A look back at Red Cross history in 1943

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This historical photo shows some of the women in the Red Cross Motor Corps Station at Navy Garge in 1943. It is believed to have been taken outside of Washington, D.C. The woman on the far left is a Chicago woman, Josephine McCarthy. Her daughter, Joanne, shared this photo with us of her mother volunteering on the weekends for the Red Cross while she was working for Illinois Bell and has been transferred to Washington D.C. for 6 months. Josephine then raised her family in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood.

We are so proud of the many men and women who have volunteered for the American Red Cross throughout history. Do you have a photo to share? Email us at ChicagoMC@redcross.org



The Chicago Red Cross has a new Biomedical vehicle in honor of John Ahearne

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The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois has a new vehicle designated for Biomedical Services. This Ford Transit was purchased through a fundraiser in memory of John Ahearne, the late husband of Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Regional Philanthropy Officer Betsy Ahearne. John died very unexpectedly several years ago, and now his family is hoping to help others in honor of John. Several memorial blood drives were hosted as well.

“People can be amazing.”

The vehicle is already on the road performing it’s duties delivering blood products to area hospitals such as Northwestern Memorial, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, University of Chicago Medical Center and more.

Thank you to all donors who have made this possible. This vehicle was acquired near what would have been John’s 58th birthday!

“I’m lucky to get to see that generosity comes to fruition every day,” said Betsy. “It comes in many forms such as a financial gift that helps strangers impacted by devastating disasters, a gift of valuable time, e.g., when volunteers fan out across disadvantaged neighborhoods to install free smoke alarms, or a single donation of blood that can save up to three lives. People can be amazing.”

To sign up for an appointment to give blood, find an upcoming drive near you at www.redcrossblood.org.

#givelife #redcross #redcrossontheway

Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Communications Manager Holly Baker

“I’ll never forget that night.” A home fire victim remembers the Red Cross helping in the chaos

It was a warm summer night on June 4, 2017 and Sandra Gary was still awake in her home on West 111th Street in the Morgan Park-Beverly neighborhood. Midnight had just passed, and that’s when Sandra noticed the smell of smoke permeating the air.


“It was an odd smell, like maybe rubber or a tire burning,” Sandra said.

She looked out her bedroom window multiple times, and that’s when she saw the flames start to come up the side of her home. She says everyone who lived in the complex was able to get out safely, either from smelling the smoke or because of the neighbor who spotted the flames and made sure to wake people up and get them out.

“Just to see our house go up in flames…just devastating. Never thought I’d have to go through anything like this.”

The fire had started in unit A of the complex and made it all the way over to Sandra’s house, unit E, destroying much of the property in the process.

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Sandra says her home was covered in soot and the lingering smell of smoke made it difficult to breathe. She was able to salvage a few things from her home but lost most of her belongings, especially anything in the basement.

“Everything down there was destroyed,” she said. “It was terrible.”

A Red Cross van had pulled up and two volunteers began taking down information of the residents affected by the fire. Eight units were affected and nearly everyone had been displaced.

The neighbors say they bonded that night as they stood outside for hours together, watching flames pour through the roof of their homes until 3 or 4 AM. The Red Cross provided assistance in the form of gift cards to make sure everyone had a place to go that night and was able to get food and clothes.

Sandra went to stay at her son’s in Hyde Park. Within days, she receieved another call from a Red Cross volunteer asking if she needed any new medications since any medications that had been through a fire were no longer safe to take. Sandra hadn’t even thought about that, and hadn’t realized her medications were damaged. The Red Cross helped her expedite new prescriptions at no cost to her.

Sandra says she is so thankful to the Red Cross for “just showing up” and helping that night. The damage was so bad, it took over a year and a half for her home to be livable again. She recently moved back and has since made several donations to the organization as a way of paying it forward.

“For people to just come out like that and help you, and that’s when you really need that. My hat’s off to them,” she said. “If you do this then you must be good.”

Hear more from Sandra in this video.

Does your home need a smoke alarm? The Red Cross will come and install one for free if you sign up online for an appointment as part of our “Sound the Alarm” campaign. Make your appointment here for a free smoke alarm.

Interested in volunteering? Sign up to help do the installing here.

Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Communications Manager Holly Baker

A Volunteer’s Heartache- Steve Wise

Yesterday I was part of a Red Cross Team that responded to a home fire in Aurora.  This fire was so devastating especially once we learned it claimed the life of a child.

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If you are a Red Crosser or know of one – you will know that home fires happen way too often.  And they change the lives of those so negatively impacted…in an instant.

Some people who are so affected – will bounce back from it through the help of family, friends, insurance, etc.  But with others…they will never ever be able to recover and will not be able to go back to the life that they once lead.

On average…seven (7) people – mainly children and the elderly – die each day from a home fire.  In addition, thirty-six (36) people suffer injuries as a result of a home fire each day.

The majority of us cannot describe the feeling of what it is like to lose a family member as a result of a home fire.  And most of us share the attitude that it will never happen to us – it always happens to someone else.  But such events do happen – and often they happen when we least suspect them…and often without any type of warning.  Red Crossers know first-hand – that way too many people do not have working smoke alarms in their home.

Take time today…and impact someone’s life today.  Check and make sure that your smoke alarms are working.  If you don’t have any installed – then get them installed NOW.  And push your family members, friends and neighbors to do the same.

Also check out the Red Cross “Sound the Alarm – Save a Life” campaign.  You can help out by Volunteering or Donating.  A small action on your part – can do so much for a family so needing.                   https://www.redcross.org/sound-the-alarm.html

Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Disaster Action Team Volunteer Steve Wise.

Prepare with Pedro spreads safety message to P.H. Miller School kindergarteners

This February, more than 150 kindergartners at P.H. Miller School in Plano, IL took part in “Prepare with Pedro,” an American Red Cross program established to teach children about safety in a fun and engaging way.

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With disasters on the rise, more people and households are being affected every day, and kids are among the most vulnerable during and after a disaster, which is where Prepare with Pedro comes in. Developed by the Red Cross, Prepare with Pedro is a whole curriculum series dedicated to helping children understand what to do in emergency situations.


Laurel Mateyka, P.H. Miller School’s principal, and Amy Griffing, a S.T.E.M. teacher at the school, welcomed the American Red Cross into their classrooms to introduce children to the Prepare with Pedro fire safety storybook. The storybook is a fun new way for young children to learn about fire safety as Pedro learns about how to stay safe during home fires from his friend, Mia. The storybook ensures that children understand basic fire safety tips, such as the sound a smoke alarm makes, when to test smoke alarms, how to get out safely during a fire, and how to develop a fire escape plan. Children also learn how to cope with the stress that emergencies can cause and are encouraged to continue to learning with their families afterwards as each student receives their very own copy of the storybook!


Prepare with Pedro answered many students’ questions. The kindergarten students spent several weeks talking about how to prepare for different types of weather. Throughout the unit, students brought up questions about fire. They wanted to know more about fire and how to prepare.


“When my principal, Laurel Mateyka, told me about the Red Cross Program, Prepare with Pedro, it seemed like a perfect way to address students’ lingering questions,” Griffing said. “Pedro answered many questions about what to do in an emergency without scaring the students.”

After hearing the Preparing with Pedro story, students understood what to do in a fire emergency. The presentation cleared up several misconceptions about what to do in a fire drill.

Before the story, several students thought the beeping sound the alarm made was a signal for a lock down drill. Some students thought they should hide in the basement.

Pedro taught students not to hide when a fire alarm goes off, but to quickly “get low and go.” After the story with Pedro, students understood smoke detectors also tell you to get out of a house and not just school buildings.

“Now that students have heard and understood this message, I can feel more comfortable knowing that my students can take care of themselves in a fire emergency,” Griffing said.

The American Red Cross’ visit marks the first time the program has been offered in Kendall County making it a great opportunity for students at P.H. Miller School. Virginia Hopley of Safe Families AmeriCorps and Kelley Kudulis, a Red Cross volunteer, presented Pedro to the excited classrooms of children.


Mateyka has been working on a community early intervention program that is wholistic, incorporating literacy and public health, making Prepare with Pedro a great fit.


“We pushed for Pedro to be at the school because all students go home with a copy of the storybook and are encouraged to read it with their grown-ups, which helps foster literacy development,” Jeremiah La Plante, American Red Cross disaster program specialist, said.


In addition to the message about fire safety, the American Red Cross encouraged reading skills to the kindergarten students.

Some of the students that took part in the program could not write their name, and many could not read at all. The program presenters encouraged students to try their best when reading.

“During the presentation, Pedro taught students a smoke alarm says ‘beep, beep, beep’ At the end of the presentation, Kelly, Jeremiah and Virginia challenged students to find these words in their new storybook,” Griffing said. “Students were so proud and excited to read the words ‘beep, beep, beep’ on their own.”

The students described the Pedro mascot as friendly and cute, and it will not be the last time he will be visiting P.H. Miller School students.

“We’ve been invited back next school year to teach fire safety and possibly the upcoming tornado safety storybook,” La Plante said.

According to Griffing, students shared their excitement and loved receiving their own Pedro book to take home to share their safety knowledge to friends and family.

“One student said, ‘I am going to have to read this book to my friend! She doesn’t have a smoke alarm at home,’” Griffing said. “It was great for me to see this student excited to read about fire safety and concerned about her friend.”

Interested in learning more about “Prepare with Pedro” or having a presentation at your school? Contact us by emailing Brian at Brian.Nestler@redcross.org.


Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Communications Volunteer Jasminne Hernandez.

Red Cross Volunteer Morrie Bowie: Volunteering from the Heart

The Red Cross is built on the idea that offering the gift of compassion to those that are in need is a privilege.  By lending a helping hand, that privilege becomes hope for people that are frightened and suffering great loss.  For many, seeing volunteers from the Red Cross arrive after a fire has burned down their home or a hurricane has taken everything they have is a welcome beacon of relief.  One of those volunteers is Chicago’s own Morrie Bowie.  Hailing from the Wicker Park neighborhood, Mr. Bowie attended the University of Illinois, receiving a degree in Fine and Applied Arts, before going on to join the fire department.  There, Morrie worked as a firefighter for 28 years, putting out fires and acting as a scuba diver, building inspector, photographer, and even becoming a lieutenant.  He was also a helicopter pilot for the Chicago Fire Department Air Rescue Unit and a substitute teacher when he wasn’t working at the fire department.

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Morrie on his first deployment to Puerto Rico in 2017

Mr. Bowie is now retired, but his hero heart beats stronger than ever.  In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leaving devastation in its wake.  The destruction caused by the hurricane ripped apart homes, tore down infrastructure and left much of the island in ruins.  With considerable areas of land lying in wreckage, thousands were left displaced and fearful of what the future held.  During that dark time is when Morrie sprung into action, saying that the “public service guy in [him] wanted to do something.”  He looked at the Red Cross as a means to help.  He signed up to volunteer, went through the training, and deployed to Puerto Rico for one month.  After returning home, he saw that there was still a great need for assistance, so he deployed again, this time staying for four months.

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Morrie pictured here with David Eigenberg from NBC’s Chicago Fire and a member of the Chicago Fire Department duing a “Sound the Alarm” smoke alarm installation

While in Puerto Rico, Morrie lived in both Juncos and San Juan, at times in a leaky gymnasium,  with the only power coming from a generator.  He spent his days packing up trucks with food, water, and supplies that were then taken into communities and up into the mountains.  He also supervised assignments for three different warehouses, delegating what responsibilities should be placed with which volunteers.  Drawing upon his own Puerto Rican heritage and ability to speak Spanish, Morrie was able to understand the locals and communicate with them at a time when communication was absolutely crucial.  On one specific occasion, Morrie recalls a man who came to him for water.  He noticed that the man had a 10-gallon container in his car that he had been trying to fill, likely having to drive for miles, from location to location.  He was heartbroken at the effort that this man was having to put into getting something as basic as water.

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Disaster responders like Morrie offer guidance and help to people going through disasters like home fires

Mr. Bowie continues to serve others through his work at the Red Cross.  He installs smoke alarms, is currently a Disaster Action Team Lead, and volunteers Sundays through Thursdays, responding to 10-15 calls per month.

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When Morrie was still fighting fires, he said that he would wonder what happened to the people once the fire was put out.  He admires the Red Cross because, as he put it, they are “there when people have lost everything [and are] standing outside in their bare feet.”  He pointed out that they offer “blankets, a friendly face, an offer to warm up in the car, or [to] call someone for them.”


Morrie has been interviewed by many news outlets during his deployments, including NBC 5 while he was in Florida for Hurricane Michael

He summed it up by saying, “Thank God for the Red Cross for giving me a platform,” and going on to say “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?’ – Martin Luther King, Jr.  I’ve always felt that everybody ‘owes.’  If you’re in tune to life’s simplest blessings, like a sunset, the laughter of children, flowers, friends, then gratitude is due.  The Red Cross has been my way of paying back.  And forward!  When people, clients and colleagues, thank me for volunteering, I say thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve others.  It’s such a good feeling.  The Red Cross is the only organization that does all the things we do.  Add to that it’s funded by donations and staffed primarily by volunteers and it’s clear that volunteering with the Red Cross is one of the most selfless things I can do.  It’s sometimes hard and requires a sacrifice of time, it may be cold and rainy and the middle of the night, but I never felt that it was time wasted and always warmed by a divine reward.  Red Cross has made my retirement years spiritually fruitful.  ‘Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love’ – Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Our heartfelt thanks goes out to Mr. Morrie Bowie for all that he’s done and continues to do!

If you or anyone you know is interested in volunteering, visit              https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.html for more information.


Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Communications Volunteer Vicky Arias.

1,232 Units of Blood Collected at 5th Annual ABC 7 Great Chicago Blood Drive

Chicagoland community members came together and donated over 1,232 units of blood at this year’s fifth annual blood drive hosted by the American Red Cross and ABC 7 Chicago, surpassing the goal of 1,000 units!


Medical institutions all over the country brace themselves for a blood shortage around the holiday season. Even more so this year because of the emergency need for blood and platelets.

In order to aid in this shortage, many community members donated though the American Red Cross at Merchandise Mart in Chicago, Drake Hotel in Oak Brook, and at this year’s new location CDW At Play in Vernon Hills.


Donors and Red Cross phlebotomists smile at this year’s CDW donation location in Vernon Hills.


The blood drive collected 432 more units than last year’s drive, which amounts to more than a thousand people who can be helped as one pint of blood can save up to approximately three people.

All of the attending donors had an important reason as to why they were donating.


Nicole Stevenson shares with ABC 7’s Cheryl Scott her story of being diagnosed with leukemia and needing many blood transfusions during treatment


William Monroe, blood donor, donates blood regularly even if that means that he has to do it during his workday lunch break.

“It’s something that I think everyone should do if they can do it,” Monroe said. “My brother had leukemia and he unfortunately needed a lot of blood. With all the blood he went through, I feel like I’m still in debt.”

All donors are sought after, but there are unique individuals whose blood can help almost anyone, and that is O positive donors.

Maddix Moore III, blood donor, believes it is just as important to know your blood type as it is to donate.

“You know your shoe size, right? Well, those keep you warm. Knowing your blood type can save your life,” Moore III said.

A donor who has blood type O positive are referred to universal donors meaning that their blood can be used by many people.

Individuals who have blood type O are always urged to donate in order to keep up the blood supply in their community since it is needed by so many patients.


Carla Walters gets ready to donate blood.


Carla Walters, blood donor, is one of those unique donors who donates every year.

“I came today because I wanted to help people. O positive is the universal donor, so a lot of people can use my blood,” Walters said.

Donated blood is not only used to treat medical conditions, but also used in blood transfusion and even surgery.

Jessica Klugman, medical student, knows what it is like to have a family member get routine blood transfusions due to lymphoma.

“That was really good treatment that helped her most with health and quality of life,” Klugman, who is a regular Red Cross blood donor, said.

According to Klugman, she donates blood approximately every eight weeks because she understands how important blood donation is.


Jessica Klugman holds her arm up after finishing donating one pint of blood


“It’s just a small way for me to give back,” Klugman said.

Each person who donated during the blood drive left with a goody bag, some food and a smile. The American Red Cross has blood drives almost daily in the Chicago and northern Illinois. You can visit http://www.redcrossblood.org to find a drive based on your zip code. Thank you for helping to save lives.

Written by American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Communications volunteer Jasminne Hernandez.