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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Carole 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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
In 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!
Dave Snetsinger, of Naytahwaush, Minnesota, returned home on September 6 after a two-week deployment assisting with flood recovery in southern Louisiana.
Snetsinger was stationed at the Baton Rouge River Center and was one of eight Red Cross volunteers from the Northern Minnesota Chapter.
The volunteers focused on the immediate needs. The group mostly worked in shelters, ensuring displaced people had adequate housing. Other volunteers helped feed people and focused on medical needs. As a part the feeding group, Snetsinger worked 12-hour shifts that started at 7 a.m. On August 28, he helped serve lunch for 900 shelter residents.
Snetsinger, a White Earth enrollee, has been a Red Cross volunteer for more than 20 years, and now that he’s retired he will continue to volunteer to go out on national disasters to help others. Over the years as a local volunteer firefighter, he has responded to home fires throughout Mahnomen County and on tribal lands.
The northern office of the American Red Cross will be starting a volunteer recruitment drive in your area and are looking for people willing to help those who are displaced locally due to emergencies. With training and experience a Red Cross Volunteer can be deployed throughout the country to help. All training is free and much of it is online. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer or have questions, please contact Tony Guerra at (218) 722-0071 or email@example.com.
Volunteers are the heart of the Red Cross. Nearly 4,000 volunteers support the Red Cross in Minnesota. They contribute a varying number of hours – from very infrequently to nearly full-time. Volunteers are needed for a variety of response roles, including those who respond in-person, those who coordinate efforts behind-the-scenes, those who provide their medical expertise, those who provide their mental health expertise, and those who provide their public affairs expertise.
This story originally appeared in Anishinaabeg Today, the monthly chronicle of the White Earth Nation, and is published on this blog with permission. Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.