Story by Kathleen Todd for the American Red Cross Minnesota Region
On Veterans Day, the American Red Cross honors people like Sharon Azan.
In 1985, Sharon Azan was stationed in Naples, Italy, with the United States Air Force when she got a call from the American Red Cross. Five thousand miles away, Azan’s uncle had passed away, and her family contacted the Red Cross to relay an urgent message about his death.
It was that one phone call—all those years ago—that recently prompted Azan to connect with the American Red Cross in Minnesota. Now, she’s training to become a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteer.
“I figured this was a good time for me to help someone else,” Azan says. “I am so appreciative of what the Red Cross does and what it stands for.”
For more than 100 years, the Red Cross has been hard at work supporting the men and women of the American armed forces. Today, no matter where American armed service members are in the world, the Red Cross is dedicated to delivering emergency communications messages through the American Red Cross Hero Care Network, which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The Red Cross provides around 370,000 services each year to active-duty military, veterans, and their families—including more than 3,000 in Minnesota last fiscal year. In addition to emergency communications, the Minnesota Red Cross provides courses and workshops to help military families cope with life after deployments.
The Red Cross invites you to say “thanks” by signing and sending cards through Holidays for Heroes to U.S. military and veterans. Click here for information, including where cards to send cards, the program deadline, and other important guidelines for the cards.
When Suzie Olson of Saint Paul had a recent American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign visit, she had a big surprise.
“None of my smoke alarms actually worked. While I thought I had been on top of changing the batteries, my smoke detectors were so old that the smoke alarm itself was completely nonfunctional,” Olson says. “I thought I had been so responsible about it.”
Olson took the first step to detecting a fire and now she wants others to take action. And the Red Cross wants to ensure that every household has working smoke alarms.
Please check the alarms in your home to see if they’re working. If not, replace the batteries or the alarms. The Red Cross can help you do this. Our Home Fire Campaign makes it possible for the Red Cross to install free smoke alarms that will help save lives during home fires.
The American Red Cross responds on average 60,000 disasters each year in the United Sates – and the vast majority of these are home fires. Since 2014, the Red Cross, in partnership with fire departments and other local groups, has visited homes and installed over a million free smoke alarms nationwide. Through these efforts, the Red Cross has saved over 250 lives.
In 2016, 43 Minnesotans lost their lives in fires. In 33 percent of the residential casualties, smoke alarms were absent or non-operating.
To request a smoke alarm installation for your home, community members can call 612-871-7676 or visit getasmokealarm.org. Appointments typically take 20-30 minutes.
By Mary Robertson, Disaster Health Services Nurse, American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota
On Sunday, September 9, 2017, I deployed to Florida to provide nursing services to people impacted by Hurricane Irma. I had never experienced disaster nursing in such a massive event and my family was, understandably, somewhat anxious for me. “Mom, people are running from this storm, why are you going toward it?” For me the answer is simple, someone has to. Someone has to be there to set up the shelters, deliver supplies, and do all of the hundreds of other things that need to be done.
My first shelter was the hurricane evacuation shelter in Kissimmee, Florida, where there were more than 400 people. They were from all walks of life — rich, poor, homeless, young, and old — sleeping together on a school gymnasium floor. Many did not speak English, but everyone worked together for communication. Health care needs were as diverse as the population — diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy, and confused elderly people and children. Each one was given as much comfort and reassurance as possible. No one was turned away. Because of the hurricane, there was no electricity, no running water, no air conditioning, and only minimal light. Hurricane Irma arrived at 2 a.m. with 110 mph winds. I looked around and could feel the building “breathing” during the height of the storm, which passed at about 5 a.m. Once daylight arrived, people began to leave to check on their homes, family members, and friends. As quickly as the shelter had opened, it closed. My time in Kissimmee had lasted only 40 hours, but felt like a lifetime.
I received my next assignment about 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Along with three other Red Cross volunteers, we left for a community named Immokalee – just north of Naples. Immokalee is one of the poorest communities in Collier County, with a large number of migrant workers. When we arrived at the shelter, there were about 500 evacuees there. They had generator power, no potable water, and three bathrooms for hundreds of residents and staff, and at the time no hot food. All the residents were calm and cooperative, thanks to the outstanding leadership from the shelter manager and support from diligent staff. There were no health clinics, pharmacies, or banks open in the community as all had been affected by the storm. The closest emergency medical services up and running were in Naples, 50 miles away.
Red Cross volunteers tried to bring a sense of calm to the residents: we gave them shelter and safety. Simply by seeing the Red Cross symbol, they put hope and trust in us. Every one of the volunteers did whatever it took to “get to yes” and inspired those around them to help one another under difficult circumstances. People often came up to say “thank you” for everything we were doing, which was an great tribute to the relief workers. For me, no amount of money means more to those who are privileged to serve as Red Cross volunteers.
Click here to learn more about the Red Cross response to hurricanes Irma and Maria. Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.
Dun Bui is following the example of her mother and father by supervising an American Red Cross shelter for people in Estero, Florida, affected by Hurricane Irma. “Mom and Dad did charity work back home (in Vietnam),” she says.
Though they live in the United States, Dun’s parents went back to Vietnam to buy food and water to help an orphanage and others in need. “That’s what they did in the past so I thought it would be a wonderful idea to do,” she says. “America’s my home, so I want to volunteer here.”
A volunteer from the Twin Cities Chapter of the Red Cross in Minnesota, Dun has been working as night supervisor in a shelter for more than 450 displaced people, making sure people temporarily living there have food and other services – “that everything that’s needed is available and ready.” She also translates for those who speak Vietnamese and need disaster relief.
She started with the Red Cross after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, took a break for a while and then reactivated, deploying to help last year after flooding in North Carolina. Dun is one of more than 2,700 Red Cross workers who are responding to Irma. “Giving back to the community … really inspires me,” she says.
Story by Pauline Jelinek. Click here to learn more about the Red Cross response to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
As the winds, rain, and flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey last week pummeled Southeast Texas, first hundreds, then thousands of residents sought refuge at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. By Tuesday night, August 29, more than 9,400 people had sought shelter at the center, a mammoth 5-block long structure with five large halls covering over half a million square feet.
They came as individuals, as families, as extended families, as neighbors. Often with only the wet clothes on their back, they needed a safe, secure place to stay, dry clothes, a hot meal, and most of all, hope. And the Red Cross was there for them. Working closely with government partners such as the city, the county and the state, Red Cross shelter workers welcomed them in, helped them dry off, fed them a hot meal, and saw to their health needs and concerns.
Where only a few days before, there was an empty cement floor, within 48 hours a village, then a town, then a city of over 10,000 residents sprang up. Neighborhoods developed. One hall was reserved for people with pets, another for families. People of many different heritages and backgrounds from all over Texas were united as survivors of a terrible natural tragedy. All entered this giant “lifeboat” mega-shelter knowing that they would now be safe and cared for.
The Red Cross rushed workers from across the nation to Houston, even before Harvey struck. By the end of the week, more than 2,700 trained disaster workers were on the ground, and another 800 were on the way, along with more than Red Cross 200 emergency relief vehicles. Over 37,000 people stayed in 270 Red Cross and partner shelters across Texas on Saturday.
At the George Brown Shelter, hundreds of local Houstonians reached out to help their neighbors. They sorted donated clothes, provided meals and food service, and rendered medical assistance. Boy Scout troops served up an oatmeal breakfast, and were introduced to folks who live outside of their middle-class neighborhoods.
Stories were shared of rescues by strangers from rising flood waters, as neighborhoods were suddenly inundated. Travel around the area was difficult, as major freeways were under water for several days. Sad stories were also shared of relatives who had tried to drive to safety, but were swept away by the floods. Red Cross Mental health and health services professionals have provided over 11,000 contacts to provide support and care for the evacuees.
Journalists from all over the world rushed to cover the story, with TV crews based here sending stories and pictures back to networks in countries such as Germany, France, Belgium, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, and Denmark. In addition, all of the national networks, the local and regional television and radio stations, were well represented, as well as many Texas and national newspapers.
While squeezing nearly 10,000 people into one shelter isn’t optimal, everyone there was safe, out of the weather, and had access to hot food and medical assistance. Additional shelters opened up the next day and relieved pressure on the George R. Brown Convention Center shelter.
One survivor summed it all up. When told to make sure she held on to a certain document, as she slide it back into a large manila envelope, she simply said, “Don’t worry. My entire life is in this envelope.”
It’s officially that time of year again: back-to-school. We know many of you may be getting your little ones ready for their first day, or settling into the groove of things with classes back in session. It’s a chaotic week for families, students and staff. In an effort to help get your kids prepared and to help prepare teachers, we talked to some experts in education, namely Glenna Housman, a middle school nurse in Virginia.
“We know that when it’s time to get kids ready to come back to school, parents’ lives get a little hectic,” says Glenna. “Staff members tend to rely on parents to share a lot of information about their students, but I think it’s also very important for teachers and school administrators to take certain prep steps, too.”
Here are 6 tips for teachers and students alike to be Red Cross Ready as they embark on the new school year:
Get a Kit
Think about emergency preparedness items you don’t already have in your classroom. Some good supplies to have on hand are a flashlight and cell phone charger in case the power goes out. We tend to rely on our technology in times of crisis, especially to communicate.
Talk to your school nurse and ask for an extra batch of first aid items like gauze pads and bandages without latex (in case of allergies), for emergencies or if you can’t get to the nurse’s station right away.
Know which students have allergies and which ones do not. If you’re a parent, we suggest putting a supply kit together in your student’s backpack. If they have allergies or certain medical needs, be sure to have those things noted for the teacher. If you’re a teacher, have some snacks in your classroom that can be used for kids with allergies or diabetes. Some examples include non-peanut snacks, non-perishables, hard candy. Also be aware of allergies to things like grass or wood chips often found on playgrounds, in case a student has an allergic reaction at recess.
Make a Plan
Know where to go for emergencies like a tornado or fire in the cafeteria. Most schools have policies in place and practice drills regularly. If your school doesn’t have these policies already in play, talk to your administrators and staff about how to protect your students.
Don’t forget to update your child’s school health records. These records should be updated at the beginning of every school year. Any health care plans signed by the doctors are needed each fall for food allergies, inhalers, diabetics, sickle cell anemia, etc. so teachers and nurses are well-equipped to treat your kids.
Talk with your class about what to do in emergencies. Keeping the steps simple and easy to follow will help them remember when you practice.
While we hope your school year goes off without a hitch, we know it’s always best to be prepared for whatever may happen.
If you’re on top of emergency preparedness, then you’ll be teaching your students a good life skill and making their parents feel better while they’re under your care.