Hey, Red Cross bloodmobile, you’ve come a long way baby!

Story by Sue Thesenga of North Central Blood Services and
Abby Arthaud 
of Southwest Blood Services Region 

Red Cross blood truck, ca. 1940s. Image: University of Minnesota

You’ve probably seen one rolling down the road or through your town on its way to a blood drive — an American Red Cross bloodmobile. They allow blood drive organizers to host drives anywhere, making it more convenient for donors to give near home, work or school.

A self-contained bloodmobile from 1957. Among the first in the nation, it was paid for by the St. Paul Masonic Women.

Throughout the years, Red Cross bloodmobiles have changed, but their mission has stayed the same—to help fulfill the need for blood donations.

As far back as WWII and the Korean War, requests for blood for the armed forces reached St. Paul and donated blood was included in air shipments overseas. The successful efforts of collection centers throughout the war spurred calls from the nation’s hospitals and other medical facilities for an ongoing civilian blood program.

Train bloodmobile

In January 1949, the first mobile operation from the St. Paul Blood Center was deployed to North Branch, Minnesota. This was one of the first self-contained, traveling blood donation centers and transformed blood collection. Another bloodmobile was put into operation in the St. Paul region in 1950 to help serve 32 additional counties. Since then, self-contained bloodmobiles have been adopted across the nation and world.

American Red Cross bloodmobile of today

Today’s bloodmobiles are fully equipped for blood collection and short-term blood storage, featuring open floor plans, climate control, advanced technology and spacious interiors. They are designed to be more comfortable and enhance the donor experience. The newest bloodmobiles include special features for donors, such as iPads on each donor bed with all of the Red Cross apps and an LCD billboard on the exterior that tells passersby which blood types are currently most needed.

Today’s bloodmobile interior

Bloodmobiles travel all over the state every day to fulfill the constant need for blood. From planes, trains and bloodmobiles, the mission of the Red Cross is to ensure patients get the blood products they need wherever they need them, whenever they need them. Some things never change!

Help us celebrate 100 years of Red Cross service in Minnesota. Click here to find a blood drive near you. Click here to share your Red Cross story. 

Stars aligned for dancing, raising funds in Mankato

Local Red Cross board chair Ben Hoffmann in Dancing with the Mankato Stars. Photo Jackson Forderer/Mankato Free Press
Local Red Cross board chair Ben Hoffman performs in Dancing with the Mankato Stars. Photo Jackson Forderer/Mankato Free Press

For the fifth year, the stars aligned in Mankato for a successful Dancing With the Mankato Stars (DWTMS) on February 11, 2017.

More than 2,500 people filled the sold-out Verizon Event Center to watch 11 couples and one group of religious sisters dance to support the American Red Cross serving Southwest Minnesota. The event was spearheaded by the DWTMS board and Dance Express.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this event happen, including more than 30 Red Cross volunteers. Through sponsorships and donations, the event raised over $123,400.

Click here to see more great photos.

Celebrating a Century of Service

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1917-18 Comfort Kit Shop. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

In 1917, as the United States entered World War I, the American Red Cross quickly emerged as the largest social welfare agency throughout Minnesota and across the nation. The community quickly embraced the Red Cross mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors and by the end of the war, 20 percent of all Minnesotans had joined the organization.

This year, as we celebrate a century of service, the American Red Cross Minnesota Region invites individuals and organizations to join us as we prepare for whatever may come in the next 100 years. Click here to learn more about our Centennial Year.

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1960 Red Cross nurses with blood. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

During the past century, we have served millions of people. Through disaster services, we have provided immediate, emergency housing, food, clothing, medical supplies, and essential household items to victims of the more than 600 disasters that occur in the Minnesota Region annually. From preparedness education and health and safety programs to ensuring the daily demand for blood is met, we have worked vigilantly to prepare our communities with the tools and resources that save lives before urgent situations happen. We have supported our military heroes and their families before, during and after deployment and have reconnected families separated by conflict around the globe.

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2011 Minneapolis Tornado relief effort. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Today, 100 years since our inception, the American Red Cross Minnesota Region stands ready 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with volunteers and staff on standby to bring comfort, care and relief to victims of disasters or critical emergencies, work as health and safety trainers, and meet demand for area blood supplies.

We welcome you to join us!

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86-year-old Red Cross volunteer shows no sign of slowing down

Story by Karen Scullin, FOX9 News

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Vonnie Thomas, image provided courtesy of Fox9

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.

Vonnie Thomas and a home fire survivor. Image provided courtesy of the American Red Cross

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. 

2016 Year In Disasters — Helping People Near and Far

In November, Red Cross volunteer Mimi Bielinski met with Milton Vallejos after a multi-unit apartment fire in Burnsville, Minnesota.
In November, Red Cross volunteer Mimi Bielinski met with Milton Vallejos after a multi-unit apartment fire in Burnsville, Minnesota.

2016 was a busy year for Red Cross disaster services in Minnesota. Our relief workers did a great job making sure people near and far received Red Cross support during times of need and helping them rebuild their lives after disaster.

For example, in November, Red Cross volunteer Mimi Bielinski met with Milton Vallejos following a multi-unit apartment fire in Burnsville, a city just south of Minneapolis. Mimi worked with Milton to assess and support his family’s immediate disaster relief needs and to direct him to additional resources for long-term recovery. With Red Cross help said Milton, “All of our problems went away. We had a place to stay, money for food and clothes.” The Red Cross assisted more than 80 people affected by the fire. After four years into serving as a Red Cross volunteer Mimi said, “I feel good when people are being helped. And, I can tell when they’re being helped just by my interactions with them.”

During 2016, the Minnesota Region of the American Red Cross:

  • Responded to 470 disasters in the Minnesota Region, which includes part of western Wisconsin
  • Helped 1,011 families affected by local disasters, mostly single family home fires
  • Installed 3,720 smoke alarms in residences, making them safer from and more prepared for home fires as part of our Home Fire Campaign
  • Reached 5,245 youth with emergency preparedness education through The Pillowcase Project

In addition to helping at home, more than 150 Red Cross disaster relief workers from Minnesota responded (some not once, but multiple times) to national Red Cross relief efforts across the country, including flooding in Missouri, Texas, and Louisiana; water crisis in Flint, Michigan; wildfires in California; and hurricane relief across multiple states along the eastern seaboard. Their service provided shelter, food, and medical and emotional support to thousands of people experiencing some of their darkest moments.

Thank you to everyone for the great work done this past year, providing assistance to neighbors near and far.

Story and photo by Lynette Nyman, American Red Cross. Click here to learn more about the Red Cross in Minnesota.  

Safety tips for this winter’s first blizzard

rco_blog_img_winter-storm-snow-plowThis 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.

For more tips, search our Red Cross Disaster & Safety Library for preparedness checklists and guides.

From Florida to the Carolinas

From Florida to the Carolinas, American Red Cross workers from Minnesota have supported Hurricane Matthew relief efforts. Assignments have ranged from working in a shelter and serving meals to coordinating with response partners and providing medical and mental health services. Others gathered stories and helped raise money for the response. Big picture number as of October 27: more than 50 Red Cross workers from Minnesota have deployed to areas impacted by the storm across the southeastern United States. Take a look.

14712963_10154611990962179_2000084266616440590_oCarole Madland visited people in shelters and neighborhoods in North Carolina. Sometimes she hitched a ride to reach isolated communities. Overall, the Red Cross mobilized 2,200 workers, 13 kitchens with partners, and 111 response vehicles for the state. Big picture number as of October 25: the Red Cross has mobilized more than 5,800 disaster workers since Hurricane Matthew first threatened communities in the southeast.

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Rachel Olmanson took meals to people in affected communities. Above is the view from Rachel’s truck while her team was next in line for food pick-up at a field kitchen in North Carolina. Big picture number as of October 25: the Red Cross and its partners have served more than 1.3 million meals and snacks in affected communities in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

 

matthew_daveschoeneckIn Florida, Dave Schoeneck (upper left) assisted with relief effort coordination. The Red Cross has worked closely with government officials and non-government organizations (NGOs), such as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and others. Big picture number: around 13,000 homes are affected in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

 

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In South Carolina, Dave Snetsinger (second on right) was a shelter worker. Overall, the Red Cross has had nearly 1,200 workers, 5 kitchens with partners, and 53 response vehicles for relief efforts in the state. Big picture number as of October 25: the Red Cross has helped provide nearly 100,000 overnight shelter stays in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

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Mark and Gail Noren (right and center) are doing search and care, which means finding neighborhoods and people in need of meals and feeding them in North Carolina. Big picture number as of October 25: Red Cross and its partners have served 697,000 meals and snacks across hurricane affected areas in the state.

 

a9r13mhx5w_h375qp_a98-2In Georgia, Judy Hanne Gonzalez helped gather and share stories about the Red Cross and its Hurricane Matthew relief efforts. Judy also assisted with fundraising in Florida. Big picture number: as of October 25, the Red Cross has raised $8.1 million in designated donations and pledges for a relief response that’s estimated to cost $24-$28 million.

Thank you to everyone who has responded to the Hurricane Matthew relief efforts!