Hispanic Heritage Month: Erika Ochoa Serves Others Through AmeriCorps, Reflects on her Cultural Heritage

Erika is an AmeriCorps/Illinois Disaster Corps (IDC) member with the American Red Cross, and completes her 11-month term this September.

Before joining the Illinois Disaster Corps (IDC) in Chicago, Erika always connected to a community of people helping out, whether locally, nationally, or globally. She found a perfect fit for humanitarian work with the Red Cross.

As an IDC member, Erika experienced firsthand much of what our organization does on the ground: providing disaster relief for home fires in Illinois, teaching preparedness classes virtually, staffing COVID-19 vaccination sites with the City of Chicago’s Department of Public Health earlier this year, and assisting with client recovery casework. The most eye-opening experience for Erika was working with residents affected by floods in Tennessee. While deployed there, she went door-to-door with other Red Crossers to offer immediate assistance to those in need. “It was great to see how the Red Cross organizes and mobilizes on-site so quickly, while also working toward a bigger goal,” says Erika.

Erika (left) during her deployment to Tennessee

In addition to celebrating the completion of her AmeriCorps service, Erika will also celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month over the next several weeks. Erika’s father is from Huatabampo, Mexico, and that cultural heritage is important for her family to observe in the U.S. Some of her favorite traditions include Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in November, which commemorates the life and death of family members and loved ones and making tamales in Mexico for various holidays.

Thank you, Erika, for all of your impactful work as an Illinois Disaster Corps member this year. We are also grateful that you will continue as a volunteer with the Red Cross!

Click here to find out about how to serve your community through AmeriCorps.

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

Blood Drive in Honor of River Helmuth

River Helmuth was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect. She was born at full-term and shortly after her family found out about her condition.

When River was two and a half months old, she developed a cold and spent 73 days in the hospital where she underwent open heart surgery and multiple blood transfusions. About six months later, River returned for another heart surgery.

Today, River is doing amazing and started kindergarten this year. Her mother Stephanie says she may need another surgery in the future.

Now her family is hosting a blood drive in honor of River. The family realizes the importance of blood donations because of River and other members in their family that have received blood transfusions, including River’s grandfather who received blood after a traumatic car accident years ago.

“Our hope for the blood drive is continue to raise awareness for the need, that’s always there, it’s not just today or tomorrow,” Stephanie adds.

River’s blood drive will be held on Saturday, September 18 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Sullivan American Legion, 8 E. Strain Street in Sullivan, Illinois.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please visit redcrossblood.org schedule an appointment to donate at a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern Brianna Orto

Illinois & New York Volunteer Reflects on 9/11

Tell Sheil has been a a Red Cross volunteer for nearly 50 years. In that time she has helped countless people as a registered nurse and health services volunteer and as a disaster mental health volunteer.

Of all her time with the Red Cross, responding to 9/11 stands out most prominently. Tess calls both Illinois and New York home and was working in a school in New York the day the Twin Towers were hit. She recalls the day in the video below.

In the years that followed, Tess has carefully preserved items from that response and reflects on them often.

Tess has kept this poster for 20 years; a memento of the morale that pulsed through the city as people banded together.

A pin to commemorate the date.

A certificate of appreciation from the American Red cross for her work serving on that day.

Magnets and regular cards from the Health Registry Staff

For Every Henry, There is a Chuck: Stories from Louisiana

Written by Brian McDaniel, Executive Director of the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley

As the people of Louisiana recover from Hurricane Ida, thousands of humanitarians are working to help people recover over this Labor Day in 2021.

Without a doubt, hundreds of great things happened today; I want to tell you about one of them.

Fuel here is scarce right now.  There is no power to pump gas; and in areas where there is power, gas stations quickly run dry.  Late last week, the State of Louisiana set up fuel depots so ambulances, linemen, and other essential vehicles (such as Red Cross food trucks) keep running.

Chuck Massaro, Dannette DePando, and I were on our way back from distributing 400 meals when we decided to stop at one of the fuel depots.  This particular location also has a shelter where people displaced by Hurricane Ida can find a safe place to stay.  Our team delivers breakfast to this shelter every morning, so we know it well.

As we drove towards the site, down the narrow, two lane road, we noticed a man pumping his wheelchair in the middle of the street.  Large trucks were passing on both sides, and he was doing is best not to get hurt.  Danette asked to check on the man, and we stopped.

Looking scared and a bit upset, the man said that he was trying to get to the shelter.  Could we give him a ride?  Quickly assessing the back of our vehicle, we knew he and his wheel chair would not fit.  The vehicle was built for the distribution of food, not this situation.

What happened next was one of the most amazing examples of human kindness I have witnessed.  Chuck Massaro, a Red Cross volunteer on his very first deployment, jumped out of our vehicle and started pushing the man and his wheelchair towards the shelter.  Danette, a Red Crossers from Utah, joined, and I put our large Mercedes Sprinter Van right behind them to block traffic.  Together, we all moved towards the shelter for nearly two miles.

As Chuck pushed the wheelchair, Dannette talked with the man.  His name was Henry.  He escaped Belle Rose but not after Ida had destroyed his home.  Once we reached the shelter, Dannette made sure the staff was aware of Henry’s situation.  Chuck took Henry to a truck serving snow cones.  We said our goodbyes and left to load up on diesel.

There are so many stories like Henry’s that take place after a disaster.  There are many Chucks and many Dannettes; ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  They keep the human in humanitarian; and bring hope to those who are dealing with the worst day of their lives.

Reflecting on 9/11 Twenty Years Later

Twenty years ago, the United States faced one of the worst days in its history. As our country marks 20 years since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the American Red Cross remembers the victims of that horrific day, honors the brave responders and is working to rekindle the spirit of service the country saw then to help those in need today.

The Red Cross is grateful to those across the country who came forward with donations of time, blood and funds to support the victims and survivors of the attacks. Within minutes of Flight 11 crashing into the north tower of the World Trade Center, the Red Cross mobilized to provide immediate help. Our work continued for years after.

Some of the volunteers that responded included many from the Illinois Region. A few took a moment to pause and reflect on the response and the impacts of being there to help.

The 20th anniversary of the attacks is a reminder that the unimaginable can occur — and that Americans need to do everything they can to protect their neighbors and be ready for crises of any size. Emergencies can happen at any time, and everyone can do their part to be prepared.

Part of doing that is ensuring an adequate blood supply is available year-round. Blood can take up to three days to be tested, processed and made available for patients – so it’s the blood already on the shelves that helps save lives in an emergency. Find out more here.

To help prepare your household, the Red Cross suggests planning ahead on how to deal with the types of disasters that are likely in your neighborhood, what to do if separated and how to stay informed. Next, build an emergency kit. Your kit should contain food, water and other basic supplies to last at least three days for each family member.

Also, don’t forget to include essential medications, copies of important documents and special items for children and pets. Including your pets in your emergency plans is essential. Remember, if you and your family need to evacuate, so does your pet. It’s important to plan in advance to know which pet-friendly hotels are in your area, and where your pets can stay in an emergency situation.

The final step to preparing your household is to be informed. Consider taking a First Aid for Severe Trauma™ or first aid and CPR course so you’ll know what to do until help arrives in the event of an emergency.

Illinois Region Volunteers Respond to Hurricane Ida

“You’ve got to get out there and be part of the answer; part of the solution.”

– Illinois Region Red Cross volunteer Tom Hansen

Hurricane Ida has made landfall along the Louisiana coast today already bringing catastrophic wind damage, dangerous tornadoes and storm surge to a region still recovering from last year’s hurricane season.

August 29, 2021. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Wendy Halsey of the American Red Cross talks with Hermaine Collins-Jordan from Baton Rouge and her family as they settle in at an evacuation center on Sunday August 29, 2021. Hurricane Ida is also hitting Gulf Coast on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, bringing stark reminders of one of the greatest natural disasters to ever strike the United States. Hermaine spoke of her grandfather, who passed away from an infection after venturing out in flood waters to help others in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While remembering his memory, this mother of four stays strong and upbeat for her family as they wait out the storm together. Some 600 Red Cross volunteers are either on the ground or staged to support relief efforts after Ida makes landfall. Across Louisiana and Mississippi, the Red Cross and other organizations have opened dozens of evacuation shelters, offering safe refuge for hundreds of people. The number of open shelters and people staying in them is changing hourly. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

In addition to pre-positioned supplies, the Red Cross has moved truckloads of additional cots, blankets and comfort kits, along with tens of thousands of ready-to-eat meals into Louisiana and Mississippi this weekend.

Around 600 Red Cross volunteers are either on the ground there or staged to support imminent relief efforts from sheltering to feeding. About 60 volunteers from the Illinois region are currently working on a disaster either locally or nationally, with about a dozen volunteers directly responding to Ida.

A Red Cross emergency response vehicle (erv) based in the Illinois River Valley Chapter stands by for deployment to the gulf coast for Hurricane Ida

Volunteers from up and down Illinois are either already in Louisiana or are making their way there this week. Tom Hansen of Deerfield is going on his first deployment with the Red Cross after a lifetime of helping as part of the Navy Reserves. He says he’s looking forward to positively contributing when so many people are facing uncertainty in the storm.

“You’ve got to get out there and be a part of the answer, part of the solution,” he said. “Once I retired from the Navy Reserves, joining the Red Cross to continue helping was just part of a smooth transition. Life is full of adventure, and I appreciate this opportunity.”

Sarge Hughes gets ready to drive the ERV to Louisiana

Early Monday morning, volunteers were rolling the Red Cross ERVs out of the Chicago and Rockford offices. Charles “Sarge” Hughs says this is the best way for him to keep busy after retiring. After a safety inspection of an ERV, Sarge starting driving toward Louisiana with Chicago in the rearview mirror.

Jackie Speciale of Woodstock has been a volunteer since 2012 and has done many deployments, but each disaster is different and presents a different set of obstacles. Jackie says she is always happy to help.

Jackie Speciale getting ready to drive the ERV to Louisiana from Romeoville

COVID-19 has not changed the Red Cross mission. We are helping families in the same way we always have — and ensuring people have a safe place to stay during disasters is a critical part of that support.

How we support sheltering efforts may be diffe rent in each community, depending on local emergency plans and the scale of the disaster.

We plan to open group shelters for people evacuating in the face of tropical storms and have appropriate precautions in place to help reduce the risk of exposure to COVID -19.

To help keep everybody safe, everyone in Red Cross emergency shelters is required to wear face coverings.

For those evacuating and looking for the latest open shelter locations near you, call 211, visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767) or download the free Red Cross Emergency app.

Interested in joining the Red Cross as a volunteer? Learn more here: https://www.redcross.org/local/illinois/volunteer.html

Illinois Volunteers Deploy Coast to Coast and at Home

The American Red Cross of Illinois is assisting in disaster response operations across the country- from the devastating flooding in Tennessee to the massive wildfires out west.

These disasters have changed people’s lives forever and our thoughts are with everyone as we work around the clock to help bring comfort and support to those affected.

YOU CAN HELP PEOPLE affected by floods and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift is a commitment to helping people in need, and every single donation matters. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 800-RED-CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.


Last week, severe rain and flooding threatened the community of Gibson City, IL. Volunteers from the Illinois Region immediately sprang into action to set up a shelter for people displaced from their homes and to provide individualized assistance through casework volunteers. Volunteers also canvassed neighborhoods in the emergency response vehicle (ERV) distributing cleanup supplies to families.

A multi-agency resource center (MARC) was held on Saturday to provide an easily accessible central location for people to find more resources to help them through all the devastation. More than 24 Red Cross workers were activated to respond to the flooding in Gibson City, and volunteers will continue working with the affected people as they navigate the recovery process.


The American Red Cross is working around the clock, alongside emergency officials and community groups, to help those in need after Saturday’s flash flooding in Tennessee. Red Cross disaster responders are focused on making sure people have a safe place to stay, food to eat, critical relief supplies, emotional support and comfort during this challenging time.

Susan Walker is an Illinois volunteer from Burr Ridge who is currently deployed to Tennessee. She is one of many volunteers from across the country who’ve left their homes to go to the places that currently need help, like the flooding in Tennessee.

Tuesday night, the Red Cross and our partners cared for more than 80 people in three emergency shelters. More than 140 trained Red Cross disaster volunteers are working alongside our partners and have helped to provide more than 180 meals and snacks and distribute more than 2,000 critical relief supplies to people in need.

Red Crosser Debra Fisher surveys damaged areas in Waverly following Saturday’s flooding.

Where it’s safe to do so, Red Cross emergency response vehicles are traveling through affected communities to provide water, food and cleanup supplies. Red Cross volunteers are also helping to assess the damage left behind by the flooding. This information will help response organizations learn what types of help people may need in the coming days and weeks.


As the flood waters recede in the wake of Tropical Storm Henri, people are beginning the difficult task of cleaning up their homes and neighborhoods. The American Red Cross is there, working closely with officials and partners to make sure people get the help they need.

Illinois volunteers Cynthia Altman and Joyce Wilson have deployed to New Jersey to help after the storm, including going door to door to see what the extend of the needs are and doing damage assessments.

Cindy Altman does mobile damage assessment in the New Jersey town of Jamesburg.

In some of the hardest hit areas, the Red Cross will be distributing emergency supplies such as cleanup kits and tarps as soon as it is safe to do so. Responding to disasters is a team effort and no single organization can do it alone — particularly in this current environment.


Massive wildfires out west continue to scorch acre after acre and tens of thousands of people are still evacuated, waiting to learn the fate of their homes and livelihoods. The American Red Cross has been helping since June and will continue to support people affected by the ongoing wildfires.

Residents in communities near 17 western fires are still evacuated, and Red Cross disaster workers are supporting shelters in California, Washington, Minnesota and Nevada. Seven states — including California, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana — are facing air quality alerts due to the massive fires.

In California, Red Cross disaster workers are helping evacuees find a safe place to stay, food to eat and emotional support during this challenging time.

Illinois volunteer Jan Fulfs shares a photo from the airport as she heads to California

Trained volunteers like Jan Fulfs of Illinois were there, assisting with health needs for the thousands of people who have had to evacuate. Volunteers are also replacing prescription medications, eyeglasses or critical medical equipment, like canes and wheelchairs, that were left behind in the rush to get to safety. Jan even assisted a woman who had collapsed, possibly saving her life.


In this very active disaster year, another way you can help is to become part of the Red Cross trained and ready volunteer workforce to make sure we can provide comfort and support to anyone who needs aid after a disaster.

There is a special need right now for shelter volunteers and health professionals to help care for people affected by disasters. Shelter volunteers help support reception, registration, feeding, dormitory, information collection and other important tasks inside emergency shelters.

Health professionals assist with people’s health needs in disaster shelters and provide hands-on care in alignment with their professional license (RN and LPN/LVN). Daily observation and health screening for COVID-19-like illness among shelter residents may also be required. We have both associate and supervisory level opportunities available. If you are an RN, LPN, LVN, APRN, NP, EMT, paramedic, MD/DO or PA with a current and unencumbered license, this position could be right for you.

The Red Cross also needs local Disaster Action Teams (DAT) volunteers to help respond 24/7 to local emergencies, particularly home fires. DAT volunteers help ensure that people affected by local disasters have relief and critical recovery resources, including a place to stay, food to eat and clothing. If you are team-oriented and want to help your neighbor, becoming a DAT responder may be just the thing for you.

Find out more about volunteering with the Red Cross here.

GIVE BLOOD Disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, floods and tornadoes can force planned blood drives to be canceled, compromising the ability of the Red Cross to provide blood to hospital patients in need. Donating blood is a simple way to make a difference.

Thankfully, recent disasters have only forced the cancellation of about half a dozen blood drives so far, resulting in approximately 200 blood donations going uncollected. But we are still in peak hurricane and wildfire season with more challenges likely in the days and weeks ahead.

Additionally, in recent weeks, the Red Cross has seen the number of blood donors coming out to give drop by nearly 10%. This decline in donors is believed to be due to multiple reasons, including the continued effects of the pandemic on blood drive cancellations and donor availability as well as back-to-school preparations for many families.

Part of being prepared for emergencies is ensuring an adequate blood supply. It’s the blood already on the shelves that helps save lives in an emergency. The Red Cross urges individuals to make an appointment to donate today by finding a blood drive at RedCrossBlood.org, 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App, to ensure blood continues to be available for patients in need.

Chase Eller Presented with Lifesaving Award for Helping Young Child

Chase Eller was awarded the Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action for helping a young child choking at a restaurant. The national Lifesaving Awards are issued by American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. to highlight whenever lifesaving skills are used.

Chase was presented with the award during a recent Red Cross South Central Illinois Chapter Board of Directors meeting.

“Chase’s quick action exemplifies courage and bravery of helping someone during an emergency,” said Dawn Morris, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Serving South Central Illinois. “This young man went above and beyond to help a child in distress and for that he is very deserving of the Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action.”

Since the Lifesaving Awards revival in 2018, the Red Cross is proud to announce we have awarded, 1,507 individuals worldwide and as a result they have helped to save 730 lives.

To learn more about the Red Cross Lifesaving Awards and to find resources including learning a lifesaving skill visit redcross.org/takeaclass.

Written by Communications Manager Drew Brown

Illinois Volunteer Steps in to Save a Life

As a nurse, Jan Fulfs is a caretaker at heart. In addition to owning and operating a home health agency in the northern Illinois area, she volunteers with the American Red Cross as a Health Services team member. “It is not often that we can truly make a difference in someone’s life. These disasters are devasting. If I can give just a little relief, an act of kindness, restoration of dignity to just one person, then I feel my time and energy have been well worth it,” said Jan.

Jan recently traveled to California to provide care for those affected by the wildfires wreaking havoc across the state. Working on the Disaster health team, she assisted evacuees with transfers, oxygen, personal care, ambulation and emotional support.

Jan Fulfs working from the Colorado Wildfire headquarters in Sacramento

While working at the Susanville shelter, early one morning, Jan noticed an evacuee with her walker moving from the bathroom back to the dorm. “She looked at me and said ‘I’m tired’ and sat down on her walker seat. I asked, ‘Would you like me to wheel you back to your bed?’ She said ‘yes’. After we had entered the dorm, she suddenly went limp and quit breathing,” Jan said.

Jan’s nursing instinct prompted her to quick action. “I was all by myself, so I began to yell for assistance. While waiting, I began mouth to mouth. After about five breaths, the woman started breathing again but did not regain consciousness. The paramedics arrived to take her to the hospital and once she was stable, she returned to the shelter.” The evacuee explained her situation to Jan. Because of a problem with her heart, she loses consciousness often but typically doesn’t stop breathing. “The woman told me she thought I had been placed in that shelter just for her. I’d like to think that, too.”

This piece originally appeared in Gold Country News and Notes

Red Cross Helps Illinois Town with No Water

The town of Castleton, Illinois is a small unincorporated community in Stark County about 40 minutes north of Peoria consisting of just 4 blocks and is home to just over 30 people.

The small community of Castleton marked in relation to Peoria, Moline and Chicago.

Several wells provide water to this area, but recently problems with the wells left the residents without water to drink, cook with or bathe. Local emergency management estimated it would take 10 days for the problem to be fixed.

On Friday, August 13, 2021 the Stark County Emergency Management contacted the Illinois Red Cross looking for help with this issue.

Within hours, Red Cross volunteers were on their way to Castleton with over 1,000 bottles of water- enough to comfortably last the community until the wells can be fixed.

We are proud of our volunteers who never fail to step up when the need is there to help others.

Consider joining the world’s largest humanitarian network as a volunteer! Browse volunteer positions here.