or call 612-460-3670 for details. 

Armistice Day, World War I, and the Birth of the Minnesota Red Cross

Minnesota Red Cross volunteers supported World War I efforts. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

By Nancy O’Brien Wagner

This Sunday morning, at eleven o’clock, you may hear the ringing of church bells pealing out over the state. This tribute marks the centennial of Armistice Day – the end of World War I, which occurred on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month– November 11, 1918.

Nowadays, we celebrate November 11 as Veteran’s Day – a holiday to acknowledge the impact and efforts of all of our nation’s veterans. This year, however, it seems appropriate to draw special attention to the history and legacy of World War I – or the Great War as it was called then.

It is impossible to over-state how significant World War I was to our country. Beyond the military events, the War impacted our economy, our transportation system, our politics, and our culture. One of the greatest legacies of the War was the impact on the development of the American Red Cross.

Though the American Red Cross was founded in Washington D.C. in 1881, its presence and impact throughout the nation had been sporadic. During its first three decades, local and national Red Cross volunteers had responded to floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes, and the Spanish-American war of 1898. By the 1910s, the organization was muted – and the Minnesota Red Cross chapters were frail- if they existed at all. World War I changed that.

Within weeks of the U.S entering the war, the critical importance of the Red Cross was evident. In May 1917, the Red Cross was placed under the direction of President Woodrow Wilson’s War Council, which directed organizations and industries needed in the war effort. Across the nation, millions of people donated and signed up to volunteer for the Red Cross. In Minnesota, hundreds of thousands joined the Red Cross. They stepped forward in a spirit of can-do optimism, loyalty, and sacrifice. Most of those worked locally, but others served overseas.

“I summon you to comradeship in the Red Cross” – U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s call to service. Poster by Harrison Fisher, 1918. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Locally, Red Cross volunteers operated canteens for soldiers at the railroad depots, offered support to soldiers’ families, and organized recreation events for soldiers at Fort Snelling. They offered classes in First Aid, Elementary Hygiene, and Home Dietetics. For overseas, Minnesota members sponsored Base Hospital No. 26 in Allerey, France, and raised nearly $50,000 to supply the hospital with equipment and bandages. Members sent new and used trucks, ambulances, and cars to Europe. In addition, volunteers produced 5,842,078 surgical dressings, knitted 94,439 sweaters, produced 14,522 garments for refugees, and packed 38,551 “comfort kits” with shaving supplies, cigarettes, chewing gum, and other essentials.

For many local volunteers (who were mostly women), this effort expanded their social circles and built up their sense of community: As one Red Cross scholar said, “The big thing…in this Red Cross work has been the bringing together of women of all nationalities, all social strata, all creeds, and all religions onto a common, harmonious unit.”

In addition to local efforts, hundreds of Minnesotans served as Red Cross volunteers in Europe. Red Cross volunteers established and offered service from 551 stations, including 24 hospitals and 12 convalescent homes for soldiers and 130 canteens. They established emergency depots of medical supplies for the American Army and for French hospitals. The Red Cross also produced and supplied all necessary splints, nitrous oxide anesthetic, and oxygen for the Army. There were also reconstruction and re-education efforts for crippled and disabled men, recreation and welfare service, hospital service, hospital farms and gardens, moving pictures for hospitals, grave photography, civilian relief, relief of French soldiers’ families, children’s relief, and anti-tuberculosis relief. The largest group of Red Cross volunteers was nurses, who faced particular dangers. Nurses Miss Anna M. Dahlby of St. Paul and Miss Mary H. Cummings of North St. Paul both died while on duty.

The red poppy is the flower symbolic for remembering those who fought in WWI and the wars following, especially overseas. Photo by Lynette Nyman

After the war ended on November 11, 1918, the Red Cross continued to its war-related work. Overseas, the Red Cross helped at hospitals, camps, and transportation depots. Locally, Red Cross volunteers continued to staff booths at train depots to assist soldiers as they traveled home, and completed paperwork to apply for support services. While many Red Cross chapters shuttered or closed completely, other chapters in larger cities began to shift their attention to address issues such as public health (the Spanish Flu) and natural disasters (the Cloquet Fire). Both the St. Paul and the Minneapolis Chapters offered continuous service from 1917 on- and mark that year as their true foundation date.

In Minnesota, many of the women who served overseas and lead local Red Cross efforts used their strengthened problem-solving, organizational, and networking skills to tackle local needs. Many became active in the Women’s Overseas Service League, and others took an active role in promoting the women’s right to vote and the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Local museums, hospitals, libraries, schools, orchestras, and charities all benefited from this generation of generous and civic-minded women.

In the decades since, the Minnesota Red Cross has continued to respond to both international and local needs, evolving to fulfill new roles such as blood services, and shifting out of old ones — no more knitting sweaters.

When you hear the bells toll this Sunday, recall both the relief and joy at the conclusion of the Great War, but also mark the creation of the Minnesota Red Cross – and the spirit of optimism, loyalty, and sacrifice that continue to define us as Minnesotans.

Happy Armistice Day.

Nancy O’Brien Wagner is a local historian and author of Alice in France: The World War I Letters of Alice M. O’Brien. She is the proud granddaughter of two World War I soldiers, and great-niece of two World War I Red Cross volunteers.

What makes a hero?

all winners
2018 Heroes of the American Red Cross Minnesota Region

Heroes inspire us. They help others. They show us how courage, strength, and bravery can save the day.  Each year, the Minnesota Red Cross honors local people who went above and beyond to help others — either by saving a life or enriching and transforming lives over years of service. Our heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Through January 4, we’re accepting nominations for the 2019 Heroes Awards. To learn more and to be inspired, check out our 2018 Heroes stories below.  

 

Scott
Lori McDougal, Scott Bissen

2018 Community Hero | Scott Bissen, Orono 

Sponsored by Minnesota Tiffany Circle 

 As the Co-Founder and Board member of the Pay It Forward Fund (PIFF), Scott Bissen was awarded Community Hero for his 13 years of committed service to aid with the demanding financial pressures many cancer patients face during their treatment period. Since inception, PIFF – a Minnesota non-profit fund of Ridgeview Foundation—has paid in total over $2.2M in household bills to support nearly 2,000 Minnesota patients who are undergoing cancer treatment.  

Scott and his wife understand the pressure that families go through in such a difficult time. Through the PIFF, they can take some of the weight off for those families who struggle paying bills due to illness. For many families, even with insurance, it’s hard to maintain financial stability due to the medical bills and loss of work hours some people face through cancer treatment.    

“Scott has been a devoted and passionate Pay It Forward Fund (PIFF) Board Member, thought leader, and fundraising volunteer throughout the fund’s 13-year history,” nominator Leslie Glaze mentions. His devotion to PIFF is also exemplified by the numerous successful fundraising events he’s organized. See his full story here: http://bit.ly/RedCrossHero_Community 

 

Left to right: Matthew Aeschliman, Kenny Larson, Joshua Guyse, Lee Strom

2018 Military Hero | Matthew Aeschliman, Baxter| Joshua Guyse, Royalton  

Sponsored by Slumberland 

When Joshua Guyse received a call from the distressed soldier, he immediately contacted his supervisor, Matthew Aeschliman, and the two traveled together from the St. Cloud, MN area to meet with the Soldier in the Twin Cities. Upon arrival, they implemented their training on Suicide Prevention—actively listened and calmly controlled the situation. Through their effort and care, Josh and Matt gained the Soldier’s agreement to be escorted to the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC).  

“Suicide Prevention training is mandatory for Soldiers at all levels and across all organizations. Nevertheless, military units continue to experience suicide within their ranks. I am certain that on January 3, 2018, my unit narrowly avoided such a suicide event. It was no accident that my Soldier contacted Josh Guyse as a final effort to ask for help.” Unit Commander John Zillhardt states. “[Josh and Matts] actions directly saved a life and highlighted the training they receive in the military.” See their full story here: http://bit.ly/RedCrossHero_Military 

 

Beverly Bartz and Barb Tretheway

2018 Give Life Hero | Beverly Bartz, Sleepy Eye 

Sponsored by Health Partners 

Beverly Bartz has been a Red Cross volunteer for 65 years.  She was awarded as the Give Life Hero for the incredible impact she’s made at the Sleepy Eye, MN blood drives. She’s helped give the gift of life to others by coordinating blood drives since 1964, collecting 88,000 units of blood and impacting potentially more than 24,000 lives. 

 For many years, she’s mobilized her community to help and promote the importance of donating blood. She herself was an avid blood donor and along with her late husband, instilled that same commitment in their children. “It is an important part of the community and part of our lives,” Bev states.  See her full story here: http://bit.ly/RedCrossHero_GiveLife 

 

youth good
left to right: JoAnn Birkholz, Zack Houle, Lee Strom

2018 Youth Good Samaritan Hero | Brady Houle | Zack Houle, Merrifield 

Sponsored by Medica Foundation  

Vernon Taplet was moving his car in the garage when it hit something that caused a gas spill and the fire took over. Brady and Zack Houle noticed a dark cloud of smoke and ran out to help Vernon who was on the ground crying out for help. Thanks to their courage they were able to move their neighbor to safety.  

Brady is currently studying law enforcement at Century Lake College. He said, “I always wanted to help people and had the opportunity to do it…At the time I didn’t realize I was falling back on my training.” He and Zack were able to convince Vern to be moved to safety despite the pain he was in from the fall. “It was an adrenaline thing. I put my shirt over my nose as I went running. We just wanted to get [Vernon] out of there. There was stuff with gas on it, things that could have blown up,” Zack explained.  

They’re selflessness and bravery prevented a tragedy that day. “They pretty much saved my life and put their lives in danger to save me,” Vern stated. See their full story here: http://bit.ly/RedCrossHero_YouthGoodSam 

 

left to right: Bran Tutunjian, Van Dickerson, Tim Walsh

2018 Good Samaritan Hero | Van Dickerson, Minneapolis 

Sponsored by CenterPoint Energy 

Friends Tim Walsh and Van Dickerson were enjoying the day with a friendly tennis match when suddenly Tim began feeling ill. In a dark turn of events, Tim fell motionless onto the floor, his heart had stopped due to cardiac arrest. Van’s immediate response is one of the reasons why Tim is here today. 

Van is trained on CPR for his work at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, who utilizes the Red Cross CPR class. He never imagined that those skills would save his friends life one day.  Van effectively handled a critical situation and took every necessary step: dialing 911, checking his vitals and performing CPR.  

Tim later learned that the survival rate for someone who has a cardiac arrest under such conditions is less than 5%. “Van is my hero and I believe he should win the Good Samaritan Hero award because he is ultimate example of the everyday heroes that are equipped by Red Cross training to save lives,” Tim mentions.  See the full story here:  http://bit.ly/RedCrossHero_GoodSam 

 

left to right: Kristin Lonsbury, Virginia Walsh (holding baby Elise), Lt. Paul Stricker

2018 First Responder Hero | Virginia Marsh, Crystal | Lt. Paul Stricker, Inver Grove Heights 

Sponsored by Abbott 

Virginia Marsh and Lt. Paul Stricker stopped on the side of Highway 394 to save the life of 6-week old Elise. Kristin Lonsbury was driving her premature daughter Elise to the doctor when Elise began choking on her vomit. She quickly stopped on the side of the road and tried to figure out what was wrong. That’s when nurse Virginia Marsh came over and began conducting CPR. Lieutenant Paul Stricker also happened to be driving by when he saw the women. He quickly got out of his car and assisted with CPR and communicating with 911 dispatch.  

Out of all the people that where driving by that day on Highway 395, these two heroes didn’t think twice about stopping and rushed to help a mother and child. “Virginia ran a fair distance to get to us, arrived on scene with such grace, compassion, and confidence, and then was able to save my child’s life because she just knew what to do,” Kristin says. “Paul’s presence on-scene was one of the main reasons why my daughter is alive today. He was calmly assertive and knew exactly what needed to happen in what order. 

With Elise’s every milestone, Kristin is reminded of these two heroes who stopped on the side of the road and selflessly helped her and her daughter out. They provided comfort and checked up on her after the incident.  See their full story here: http://bit.ly/RedCrossHero_1stRespond 

To nominate a hero, click here.

Photos: Andy Clayton-King

Disaster affects mental health, too

Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Disasters can be devastating and extremely stressful for those impacted. Disasters can force people from their homes. For some, disaster will claim everything they own.  The American Red Cross offers these steps for people to take care of their emotional health as well as that of their family members and friends during disaster recovery, and everyday.

How you may be feeling

  • Feel physically and mentally drained
  • Have difficulty making decisions or
  • staying focused on topics
  • Become easily frustrated on a frequent basis
  • Argue more with family and friends
  • Feel tired, sad, numb, lonely or worried
  • Experience changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Most of these reactions are temporary and will go away over time. Try to accept whatever reactions you may have.
  • Look for ways to take one step at a time and focus on taking care of your disaster-related needs and those of your family.

What you can do

  • Take care of your safety. Find a safe place to stay and make sure your physical health needs and those of your family are addressed.
  • Seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Get some rest.
  • Stay connected with family and friends. Giving and getting support is one of the most important things you can do
  • Be patient with yourself and with those around you.
  • Recognize that everyone is stressed and may need some time to put their feelings and thoughts in order.
  • Set priorities. Tackle tasks in small steps.
  • Gather information about assistance and resources that will help you and your family members meet your disaster-related needs.

Signs you may need additional support

Many people feel better after a few days. Others find that their stress does not go away as quickly as they would like and it influences their relationships with their family, friends and others. If you find yourself or a loved one experiencing some of the feelings and reactions listed below for 2 weeks or longer, this may be a sign that you need to reach out for additional assistance.

  • Crying spells or bursts of anger
  • Difficulty eating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Losing interest in things
  • Increased physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling guilty, helpless or hopeless
  • Avoiding family and friends
Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Children and Disasters

Children experience traumatic events differently from adults. Experiencing a disaster can leave children feeling frightened, confused and insecure, particularly if this experience is not their first. Because they can’t always talk about their worries, it sometimes comes out in a child’s behavior. Some may react immediately; others may be fine for weeks or months, and then show troubling behavior. Knowing the signs that are common at different ages can help parents recognize problems and respond accordingly.

They may be more agitated or act out. They may be more clingy or cry often. They may need more attention or reassurance from adults they trust. Scary memories become attached to the sounds, sights and smells that happen at the time of the experience. It’s important to remind children that they are remembering the scary thing that happened; that it’s not happening now.

Here are a few tips for talking to children after a traumatic event:

  • Provide children with opportunities to talk
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have all the answers
  • Allow kids to discuss their fears and concerns
  • Answer questions appropriate for their age.

Additional resources
Contact your local Red Cross Disaster Mental Health or community mental health professional. Please seek immediate help if you or someone you know is feeling that life isn’t worth living or if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.