Robin rocks the Pillowcase Project for kids

Robin Chattopadhyay, Red Cross Volunteer.
Red Cross volunteer Robin Chattopadhyay is helping to build The Pillowcase Project across Minnesota. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross.

Robin Chattopadhyay can trace his Red Cross connection to early childhood when, like many of you, he had Red Cross swimming lessons. But there was an additional connection. Red Cross tracing services helped his family confirm that his uncle and his family were safe and well following the Union Carbide factory gas leak disaster in Bhopal, India, in 1984. The gas leak killed thousands and injured tens of thousands more.

Today, Robin is on special paid leave from his employer Wells Fargo. The leave allows Robin to dedicate ten weeks towards developing the national Pillowcase Project across Minnesota. The Pillowcase Project aims to increase disaster preparedness among kids in third through fifth grades. First up, he says, will be presenting the project to his own kids at an elementary school in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. “I think that it will be great to present in front of my

A sample pillowcase from The Pillowcase Project, which is sponsored by Disney. Photo credit: Robin Chattopadhyay/American Red Cross.
A sample pillowcase from The Pillowcase Project, which is sponsored by Disney. Photo credit: Robin Chattopadhyay/American Red Cross.

kids’ classmates.” The overall goal during his special assignment is to increase awareness of the project among teachers and parents, and to encourage others to become presenters. “First I’m starting with the home crowd,” says Robin, whose easy-going manner will likely inspire kids to tell parents about their Pillowcase Project experience.

After this stint, Robin will continue his Red Cross volunteer service both in emergency preparedness, and in disaster response as a Disaster Action Team member. If you’re interested in learning more, becoming a presenter or having a presentation at your school or organization, feel welcome to contact Robin via email (

Story by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

In Saipan, every interview was the start of a new day

BobPearce_photo2American Red Cross volunteer Bob Pearce recently returned from deployment to Saipan where he worked directly with more than 400 people affected by Typhoon Soudelor. New to the Red Cross, the typhoon relief operation in Saipan was Bob’s first large-scale response. He’s already responding to his second, serving as a virtual volunteer from his home base in Minnesota for the Red Cross response to the wildfires in California. Below, Bob shares with us his Saipan experience.

Information about Typhoon Soudelor and its damage may be interesting, but it doesn’t tell the real or whole story. Many of the Red Cross volunteers used the term resilient to describe the islanders. Others said they were patient. For me, the people of Saipan are remarkable.

Tin roof & coconut treeSaipan is a 12 by 5.5 mile island in the south Pacific. Guam, Tinian, Rota and Saipan form the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, a United States Territory. With a small garment manufacturing industry in continuing decline, the 53,883 residents of Saipan have relied on tourism to help their economy. So, when Typhoon Soudelor slammed into the island in the late night and early morning hours of August 2 and 3, 2015, damage was felt in more than one way.

Winds from the Category III Typhoon broke the NWS anemometer on Saipan at 91mph. Whatever their speed, the winds were sufficient to snap off over 300 power poles on the island, far exceeding the 80-some spares stored for an emergency. Rain and wind-driven sea water also damaged generating plants, further hampering infrastructure recovery. Without power, processing and delivery of fresh and waste water were still further casualties of the storm.

Cleanup of splintered and downed trees from roads began immediately. Hotels and a few businesses, including gas stations, fired up emergency generators and began providing needed services during daylight hours.

The U.S. Navy moved three ships from Guam to Saipan to provide fresh water for the island. People drove cautiously through intersections formerly controlled by traffic signals. And neighbors helped neighbors dig out from the remains of their homes. The same winds and water that knocked out electrical power and stopped road traffic, had also destroyed or seriously damaged well over 500 homes, and many hundreds of other residences were also damaged to some extent.

NMI ChapterIn the first hours after the typhoon, the Northern Mariana Islands Chapter of the American Red Cross mobilized ten core volunteers plus a trained group of 14 other local volunteers. Together with chapter staff, this initial response force began providing immediate assistance to many of the more than 2000 people who called for help. Gradually, the chapter response was supplemented by volunteers from “the mainland,” which is the islanders’ term for the continental U.S. Minnesota provided four of those volunteers, who served in Disaster Health Services (DHS), Disaster Services Technology (DST), and client casework.

Local residents began lining up at the chapter office early each morning, well before the generator was started, DST had reset all systems, and the doors were opened. With daily preparations and briefings completed, health services and client casework volunteers began seeing local residents by 9:00 each morning, and continued well into the evening until there were no more lines. Estimates of the number of clients seen ranged from 200 to 500 daily, seven days a week, for the first couple of weeks. Direct Assistance to Saipan Households (DASH), ranged from cans of food, bottles of water, and bags of rice, to financial assistance cards for people to use for disaster-related needs.

BobPearce_photoSaipan definitely has a slower lifestyle than many of us are accustomed to, yet there’s more to the calm and peace that the residents exhibit. Each client greeted us with a warm smile and a firm handshake. Every interview was the start of a new day. One after another, they thanked the Red Cross volunteers for being there. Most of the islanders have little compared to what many of us have. On the other hand, they have so much. They are happy, generous and content. Saipan is unique and its people exceptional in the face of disaster.

To learn more about how to become a Red Cross volunteer, click here. For more about the Red Cross disaster relief response in Saipan, click here.
Photos provided courtesy of Bob Pearce.

Full-scale exercise readies Red Cross and its partners for disaster response

Story by Dan Williams, Executive Director, American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota

Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, Duluth, MN, 2015. Photo credit: Jon Snyder.
Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, Duluth, MN, 2015. Photo credit: Dan Williams.

Disaster response training is serious business for a wide range of players. Government, military, hospitals, schools, and non-profit organizations, such as the American Red Cross, are among them. On August 24 and 25 in Duluth, Minnesota, the Red Cross and several partners got deep-in-the-weeds serious for Vigilant Guard 2015, a full-scale disaster response 4 years in the making.

According to the Minnesota National Guard, “Vigilant Guard is a United States Northern Command and National Guard Bureau sponsored exercise program. The program provides an opportunity for the State of Minnesota to improve emergency coordination, response and recovery management with federal, regional, local, civilian and military partners. The citizens of Minnesota depend on state and federal agencies to work together to prevent, protect, respond and recover from disasters. Together, we provide the capabilities to save lives, protect property and the environment, and meet basic human needs after an incident has occurred. Vigilant Guard is a rare training opportunity that greatly supports everyone–both participants and the citizens we serve.”

The mock disasters for Vigilant Guard were straight line winds causing severe damage to Hermantown, Proctor and the Duluth Hillside; a railway chemical spill; and a ship destroying the Blatnik Bridge spanning the bay between Duluth and Superior. The Red Cross role in the exercise was to establish a shelter at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC), which is a designated Red Cross shelter location for a real, large-scale disaster response.

Red Cross volunteers set-up a mock shelter during the Vigilant Guard at the convention center in Duluth, Minn., August 24, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Snyder.
Red Cross volunteers off load supplies for a mock shelter during the Vigilant Guard at the convention center in Duluth, Minn., August 24, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Snyder.

On Monday at the Red Cross chapter office in Duluth, 35 public health nurses from 7 Counties, one Native American tribe, the Medical Reserve Corps and the Minnesota Department of Health took training on how to provide nursing services in a disaster shelter. At the same time, more than 35 Red Cross volunteers and others from partner organizations conducted a training on how to stand-up a disaster shelter. The training ranged from setting up cots and doing registration to ensuring client safety and securing shelter resources. Red Cross volunteers from across Minnesota were represented.

That evening, Red Cross volunteers had the mock shelter up and running. Their effort added to individual expertise as well as response capacity state-wide. At the end of the day, more than 25 participants stayed at the shelter as if they were people displaced by disaster. They needed their sleep, as the next day they would operate the shelter for community members who were invited to come to the shelter as evacuees and register as if they would be staying there, which was an important part of the exercise. One FOX21 story put it this way:

It will offer an opportunity for Red Cross volunteers, new and old, to test their skills when disaster strikes. “Tomorrow is the day to make mistakes. I always tell people the key word is disaster…We take care of people in the time of disaster small or big,” said Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Tony Guerra.

Red Cross volunteers operated a mock shelter to support the Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, August 2015. Photo credit: Dan Williams.
Red Cross volunteers operated a mock shelter to support the Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, August 2015. Photo credit: Dan Williams.

On Tuesday, day two, starting at 7:00 a.m., the Salvation Army began serving breakfast, just as they might during a disaster response in the area. Then, at 8:30 a.m., community members began arriving to register for staying at the shelter. More than 130 community members gave their time to test the newly trained shelter staff! Some went through the registration line multiple times to simulate an even larger group of evacuees. As an important part of the training, community members with functional needs were invited to participate and we were grateful for their participation. People with hearing and sight impairment, as well as those with service animals, put the participants in a great position to use their training. A Duluth News Tribune story put it this way:

Red Cross volunteer Karen Campion oversees the sign-in process prior to setting up a mock shelter at the convention center in Duluth, Minn., during the Vigilant Guard disaster training exercise, August. 24, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Snyder.
Red Cross volunteer Karen Campion oversees the sign-in process prior to setting up a mock shelter at the convention center in Duluth, Minn., during the Vigilant Guard disaster training exercise, August. 24, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Snyder.

Other volunteers provided different training opportunities. Jack Bender, who is hearing impaired and communicated through an interpreter, said his participation in the event allowed workers to learn how to help deaf people. “I have to say that they did a really good job handling our communication needs,” Bender said. “There were a few Red Cross workers that knew some basic sign language and finger-spelling, and they were able to help start triaging … until the interpreter arrived.”

We’re also grateful for three new University of Wisconsin-Superior international students who came to the shelter as well and gave the volunteers a chance to use language translation materials the Red Cross uses in shelters.

As a part of the military component of Vigilant Guard 2015, a group of distinguished visitors toured Camp Ripley in Little Falls and the convention center in Duluth where full-scale exercise was taking place. As part of that visit, Phil Hansen, CEO of the American Red Cross Minnesota Region, as well as Regional Board Chair Lori McDougal and Vice Chair Joan Thompson, were able to visit the mock shelter exercise in Duluth. They met many of the volunteers who set up the shelter and several of the Red Cross nurses who trained during the exercise.  Phil, Lori and Joan were impressed with the commitment of the volunteers as well as the close working relationship between the Red Cross and our military partners.

The Minnesota National Guard presented a certificate following the Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise in Duluth, Minn., August 2015. Photo credit: Joan Thompson.
The Minnesota National Guard presented an award of service to the Red Cross following the Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, Duluth, Minn., August 2015. Photo credit: Joan Thompson.

For all of the hard work, the Minnesota National Guard surprised the Red Cross volunteers and staff with a special public service award. Phil Hansen accepted the award on behalf of the Red Cross relief workers participating in the exercise. About the two-day exercise Phil said, “Vigilant Guard was a terrific opportunity to work as a team with our volunteers and key partners to test our readiness before a disaster strikes. Many thanks to all who organized this exceptional exercise.”

To learn more about getting involved with the Red Cross, click here. To access Red Cross disaster and safety tools and resources, click here. For everyday, handy preparedness, download a free Red Cross mobile app.

We love that giving feeling

What is never the wrong size, never requires assembly, never goes out of style and always means something? A gift from the American Red Cross. Our 2013 Holiday Campaign is in full swing and shoppers can go through the online Red Cross gift catalog and purchase a variety of symbolic gifts in the name of people on their gift list and give a gift that means something to those in need.

The holiday gift catalog includes items such as:

  • Hot meals, a warm blanket or a full day of shelter for a victim of disaster
  • comfort kit for an injured service member containing things such as a robe, shower shoes, toiletries and a music gift card
  • First aid and CPR online courses to help caregivers learn what to do when a medical emergency occurs
  • Infant care supplies for babies caught up in a disaster, items such as formula, diapers and more
  • Vaccinations to help people, especially children, around the world avoid contracting what can be a deadly disease

Gifts that give help the Red Cross in many ways, such as sending trained volunteers, like Karen and Rick Campion from Minnesota, to help people affected by disasters. Most recently, and pictured below, they responded to the Illinois disaster relief operation following the tornadoes that hit November 17, 2013.

Gifts that give support the Red Cross in many ways, such as sending trained volunteers, like Karen and Rick Campion from Minnesota, to help people affected by disasters. Here, there were in Illinois responding to the relief operation after the tornado storms that hit November 17, 2013.

The purchase of each symbolic gift item is a tax-deductible contribution that supports the mission of the Red Cross. The catalog gifts are contributions toward a Red Cross program area, not a donation to a specific project or item. Those who participate will receive free gifts such as a Red Cross Water Bottle for a donation of $100 or more or a Family First Aid Kit for a donation of $200 or more.

Other ways you can give something that means something include:

We are there when people need help – assisting someone during a disaster, sending emergency communications to members of the Armed Forces, providing blood to a hospital patient, training people in life-saving skills, or helping people in need around the world. Support the American Red Cross 2013 Holiday Campaign and remember all those who look to the Red Cross for help – give something that means something.

Red Cross Aide Remembers Nocton Hall during World War II

Marian Krinke, 98, was an American Red Cross hospital aide at Nocton Hall in Lincolnshire, England, between 1944 and 1946.
Marian Krinke from Lamberton, Minnesota was an American Red Cross hospital aide at Nocton Hall in Lincolnshire, England, between 1944 and 1946.

In 1944, Marian Krinke gave up a budding career as a business home economist to serve her country during the Second World War. Her choice took her far from her small-town roots in Lamberton, Minnesota.

“I was a bit of a patriot and wanted to serve the Red Cross because it was an honest and dependable organization where my skills would be used to help soldiers. My family was surprised at first, then concerned about the danger I might face.  But I was raised to be independent.”

In September that year, Krinke, four other Red Cross workers, and hundreds of military staff of the 162nd General Hospital Unit sailed to England aboard a refitted luxury liner that was anything but luxurious with two meals a day and rationed water.

The unit set up a hospital at Nocton Hall in Lincolnshire, England where Krinke served as an American Red Cross Staff Aide between 1944 and 1946. Her job was to provide social work services and to organize recreational activities that would help rehabilitate soldiers who were patients at the hospital.

“They were all so young, so very young, just in their early twenties.  My Red Cross teammates and I would work to connect with the soldiers who were recovering by learning things about their lives, later asking about it. The soldiers enjoyed playing Chinese checkers and other games. They sang, chatted, and made handicrafts such as leather billfolds and hooked rugs. It was hard work with few materials, but rewarding.”

Krinke shared one room with the four other Red Cross aides at Nocton Hall.  She traveled a bit in her free time and was even invited to tea by Queen Elizabeth. She laughs as she remembers learning to properly curtsy and shake hands.  That invitation is still framed at her home along with her Red Cross dog tags and certificates. But her eyes well up with tears as she remembers one particular soldier.

“There was a young man in the psychiatric ward who had seen such terrible, terrible things that he couldn’t speak, and he just sat comatose for hours in a corner, staring into space. One night one of my team mates and I were walking through the darkening wards when we saw him just sitting quietly as usual. Eleanor suggested we try one more time to reach him.  We walked up to him and I put my hand on his shoulder. Soldier, is there anything I can get for you? I asked. He slowly looked up at me and said distinctly, I would like a fresh egg.”

Marian Krinke holds the American Red Cross coat that she wore during her service in England during WWII.
Marian Krinke holds the American Red Cross coat that she wore during her service in England during WWII.

“We were shocked. We told him to just wait. We pedaled our bicycles like mad into the village and found eggs.  We made scrambled eggs and toast for him.  With that simple request the door reopened and he began to speak once more.”

Krinke returned to the United States in February 1946 and tried to take up life where it left off.  Just as for the soldiers she served, it wasn’t easy. “I enjoyed having bananas, fresh milk, and eggs, things which were almost unavailable where I had served.  People didn’t often ask questions about what I’d done.  I had to get on with life quickly.”

Today at 98, Krinke is an active volunteer in her retirement community. As she shares her life story, Krinke strokes the bright red liner of her Red Cross coat, a cherished memento covered with patches given to her by the patients for whom she cared, patches representing the many military units they served.

“During my time with the Red Cross, I learned lessons that have been very important to me. It was there I learned care and compassion, to be a better listener and to work as a team player.  I learned to enjoy people of many cultures people, and the value of give and take.”

Krinke will share her stories on Tuesday, November 12, 2013, at 1:30 PM, at the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region headquarters in Minneapolis. Her talk is open to the public. Her coat and other historic mementos will be on view.

Marian Krinke has joined the American Red Cross Legacy Society after naming the humanitarian organization as a beneficiary of her estate. Story and photos by Judy Hanne-Gonzalez/American Red Cross. Click here to learn more about American Red Cross history. 

When Disaster Hits, You Know the Feeling

Guest blog post by Jim Rettew, American Red Cross Volunteer

You know the feeling…when you see the devastation on TV, you can’t help yourself from volunteering to do something. All disasters are hard, but when it’s your former hometown, there’s even a greater sense of urgency. When I saw the flooding in Boulder, Colorado, I was on a plane in hours, deploying to the relief operation. It was still raining when I got there.

For me, responding to the flooding disaster was especially important: before moving to Minnesota in 2011, Boulder was my hometown for 15 years. It’s considered to be less disaster-prone than most places, but for the last three years, it’s been under fire (and under water). Historic wildfires have ripped through Boulder County each year since 2010. When Boulder seemed to dodge the wildfire season this year, it was hit with a 500 year flood.

Jim Rettew (r), and Weather Channel journalists, including Jim Cantore (c), during the flood relief response in Boulder, Colorado, September, 2013. Submitted photo.
Jim Rettew (r), and Weather Channel journalists, including Jim Cantore (c), during the flood response in Boulder, CO, September 2013. Submitted photo.

As part of the American Red Cross “APAT” (Advanced Public Affairs Team), I’m charged with telling the Red Cross story to the national media. Yes, I get to meet some cool people like Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel, but let’s remember, a 7AM live, television interview east coast time. is 5AM mountain time, and that wake-up call is usually preceded by a 1AM radio interview in the Middle East. My sleeping pattern resembled that of a parent with a newborn baby.

Since my team was in the field all day, we were often the eyes and ears of the operation and the front line of problem solvers. When someone in need sees the Red Cross on my shirt, I can’t tell them, “sorry ma’am, I only talk to the press.” I solve their problem, or find someone who can. As a result, I was on a first name basis with everyone from the staff at the Boulder YMCA, which served as our primary shelter, to the state’s Emergency Operation Center folks.

What struck me on this disaster relief operation was seeing so many familiar faces in our shelter, people who had stayed with us during the previous year’s wildfires and now were chased out of their homes by the flood. I was in awe of their resiliency. Can you imagine – losing your house in a wildfire, finally moving back into a permanent home, only to see that one washed away in a flood? Yet those same folks put on smiles and showed fortitude to rebuild…again.

I loved returning to Boulder, but I hated the circumstances. It was like watching a good friend get beat up. My saving grace was that I could return with a big Red Cross on my back, empowered to deliver hope, comfort and restitution to a community that I love.

Click here to learn more about the American Red Cross and how you can help. Click here for more stories and updates about the Red Cross response in Colorado. Thanks Jim!

Balloon Toss + Lollypop Pull = Disaster Relief

Aliyah Robran, age 9
Aliyah Robran, age 9

Balloon tosses, lollypop pulls and county fairs… those were sure signs of summer in Minnesota.  These three things have something else in common: each played a part in ensuring that when disasters strike the Red Cross is prepared to respond.

Let me explain the connection for you.  As the Fundraising Events Director at the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region, anytime a community member or group wants to raise funds on behalf of the Red Cross, the call is sent my way.  I work with this group of donors to make sure they have everything they need in order to hold a successful fundraiser.  These can range from canisters on a store counter to choir concerts and bake sales.  If someone wants to raise money in the community, I’m their gal!

One day this past summer, I received a call from Chad, the father of Aliyah Robran.  Aliyah and her friends Brianna and Alyssa Brolin were planning to have a booth at the Corcoran Country Daze Fair and wanted to raise money for the American Red Cross.

Brianna Brolin, age 14
Brianna Brolin, age 14

In keeping with the hot summer days we had, the girls decided on a water balloon toss as one of the fundraisers.  For $.25, fair goers could pop a water balloon to reveal a ribbon inside.  The color of the ribbon determined the prize won.  Items came straight from the closets of the girls. The other fundraiser was a $.25 Lollypop Pull.  Those lucky enough to pull a sucker with the correct marking, won a prize as well. All together, the girls raised $126.56 for the Red Cross and wanted to have the money go towards Disaster Relief!

These creative kids are just one example of the generous support we receive from the community. Often people feel called to action once a disaster has happened, but these community fundraisers are a great way to make sure the Red Cross is prepared year round before, during and after disasters.

During their county fair, Brianna Brolin, age 14, and Aliyah Robran, age 9, raised money for American Red Cross disaster relief.
During their county fair, Brianna Brolin (l), Aliyah Robran (r) and Alyssa Brolin (not pictured) raised money for American Red Cross disaster relief.

If you’re interested in hosting a community fundraising event, give me a call at our region offices in Minneapolis: 612-871-7676. I love to hear from people in our community who are passionate about our mission–to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies–and want to help fulfill it. 

Guest post by Kristin Peters, Fundraising Events Director for the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. Click here for the Region’s website and to learn more about the Red Cross.