Thursday, January 19 marked the first of many events in a year-long centennial celebration for the America Red Cross Minnesota Region. Volunteers from across the state gathered to display, experience and share in the huge variety of services the American Red Cross provides to Minnesotans and across the globe. From a visual history of the iconic Red Cross pin to an interactive refugee camp simulation, hundreds of guests took themselves on a self-guided tour through 100 years of rich Red Cross history.
All three floors of the Minnesota region’s headquarters were buzzing with excitement for this milestone. One of my first stops was to learn about fire preparedness. “In my experience, more than half of the fires I responded to were caused by grease pans,” said Meredith Lindley, DAT volunteer for more than a year. “People know candles or kids playing with matches are top causes, but the grease pan in your oven is more dangerous than you’d think.” You can bet I went home and cleaned my grease pan that night!
I then headed to the garage to check out the ERV, or the Emergency Response Vehicle, to get a sneak peek into what the Red Cross road warriors experience when delivering relief all over the country. Red Cross volunteer Richard Underdahl-Pierce answered all our questions about the truck, how many meals it can bring to those in need and how often the truck is in action.
“Tonight we are celebrating what the Red Cross has been over the past 100 years, but also what we’re doing today and what we’re doing going forward in our communities,” said Phil Hansen, CEO of the America Red Cross Minnesota Region. “Reaching this 100-year milestone proves that our mission really resonates with people and continues to do so.”
My many conversations throughout the evening yielded a clear conclusion. The Red Cross has maintained the agility over the years to be flexible according to the needs of the American people. In Minnesota, as those needs have changed and evolved over the past 100 years, so have the programs offered by the organization. This centennial celebration is an opportunity to look back and appreciate how the organization has served the people
Click here to learn more about the American Red Cross Centennial Celebration.
Vonnie Thomas has spent virtually her entire life helping others through the American Red Cross and the National Sports Center for the Disabled. She’s 86 years old and shows no signs of stopping.
Thomas started volunteering for the Red Cross when she was 18 so she could get a free ticket to the state fair. But, she’s still offering her time and energy to this day and has stockpiled stories that range from highly emotional to simply surprising.
Thomas estimates she’s helped on almost 50 different disasters, from tornadoes and hurricanes to fires and floods. She’s been volunteering with the Red Cross for 65 years, helping with food, clothing and shelter, but also with hugs and understanding – likely the most important assets of all.
“It isn’t what we give, it’s our presence,” Thomas says.
But, Thomas says it’s not the natural disasters that impact her the most, it’s the manmade ones. She was there at the pentagon for 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing where a daycare was hit. She’s been back to Oklahoma City a number of times, but can’t bring herself to go to the memorial.
“I get about a block away and I think nope- not quite ready. It’s just that hard because I was right down in there,” Thomas says.
Thomas doesn’t just stop at disasters. The mountains call her every single year. She heads to Winter Park, Colorado, where she volunteers to teach downhill and cross country adaptive skiing to amputees, the blind, those with cerebral palsy, cancer, brain injuries and more.
“They come around and they’re like ‘wow I’m empowered I can do this’,” Thomas says.
Thomas is rewarded by the smiles and the self-esteem that emerge from the people she teaches. She shares the story of a young boy with cancer whom she taught to ski. She was so proud of him.
“He said, ‘How come you’re crying?’ I said, ‘I’m not crying my eyes are watering because I don’t have my goggles on’,” she says. “About two weeks later, I got a package in the mail and a note from his mom and it said Jimmy wanted me to have his goggles so my eyes would never water again. He had passed away in the meantime.”
Thomas also volunteers to work with “at risk” youth. Several years ago, she taught a high school boy who showed up in a trench coat to ski and he told her he wished his mom was more like her.
“I said they know everything that’s going on… he said they have no idea what’s going on in the garage. And I didn’t pick up on it,” Thomas recalls.
Two weeks later, Thomas was called to Columbine, Colorado where 13 people were shot and killed. As she was helping families in crisis, she realized her high school ski student was Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters.
“He learned so much,” she said. “I bet if I’d had him another week we would have been okay.”
Thomas says she may be 86, but she doesn’t feel it. She plans to stay on her mission for to help and to heal for years to come.
For more information on how to volunteer with the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/mn and click on “Ways to Help.”
This feature story originally appeared on FOX9 online. The story is published here with permission.
This winter’s first blizzard is expected to blow across western Minnesota, bringing snow, wind, and rain to much of the state. Today is the day to prepare. We encourage everyone to follow the safety tips below to stay safe during the storm.
COLD SAFETY TIPS People are urged to stay inside during this storm. To stay safe during this dangerous weather, follow these steps:
Wear layers of lightweight clothing to stay warm.
Be extremely careful if you have to shovel snow. Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.
Watch for hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia symptoms include confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Frostbite symptoms include numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, or waxy feeling skin.
Remember your pets – bring them indoors. If they can’t come inside, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm and that they can get to unfrozen water.
Download the American Red Cross First Aid App for quick, expert advice on what to do in case of an emergency. This free app is available in your app store. See all Red Cross apps at redcross.org/mobileapps.
POWER OUTAGE If someone is going to use a generator, they should never use it indoors, even in a garage, carport, basement or crawlspace. Fumes from the generator can be deadly.
Use flashlights for light, not candles.
Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Check refrigerated food for spoilage and if in doubt, throw it out. Your refrigerator will keep cold for about 4 hours. If the freezer is full, it will keep its temperature for about 48 hours.
Have coolers on hand and surround your food with ice in the cooler or refrigerator to keep food cold for a longer period of time.
Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electrical equipment and any appliances, equipment or electronics to avoid damaging them when the power is restored.
Leave one light turned on so you’ll know when the power comes back on.
Watch animals and keep them under your direct control.
Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic lights will be out and roads will be congested.
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.
We’re excited, and you might be too, that Halloween is just around the corner. To ensure Halloween is filled with fun for the trick-or-treaters in your life, review and share the safety tips below. And, download the American Red Cross First Aid App. It’s free and it gives you instant access to information about handling common first aid emergencies.
1. Use only flame-resistant costumes.
2. Plan the trick-or-treat route – make sure adults know where children are going.
3. Have a parent or responsible adult accompany young children as they make their way around the neighborhood.
4. 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.
5. Instead of masks which can cover the eyes and make it hard to see, use face paint instead.
6. Be cautious around animals.
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 a grown-up checks the goodies 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. The youngsters are excited and may forget to look both ways before crossing.
Waa! Waa! Do I have to get a flu shot? No, you don’t have to do anything you don’t really want to do. On the flip side, the annual flu shot is your best protection against influenza (also known as the flu), a contagious respiratory disease caused by different virus strains.
In the United States, the flu season begins every fall and ends every spring. The type of flu people get during this season is called seasonal flu. Flu viruses spread when people who are infected cough or sneeze.
In addition to the annual flu shot, take these five (Sniff! Sniff!) steps to stop spreading germs, including the seasonal flu:
Wash hands frequently with soap and water
Reduce contact with people who are sick
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
Cover your mouth and nose with tissues when you cough and sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow
Stay away from others as much as possible when you are sick
Click here for more seasonal flu basics and easy to download checklist and tip sheet for taking care of people with the flu from the Red Cross.
Click here for in-depth resources, including the 2016-17 Flu Season Frequently Asked Questions from the CDC.
Across northern Minnesota,AmericanRed Cross disaster relief responders are working towards hosting a disaster shelter workshop in each county and tribal community. Most recently, the Red Cross teamed up with Koochiching County employees. In addition, the Red Cross connected with response partners across the U.S.-Canadian border because, as we know, ‘disasters don’t go through customs.’
The training week started with a shelter set-up that included twenty-four Koochiching County employees. (The workshop was a smaller version of what was used for the statewide Vigilant Guard exercise in Duluth in the fall of 2015.) Before the participants arrived they completed the American Red Cross Shelter Fundamentals course online. During the on-site part of the training, a Red Cross team of three volunteers from the Minnesota and North Dakota guided the shelter participants. (The cross-border collaboration between states has been in place for more than two years because we’re often called to respond together.) The workshop was set-up in three stations: registration, dormitory, and feeding. There was also a training for disaster nursing. After the two-hour workshop there was an open-house for the community members who were not in the training to ask questions and to see how the Red Cross and Koochiching County can work together to shelter displaced people during disaster relief response. The Salvation was also on hand serving lunch to all who participated. (Thanks!)
A cross-border conference called “Disasters Do Not go Through Customs” followed the shelter training. Sponsored by the Rainy River Cross Border Planning Group, the conference brought together around one hundred people from both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border who could work together during major disasters affecting both sides of the international border. Presentations included managing potential threats, such as train derailments, floods, tornadoes, biological outbreak, communication failures, quarantine, wild fires and terrorism. All levels of government were represented from both Canada and the United States. Railroad representatives addressed one of the biggest concerns throughout the emergency management world: train derailments involving large amounts of oil carried by rail.
Less than twenty fours after the end of the conference there was a train derailment in Callaway, Minnesota. The accident forced the town of more than 200 people to be evacuated. Red Cross volunteers from North Dakota and Minnesota as well as Salvation Army relief workers were on-scene, providing the care and sheltering that we have trained for and do so well.
Story by Tony Guerra, Disaster Program Manager for the American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota. You can be a Red Cross disaster relief volunteer.