Notes of Thanks

It’s National Volunteer Week, and the staff and board members here in the Northern Minnesota Region have much to be thankful for. This year we decided to write creative thank you notes to volunteers in celebration of their service to the Red Cross. These notes will be compiled into a poster, which we’ll bring to each of the upcoming volunteer appreciation events this spring. But in honor of National Volunteer Week, here’s a preview of how thankful we are for our fabulous Red Cross volunteers.

Megan M note croppedMegan D note croppedBoard note 1 croppedChoua note croppedLisa note croppedNicole note croppedboard note 2 croppedJason note croppedJenn note croppedB Safe note cropped

Happy Red Cross Month

From the archives: Phil Hansen in 1990 working for the Red Cross, Rochester, MN.
From the archives: Phil Hansen in 1990 working for the American Red Cross in Rochester, Minnesota.

They say that what you send out in life comes back to you multiplied.  I believe this is so and I have witnessed many examples over the years.

In my own experience, a donor supplemented the cost of a swimming program in which a Red Cross instructor taught me to swim. I got so excited about the program that I joined the Red Cross and helped teach thousands of others– mostly kids–to swim. My ability to swim has saved my life on at least two harrowing occasions. And one time I used my ability to swim to save a friend. I suspect that many of those I trained have saved lives as well.

My experience is one small example of the multiplying effect of a donor’s gift.  I bet the Red Cross has already touched you or a family member in some way.  If not, maybe someday it will–you may need swimming skills to save a loved one’s life–or have a heart attack and need CPR–or need blood after an accident–or need a place to stay after your home burns down–and the Red Cross will be there for you–always.

During March–Red Cross Month–I want to share my sincere thanks with our board members, volunteers and paid staff members, donors, supporters, partners, and friends for the many ways you have helped the American Red Cross serve the needs of Minnesotans.

Wishing you a very happy Red Cross Month,
Phil Hansen, CEO, American Red Cross, Northern Minnesota Region

P.S. Click here to learn more about ways to be involved with the Red Cross.

Will You Be Our Valentines?

Dear Red Cross Volunteers,

Red Cross volunteer Rick Campion hands food to Janice Lewis during the Hurricane Isaac disaster response, September 1, 2012. (Photo credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)
Red Cross volunteer Rick Campion hands food to Janice Lewis after Hurricane Isaac on September 1, 2012. (Photo credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)

We think that you’re fabulous. We appreciate your positive attitude, your willingness to help out in anyway that you can, and your desire to learn and share your expertise. We love your commitment, your sense of humor and your compassion. Our hearts pound with joy when we think of how smart and dedicated you are, and how you share time, talent and grace under tremendous pressure. We see how wonderful you are and we know that what you give to the Red Cross and the people we serve means more than we could ever write on a card.

Thank you for everything that you do, for everything that you are, and for your friendship and support. So, will you be our valentines?

With much love from,
The Staff at American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region

Three Cheers for Paul!

So, the other day, this young man named Paul van Vliet stops by Red Cross offices in Minneapolis and drops off comfort kits for kids. How cool is that? He (Paul) comes up with his own project idea (making comfort kits for kids) and provides them (the kits) to us (Red Cross) so that our disaster relief workers can give the kits to kids affected by disasters (like fires, floods, & tornadoes).

Now, let’s give some credit to us (Red Cross) because we came up with the original comfort kits for adults and children idea, but we rely on motivated and generous peeps like Paul to make this kits and help reduce the suffering of people who escape burning buildings or high waters. Paul’s dad John was on hand for the comfort kits for kids drop off. He took a fine photo of his son Paul (top & bottom) and then sent us a nice note (excerpt below left).

“It was great to meet you at the Twin Cities’ Red Cross office today. Thanks for your interest in my son, Paul’s, Eagle Scout project. It was a wonderful surprise and honor to meet Phil Hansen, an Eagle Scout himself. I know Paul was very impressed and honored by Mr. Hanson’s enthusiastic reaction to his project. And I am sure Paul will remember this day for the rest of his life. Most important, he and I are gratified to know these comfort kits will benefit the littlest and most vulnerable victims of disasters.”

Well, John, we think your son is the bee’s knees. We could not do what we do without him and others like him. We wish Paul many happy days during his next adventure (college) and hope that he will make his way around the world and back to us some time in the future.

Meet one of our 2012 Heroes

Elizabeth Estepp, of Ham Lake, Minnesota, is a 2012 American Red Cross Heroes Awards recipient.

One Sunday morning in Ham Lake, Minnesota, Elizabeth Estepp was at church when her pastor challenged everyone.  “He asked us to ask ourselves, if our church disappeared would the community even miss us.” Estepp and some others realized that the answer was no.  To change this, they decided to focus community outreach on bringing clothing to people. But how? Estepp slept, thought, and prayed until an idea formed. “I told my husband, we have a trailer full of junk parked outside. Let’s clean it out.” That was more than two years ago. Since then Friend2Friend, a mobile clothing ministry, has put hundreds of pounds of wear-able used clothing into the hands of people who can’t afford to buy their own.

Friend2Friend, a mobile clothing ministry based in Ham Lake, Minnesota, reaches hundreds of people across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.

For us, Estepp is a hero, helping to provide for people in the face of emergencies. For example, last year on May 22, Friend2Friend responded to the Minneapolis tornado, bringing clothing, toiletries, and water to people who were forced to flee their homes with little or nothing. During regular, non-disaster hours, volunteers are gathering, sorting, and hanging the clothes on racks that will later be transported to twenty church locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. On some nights, says Estepp, more than one hundred people show up. In no time, the racks are empty and ready for new donations. “We have seen so many people struggling for the first time in their lives.” Sometimes, she says, people have found clothes to use for job interviews. “They get jobs and then come back to help.”

Pants on a mobile clothing rack hang from the upper left side, making it easy for people to find a fit.

Watching volunteers prepare donated clothing items for distribution serves as a reminder that helping others takes time and effort. Simply, it’s work. And Estepp recognizes this. “If we didn’t see the definite impact we wouldn’t be able to keep it going.” The impact extends from a homeless person needing a jacket to a widower finally feeling good enough about emptying his deceased wife’s closet. Or to a volunteer feeling worth-less until putting his trailer-pulling skills to work for a worth-full cause. Or to Estepp listening to a question and finding an answer because “this is what energizes me.” She’s making plans too: getting Friend2Friend’s food pantry on wheels.

Estepp and the other 2012 Heroes will be honored at the annual American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast on Thursday, May 24, at Target Field in Minneapolis. The public is invited to attend, help recognize local heroes, and support their local American Red Cross. Tickets and table sponsorships are available online at

Story and photos by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Apartment Fire Survivor “Worse than Back to Square One”

On Friday, March 9, 2012, a fire burned an apartment building in Minneapolis. That afternoon at the Red Cross service center volunteer relief worker Kevin Berger spoke with two people affected by this disaster and learned more about them.

Kimberlee Overvold and Carl Robinsen survived the March 9, 2012, St. George apartment fire in Minneapolis. Photo credit: Kevin Berger/American Red Cross

Kimberlee Overvold was at the temporary Red Cross service center just a few blocks from where she had lived for 11 months before a fire destroyed the St. George apartment building on 17thStreet. She was trying to collect herself and figure out her next steps. Overvold and her boyfriend were in the process of finding a bigger apartment but then the fire took it all away. Overwhelmed with the emotion of the situation she said,“I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and it’s going to be a dream.”

They had just gone to bed around 1:45 a.m. when the fire alarms sounded at 2 a.m. Kimberlee said at first they thought it was a false alarm because even as they headed out of the building there was no signs of smoke or fire. However, it wasn’t long before flames rushed through the building and they found themselves meeting up with their neighbors in a bus temporarily used as a shelter.

Before moving into the St. George apartments she had been homeless for nearly 2 years. Back then she said at least she had some possessions, but now “I’m worse than back to square one” as she’s lost everything. Pointing at herself with her mobile phone in hand, she said, “this is my living room now as all my stuff is gone.”

She reflected on some of her family pictures and watercolors she had from her late grandmother. “That’s the stuff I’m going to miss.”

The St. George apartments burned, displacing more than 30 residents of Minneapolis. Photo credit: Kevin Berger/American Red Cross

Her boyfriend, Carl Robinsen, was also considering how to move forward. “I’m not worried about what caused this to happen, we just need to fix it.” He said they were thankful that no one was seriously hurt or killed in the building that housed 32 units. “You can’t replace life,” he said.

One concern is replacing clippers and shears valued at more than $1500 and needs for the barber program he’s just four months from completing at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). As lunch passed by at the Red Cross service center Robinsen was wondering if he should make his way to his job as a janitor in Edina so that he could at least think about something else for a while.

The couple left the service center with information from the Red Cross and The Salvation Army for a temporary place to stay and getting some clothes before finding a new home.

Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross disaster relief, helping people recover from this fire and similar disasters. Or go to to donate even more financial support. This story and the accompanying photos are by Kevin Berger, a volunteer American Red Cross disaster relief worker based in Minnesota.

Morning blaze serves “full meal deal” to volunteer in-training

Scott Olson, a volunteer Red Cross disaster relief worker in-training, got his first on-scene experience, Friday, March 9, 2012, when his phone rang early that morning. The Red Cross was responding to a 3-alarm fire in downtown Minneapolis.

2:30 got the call; 3:00 arrived on scene

Scott Olson, Red Cross volunteer-in-training, at Minneapolis apartment fire, March 9, 2012. Photo credit: Dave Schoeneck/American Red Cross

We tried to walk close to the building, but there were flames licking out the second and third floor windows. The whole area was cordoned off by fire trucks and police.

We went to the shelter bus. About that time there were ten people on it. Most of them were very upset, crying, sort of in shock. I remember another responder saying she expected more people to be on the bus. She handed me a clip board and told me to go ask them some questions. Then they started to trickle out of the bus, finding places to go.

The other responder said this isn’t typical for a first response. I hope it’s not scaring you away she told me. No, I’m not scared. It was neat. I got the full exposure. I got to watch the media. It was the full-meal deal, really.

8:00 am close to getting parking ticket, left the scene; 8:10 am arrived home; stripped and fell on bed; magic happened after that

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