Making a Difference for our Military Heroes

Stand Down for veterans, Virginia, MN, August 2016
Stand Down for veterans, Virginia, MN, August 2016

By Dan Williams, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota

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.

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Richard Krsiean

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.

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Richard and Wendy at the Stand Down

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.”

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Richard and Wendy talking at the Stand Down

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.

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UMD Greek Life Club, September 2016

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.

Volunteer Spotlight: Melinda Wittmer

MelindaMeet Melinda Wittmer, a Disaster Services volunteer for the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota.

Melinda has been a Disaster Services volunteer since 2011, and is part of the Disaster Action Team (DAT). She also has recently taken on a new role with Volunteer Services – she’ll be interviewing prospective volunteers to introduce them to the volunteer opportunities at the Red Cross and help them find a good fit.

As a child, Melinda was introduced to the Red Cross as part of her home-school curriculum, in which her mother made the Red Cross a recurring theme. What Melinda took away from that was that the Red Cross “is a solid entity that is always there to help.”

Fast forward to Melinda’s adult life when she was working at a group home and became very close to an individual who turned into one of her favorite clients. His health declined and he was put on life support, and then eventually taken off. At that moment Melinda decided she wanted to do something good and help people. She went to the Red Cross office in Duluth, Minnesota, to ask a few questions, and was immediately “roped in.” Within minutes she was filling out an application, and the rest is history!

Melinda went on her first home fire call with one of the chapter’s most experienced volunteers.  Since then Melinda has responded to over 30 home fires.  Melinda says that the most satisfying part of being a disaster volunteer is “helping people who have experienced a devastating loss and seeing how grateful clients always are for the services of the American Red Cross.”

A few months ago Melinda went through the difficult experience of responding to an incident that involved a fatality. Additionally, it turned out that she was familiar with the person who died. Despite the difficulty involved in this response, Melinda took away the feeling that she was there for the family to help them with the “begin-again phase” of their lives.

The Red Cross has made Melinda more confident, and through her interactions and meeting other volunteers she has become interested in pursuing a career in Emergency Management.

Melinda certainly embodies the mission and fundamental principles of both the American Red Cross and Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement around the globe.  She’s always ready, willing and able to assist and a great comfort to those who have suffered a loss because of home fires and other disasters.

Story and photo by Nancy Rogers, Volunteer Services Coordinator for the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota.

To learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, click here.

Rusty, but safe

Story by Red Cross Volunteer Scott Olson

Rescue by front-loader during the Northland flash floods, June 20, 2012. Photo credit: area resident.

With flash flood waters rising fast, apartment building manager Roy Heller–rounded up his building’s residents and moved them to the building’s second floor. The next morning a front-loader made 3 trips to the building, carrying the bewildered residents to safety. Two had oxygen machines. At least one had prescription drug requirements and was concerned about getting refills. One of the ladies said: “my butt got rusty riding in that bucket.”

“My Butt got rusty riding in that bucket.” Rescued seniors tell their story to Red Cross disaster relief worker Carrie Carlson-Guest.

In total, 27 butts were rusted–and saved–on June 20 when an enterprising construction crew-member navigated the sturdy front loader through rushing water of the swollen Moose Horn River and up to the steps of the retirement complex.

At a Red Cross shelter a few days later, Gary Rector’s eyes reddened as he talked about watching the flood water rise over the front stairs of the apartment building, step by step. He wondered out loud about what might come of his tropical fish and pondered the whereabouts of the convertible Chrysler Lebaron that he’d just purchased a week before. Rector, retired musician and professed “hippie” slowly shook his head. Rector, a former a studio musician who worked on occasion with legendary singer and songwriter Del Shannon, only a few days earlier was playing his guitar with a friend in a neighboring park. Now the park was submerged and his home flooded.

Roy Heller, apartment building manager, Scanlon, MN. Photo credit: Scott Olson/American Red Cross

At around 9:10AM Thursday, Heller and Carlton County Sheriff briefed Rector and the other evacuated seniors. The water, they said had finally receded away from the apartment building. The apartment manager stood next to the Sheriff at a long table where the seniors were seated nibbling on snacks and trading stories, and announced that he could now see the entire front yard again. Everyone clapped. The Sheriff said it would be at least a couple days before inspectors could get inside and assess the damage.

Gary Rector, a retired studio musician, stayed at a Red Cross shelter during the flash flooding, Scanlon, Minnesota. Photo credit: Carrie Carlson-Guest/American Red Cross

If you would like to help people affected by the Northland flooding and other disasters here and around the world, you can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to your local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross P.O. Box 37423, Washington, DC 20013.

Every Donation Counts

Ruby Born, 6, held a lemonade stand and raised money for Red Cross disaster relief. Photo credit: Nancy Rogers/American Red Cross

When Ruby Born, 6, came to the Red Cross office in Duluth, Minnesota, after the flash flooding, she had a sparkly yellow skirt, a beautiful smile, and a plastic bag filled with cash for the American Red Cross disaster relief operation helping affected families. “We sold lemonade,” she told the Red Cross.

Ruby held a two-day lemonade stand in her Superior, Wisconsin, neighborhood (just across a bridge from Duluth), selling an estimated 60 cups of lemonade.  Her parents Jeanne and Hector matched Ruby’s $150 in sales. And Enbridge Energy in Superior matched their combined gift for a total contribution of $600.00.

Red Cross disaster relief workers distribute clean up supplies in flood damaged Willow River, MN. Photo credit: Judy Hanne-Gonzalez/American Red Cross

The Red Cross continues to respond to flash flooding that resulted after a storm dumped more than 9 inches of rain across northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, causing widespread damage and displacing hundreds of people. The Red Cross supported around 200 people in shelters.  Red Cross disaster relief workers conducted damage assessment across several counties in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Other Red Cross workers are still on the ground distributing water, food, and cleaning supplies to people in the most impacted areas.

Asked why she raised the money, Ruby’s mom said the family talked together about the flood and discussed ways to help.  Ruby said, “I want to give the money to the Red Cross.”

Red Cross disaster relief workers provide food from mobile trucks, Fond du Lac, Minnesota. Photo credit: Judy Hanne-Gonzalez/American Red Cross.

Thank you Ruby, and to everyone, for supporting the American Red Cross and helping fulfill our mission to reduce human suffering in the face of emergencies.

Every dollar counts, including those made from selling lemonade. If you would like to help people affected by the Northland flooding and other disasters here and around the world, you can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to your local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross P.O. Box 37423, Washington, DC 20013.

A couple portraits from the flooding disaster

You’ve heard the news or seen the images of the dramatic and traumatic events that continue to unfold in northeast Minnesota. We want you to know that the Red Cross is going full force–ramping up each moment–to help the people who are affected by this disaster. Last night we supported 185 people in shelters across the region. We offer, here, a couple portraits of people who are affected by this disaster.

Portraits and Photos from Judy Hanne-Gonzalez, Executive Director, American Red Cross Northland and North Star Chapters.

Michael Ray Marchand

When Michael Ray Marchand looked out his trailer door early morning on June 20, he could not believe his eyes. The twice-homeless veteran, who lost his leg and wears a vibrantly-colored prosthesis in a design based on the American Flag, saw pouring rain, downed power lines, and a home teetering as the soil beneath it washed away. Marchand was evacuated by his landlords and called 911 for help.  He was rescued by a fire truck and taken with sirens blaring to the Red Cross shelter at the First United Methodist Church (aka Coppertop church) in Duluth.  “Red Cross has given me food and a place to stay,” Marchand says. “I can’t believe it. This is the third time I’ve been homeless.”

 

 

Charles, Koda, Michelle, and Jayden

Michelle Henry, Charles Goggleye, and their children Koda Duane, five years old, and Jayden, two years, were staying with a sister in the Fond du Lac neighborhood when they were evacuated mid-morning on Wednesday by police as flood waters quickly rose. They escaped in their car, but it quickly broke down leaving them stranded again. They called Charles’ mother only to find that his brother and five children had also been evacuated and were staying there. So they found transportation to the Copper Top Church, where Red Cross workers were providing food, blankets, and a warm dry place to stay.  Red Cross volunteers entertained the children with movies. “We love the Red Cross,” says Koda. “They’re really nice!” Jayden and Koda loved the Red Cross comfort kits they were given, which included crayons, coloring books and toothbrushes.  The kids rushed to open the new toothbrushes and practiced brushing their teeth.

The Red Cross will soon begin mobile feeding as impacted areas become accessible; damage assessment volunteers are gathering and will deploy within 24 hours. Perhaps you’re already helping in some way, but if you’re wondering about HOW YOU CAN HELP, you can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. This gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to this and other disasters here and abroad. Visit www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

Red Cross Trains Mille Lacs Band on How to Set Up a Shelter

Last fall the American Red Cross trained members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in emergency sheltering. Below is the article about the training published in the Mille Lacs Band newspaper Ojibwe Inaajimowin and written by Jamie Edwards, public information
officer of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Tribal Emergency Response Committee.

A baby on a Red Cross cot during the Minneapolis tornado response May 2011. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Red Cross officials were on the Mille Lacs Reservation on November 17 [2011] to train the Band’s Tribal Emergency Response Committee (TERC) on how to set up a temporary shelter. This training session helped TERC members understand the Band’s role and each of their roles in setting up an emergency shelter in partnership with the Red Cross.

After the storm in District III this past summer, committee members requested training on how to set up temporary shelters at each District’s Community Center. If any future disasters should leave Band members temporarily homeless or without basic necessities, a shelter would be the most efficient way to respond.

“Setting up a temporary shelter takes a lot of teamwork since an emergency shelter can be needed any time during the year and at all hours of the day,” said Monte Fronk, Mille Lacs Band emergency management coordinator. “TERC requested this additional training because we want to be prepared in the event that we need to set up a temporary shelter.”

In general, the process would involve the Band preparing a shelter site (such as one of the community centers) for the Red Cross to bring cots, blankets and meals. Since government entities do not normally keep these supplies in their inventories, the Duluth Red Cross [American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region] would provide these resources under the direction of TERC. The Band would also be responsible for operating the shelter as well as services such as transportation, medical care, and mental health services.

Mii gwech to the Red Cross’s Duluth office for providing the training session…

Click here to learn more about the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.