Chicago Red Cross Centennial: A Look Back on a Century of Service

Chicago Flood 1947 - Copy(CHICAGO, IL) – Rewind the past 100 years when the local Red Cross was established in Chicago to today’s reach of serving 9.5 million people in 21 counties in Northern Illinois. You’ll see how the Red Cross has touched so many lives, for so many years in our community since 1915.

We’re halfway into our Centennial year, and there’s still much more to celebrate. Join us in this historic occasion:

  1. Share your Red Cross story on chicagoredcross100.com. #ChicagoRedCross100
  2. Take a Class
  3. Volunteer
  4. Give Blood
  5. Donate
  6. Download our free Emergency App so you have lifesaving information in the palm of your hand.

A Look Back at the Past and Next Generation

Here’s a window through the decades of some classic moments of our past thanks to the Chicago Tribune archives, to what we’ve been doing in the community leading into this milestone year, according to Fran Edwardson, Chief Executive Officer of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois.

From health and safety classes, to supporting local military members, their families and veterans, to lifesaving blood collection, and reconnecting families torn apart by international conflict, the Red Cross has helped make our community safer and more prepared for the next 100 years.

Yet, the Red Cross historically is best known as part of the world’s largest humanitarian network that helps people in times of emergency through our army of volunteers, giving people food, shelter and comfort when they need it most.

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Disaster Relief & Preparedness: “The Red Cross Was the One Constant Through This Entire Disaster”

Eastland Disaster 1915Our first local response was on July 24, 1915, just six weeks after the chapter was established, when the Eastland Steamship capsized in the Chicago River, taking 844 lives. The Red Cross was there to comfort families after this historic tragedy – a legacy of compassion that still carries on today.

From the 3 to 4 home fires volunteers respond to every day in our community, to floods in 1947, the tornadoes that hit Plainfield in 1990, and the most recent storms that struck Coal City and Sublette this year in June, and all the devastation before and in between.

The Red Cross is here to help after disasters of any size, ready to comfort those who lived through the experience like Jackie Jordan’s family in Fairdale in April who said the Red Cross was the “one constant” through the entire tornado disaster.

On the preparedness front, we’re installing thousands of smoke alarms in homes through our Home Fire Program to reduce the number of injuries and deaths, and we’re teaching kids how to prepare for emergencies through The Pillowcase Project, sponsored by Disney, through partnerships with local schools and community partners like the Chicago Police Department.

International Services: “I Am Alive”

A Chicago Trifecta – As a tribute to the work we carry out daily here at home in Chicago and around the world, we celebrated our 18840506432_58ebce64c0_oAnniversary Week in June during World Refugee Day in Daley Plaza. The celebration was extra sweet as we served up 500 slices of birthday cake, generously donated by another Chicago staple Portillo’s topped off with a same-day win of the Stanley Cup by hometown hockey team Chicago Blawkhawks.

Through our Restoring Family Links program, the Red Cross advocates for peopleOnesphore Ndaribitse from countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Syria, and Afghanistan who are seeking to reconnect or keep in touch with their loved ones. Through this free and invaluable service, our caseworkers facilitated the exchange of thousands of messages between families separated by disaster and conflict.

Hearing the words “I am alive” from Onesphore on the Northside of Chicago to his family in Rwanda can mean the difference between peace of mind and despair for  loved ones a half a world away. 

Lifesaving Blood: “We Helped Save Six Lives Today”

To kick off our Centennial year, we held a 100th Anniversary Blood Drive at Union Station in January where 430 units of blood were collected. It was the largest single-day blood drive in our 16369445192_d87bd7bed2_oregion. If one pint of blood can save up to three lives, Chicago residents Mary Market, 69, and Mellisa Griesl, 24, who met in line to give blood, together helped save six through their blood donation.

We also recently opened our new biomed facility in our headquarters in the Illinois Medical District which is in close proximity to many area hospitals for local patients. The Red Cross supplies 40 percent of the nation’s blood, and thanks to our new technology and facility here, we can help distribute lifesaving blood to trauma victims, cancer patients, and children with sickle cell disease.

Health & Safety Training: “Never Be Afraid to Help Somebody.”

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Another way the Red Cross helps save lives is by teaching people the skills to perform CPR & First Aid, babysitting training, and water safety.

We train more than 88,000 local people these lifesaving skills each year – dating back to before 1953, when the Chicago Tribune, documented an aquatics training session in Glencoe, IL to help people with polio how to swim.

Over the next decades, the Red Cross has been the go-to source for information, skills and build confidence among those to act in an emergency, at home, in school and in the workplace.

ComEd employee Carlos Guevara put those skills to the test when he saved a life at his community’s church.  “Never be afraid to help somebody,” Carlos said. “Learn the basics of CPR and where you can apply it. You never know when, where and why you might need it.”

Supporting America’s Military Families: “They Were There for Us and We Need to Be There for Them”

Clara-Barton_1The true spirit of the Red Cross began on the front lines with founder Clara Barton, the Angel of the Battlefield, tending to wounded soldiers more than a century ago, and that legacy of serving our military continues today in Chicago.

From a Red Cross canteen in 1919 with soldiers in Grant Park photographed by the Chicago Tribune, to local volunteer Laura Landoe who serves in our “No Veteran Dies Alone” hospice program at the Lovell Federal Health Care Center at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois, the Red Cross cares for our veterans and service members.

Laura Landoe is a modern-day Clara Barton. She’s one of our on-call volunteers who provide comfort and care to veterans on their final journey. The compassion she gives to each of those dying veterans is extraordinary – at times she reads to them, sometimes she prays with them, and still other times she sings hymns for them.  She sits quietly holding their hand as they pass. “They were there for us and we need to be there for them,” said Laura.

“Sleeves Up. Hearts Open. All In:” Volunteers are the Heart of the Red Cross

Volunteers, like Laura Landoe, are the heart of the Red Cross. Very much ingrained with the City of Chicago from the start, some of the first local volunteers—our founding Board Members from 1915—reads like a list of street names, historical landmarks and successful companies that are still much aVolunteer Walt Disney 1919 part of the Chicago landscape today: Cyrus H. McCormick, Mrs. Potter Palmer, A.A. Sprague II, Mayor William Hale Thompson, Charles H. Wacker, and William Wrigley, Jr. to name a few.

Our current board members are also proud to carry on this legacy.

We’ve had a few other famous Chicago natives rise through the ranks in our volunteer corps, such as Walt Disney and Ernest Hemingway.

From local volunteers like Nancy Brooks-Edison, who joined the Red Cross more than 50 years ago to newcomer Lazenia Adams, who responded to more than 100 home fires during her first year of service – we couldn’t accomplish all that we do without their care and compassion.

19119823286_64587bee30_oThey represent more than 90 percent of our workforce. Think if 90 percent of the people in your workplace showed up for work and didn’t get paid? That’s what our volunteers do every day when they’re called to comfort a family after a home fire in the middle of the night, or hold a dying veterans hand.

Its hard work, but our volunteers do it because they care about our community.

Thank you for celebrating this milestone with us. The Red Cross has been part of our community for 100 years, and with all the support of our volunteers, funding partners, and the community we can continue to serve for 100 more.

READY 100 CENTENNIAL SPONSORS  Centennial sponsors of the Red Cross in 2015 include: Chicago Community Trust, Otho S. A. Sprague Memorial Institute, Schneider Electric, Ace Hardware, Allstate, Discover, Fresenius Kabi, Grainger, Gerald A. & Karen A. Kolschowsky, Kirkland & Ellis, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Motorola Solutions Foundation, Navistar, PwC, USG, Aon, Baxter, BMO Harris Bank, Constellation Brands, C. Reed Parker, Deloitte, Fortune Brands, JLL, Nicor Gas, Oil-Dri, and UL.

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Story By: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Red Cross Community Cares for Coal City

18994466700_a091117fee_o(COAL CITY, IL) – At sunrise Diann and Gary Rink would pick fresh kale out of their garden to mix a smoothie. The morning of June 22 was the last time that breakfast ritual would occur for the Coal City couple for a while. They no longer have a kitchen, or walls, or the home where they lived since 2007.

“I heard sirens go off and felt enormous pressure in my ears,” Gary said. “I heard a loud bang and stuff was flying all around.”19140334322_829d1f830f_o

The couple grabbed their phones, an iPad and two flashlights and hid in the basement until they felt it was safe to come out. They
heard neighbors crying, but no one was hurt. They’re now staying with family until they can rebuild their home.

“It was such a beautiful home,” said Diann.

18559649984_be9ce320a0_oThe Rinks have been here before, less than two years ago when they saw another tornado coming at them before it turned and hit sister city Diamond in November 2013. Back then, the Rinks joined relief efforts to support the community. Now the community is coming out to support them in Coal City.

“Small towns are great for helping people out,” said Diann.

In many ways the Red Cross is like a small town. When disaster strikes, volunteers move in. Strangers at first, but quickly become a neighbor and a friend.

“People need to lean on each other in hard times,” said Red Cross volunteer and shelter manager Joyce Cook. “Volunteers18525502083_ea593c96d5_o are people who care. That’s just at the heart of who we are and what we do.”

With open arms, volunteers help people who lived through a disaster cope with the anguish and give them hope. They lead survivors through twisted terrain in a town that used to look familiar.

Volunteers are a compassionate shoulder to cry on and a calm, comforting ear willing to listen. They make sure people have true, basic survival needs met like food and shelter in the immediate aftermath of a storm.

In the following days, weeks and even months later – the Red Cross community is still there helping families map out long- term recovery plans and access the resources they need to get back on their feet, and plant a new garden.

19119823286_64587bee30_oNEED HELP? If you’ve been affected the Northern Illinois Tornadoes and Storms call our Red Cross call center 312-729-6250.

GIVE HELP After a disaster, financial donations are the quickest and best way to get help to the people who need it most. If you would like to help those affected by disasters like the recent Illinois tornado outbreak, please visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

Story By: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Photos By: dirkfletcher.com

Teamwork For Disaster Relief in Grundy County

18523526044_1d6e0c995f_o (1)(COAL CITY, IL) – Joe and Sue Blaine were having the time of their life celebrating their son’s wedding in Cancun. The next day—on June 22—a neighbor back home in Coal City sent photos and a text message: “It looks a lot worse than the pictures.”

The Blaines took the first flight they could get out of Mexico. Their usually quiet neighborhood looked like a bomb went off. Tree limbs and debris were scattered on the street. Joe’s truck was flipped on the side and landed in the front yard. Their house, where the couple raised their two sons, no longer had a roof.

“That’s what really hurts,” said Joe, of the home that he and his father-in-law built together in 1985.18525428793_e90894180c_o

“I had two life-changing events with two extremes: My son got married and my house was destroyed,” said Sue.

Enter the Red Cross disaster relief team that arrived to check on families after the storm to see how they were coping and what help they needed.

Joe and Sue invited us in their home to survey the damage. Sue stopped to wipe her feet on the welcome mat stepping over a large hose pumping water out of the hallway.

“I don’t know why I keep doing that,” she laughed. “Habit, I guess.” She picked up a broken flower pot on the floor in the living room. “I don’t know who this belongs to.”

In the back of the house where the family gathers to watch TV at night was a large wooden fence post that railroaded through the glass door. If the Blaines were home the night of the storm, they could have been seriously hurt.

Yet, there were some things the storm didn’t touch – Sue’s wedding china in the dining room and photos of her sons’ graduation19119885116_284982719a_o
pictures from Coal City High School. The storm even blew over the “trophy room” in the garage where wooden replicas of the boys’ baseball jerseys, team photos, and White Sox memorabilia live on the wall.

Back outside a neighbor dragged over a long, twisted piece of metal that landed in the Blaine’s backyard – a bleacher from the high school ball field a few blocks away that the proud parents likely a sat on a few years ago to cheer their sons to victory.

The road to recovery isn’t easy. It’s going to take longer than a baseball season for the families of Coal City, like the Blaines, to claim victory over this storm, but there’s a lot of teamwork at play.

19149516651_14da2cd5e0_o“The community has our support with the help of our many partnering agencies, we’re throwing all our resources at this disaster to give people the care and comfort they need,” said Ken Cozzi, Executive Director, American Red Cross of the Southwest Suburbs.

NEED HELP? If you’ve been affected the Northern Illinois Tornadoes and Storms call our Red Cross call center 312-729-6250.

GIVE HELP After a disaster, financial donations are the quickest and best way to get help to the people who need it most. If you would like to help those affected by disasters like the recent Illinois tornado outbreak, please visit www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

Story By: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Photos By: dirkfletcher.com

Blood Donors Give Blood Bank a Boost Before Holiday Weekend

Michelle Blood Drive Photo(CHICAGO, IL) – Summer can be a challenging time for blood donations. A recent Red Cross blood and platelet donor survey found that more than
40 percent of eligible blood donors plan to travel the week before or after Independence Day.

But the lack of blood and platelet donors isn’t just an issue these two weeks every July: most donors are less available to give during the summer months due to vacation and summer activities.

Fortunately, today at the Chicago Red Cross headquarters, a blood drive provided our blood bank with a much needed boost for the holiday weekend.

“Blood drives are one of the most life-saving forms of volunteerism,” said Red Cross disaster program specialist Betsy Johnson, who gave blood for the fourth time this year. “You can save three lives with just one unit of blood. Plus, it only takes 30 minutes of my day.”

Besides the motivation to donate blood as a Red Cross employee, Betsy’s sister is currently undergoing chemotherapy, fueling her personal desire to contribute to the need for blood.

A few chairs over, Red Cross international services and service to the armed forces manager Michelle McSweeney, was admiring her Red Cross embroidered baseball hat that she received courtesy of the national American Red Cross “100 Days of Summer” blood donation initiative. From July 2-12 anyone who donates blood at a Red Cross blood drive will receive a free Red Cross embroidered baseball hat, while supplies last.

Michelle was all smiles as the nurse initiated the blood collection process, “(Blood drives) provide me with an opportunity to serve outside of my every day role, and guaranteeing I will be making an impact in people’s lives.”

If you are interested in an easy way to save a life, you can give the gift of life-saving blood by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor app, visit redcrossblood.org, or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to find a blood drive near you.

Story and Photo By: Alexandra Sobczak, American Red Cross Volunteer

“That Cup of Coffee Reconnected Me to Humanity”

Rick and Patty Colclasure rode out a devastating storm in Coal City, IL. Thanks to a cup of coffee, they know the power of small things bringing big hope.

(COAL CITY, IL) – Rick and Patty Colclasure were frantic when they couldn’t reach their daughter on her cell phone the night a tornado struck their neighborhood in Coal City on June 22nd.

“I just kept thinking ‘My kids! Where are my kids!’ ” Patty recalled. Emerging from their crawl space after the storm, they found their house blown half to pieces.

After walking 45 minutes in the dark and rain, the couple breathed a sigh of relief learning their daughter’s family was safe. But Rick knew he had to check on his other neighbors, too. He ran door to door asking if everyone was ok, even taking his 80-year old neighbor into to his own home.

They know what it means to help a neighbor in need. Less than two years ago, they volunteered at after a devastating tornado ripped through their sister town of Diamond, IL. “It feels so good to help other people, even though we are now on the other end of it,” said Patty.

“At first you’re just thinking about your own house, your life. But the more you look around, the more your awareness expands. It’s about your whole community.  They are your family.”

Just hours after the storm, Red Cross response vehicles circled neighborhood streets delivering hot coffee, snacks and water to residents whose lives had been turned upside down overnight.

“We’ve gone through a lot. But that cup of coffee reconnected me to humanity,” Rick said. “For a second we felt like we were back to normal. It made me cry.”

Story by Katie Wilkes, Marketing Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

A Lucky Reunion at Red Cross Shelter

Maria Chulpa-LuckyDog(COAL CITY, IL) – Maria Chalupa and her dog Lucky were reunited at the Red Cross shelter in Coal City on Wednesday. In the aftermath of the storm Monday night, rescue workers pulled Maria and her husband Joseph from their apartment and took them to the hospital. But Lucky remained in curled up in the bathtub until he was later found and taken to a local veterinarian.

Having to leave Lucky behind for those few wrenching hours was worse than weathering the storm for Maria. “He’s like my son, my baby,” she said.

Lucky’s now staying with Maria and her husband at the shelter. Since they’ve been reunited, the loyal 10-year-old golden Labradoodle hasn’t left Maria’s side. The Red Cross is sticking by Maria, too. Thanks to the comfort she’s found through volunteers at the shelter Maria can see hope.

“It’s hard. We’ve been through a lot,” she said. “It’s a good support system here. The Red Cross is checking on us; they’ve shown a lot of care and give us lots of attention.”

NEED HELP? If you’ve been affected the Northern Illinois Tornadoes and Storms call our Red Cross call center 312-729-6250.

GIVE HELP After a disaster, financial donations are the quickest and best way to get help to the people who need it most. If you would like to help those affected by disasters like the recent Illinois tornado outbreak, please visit www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

 Story By: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Photo By: dirkfletcher.com

 

Red Cross Responders Mobilize for Second Round of Tornadoes

EOC 2(CHICAGO, IL) – As tornado sirens rang out across northern Illinois Monday night, disaster cycle services volunteers and staff at the American Red Cross sprang into action.

Inside the Red Cross Emergency Operations Center (EOC) located at the Chicago headquarters, workers monitored news and weather reports coming out of Grundy County, one of the hardest hit areas. It was the second time in less than three years the community had been hit.

Their tasks: tracking tornadoes, assessing damage potential, and recruiting volunteers for disaster relief response. Red Cross staffing recruiter Alicia was tasked with communicating with volunteers across the region, ready to mobilize on limited notice when disaster strikes.

“It’s so inspiring to see how many people want to help,” said Alicia. “WhenEOC you call someone in the middle of the night and they’re ready to assist, that’s what’s really powerful about this situation.”

As a result of the efforts from coordinators like Alicia, the Red Cross quickly stood up two shelters in Coal City and Sublette for those whose homes were destroyed. Volunteers also distributed food and water at shelters to those who stayed overnight.

As the first 48 hours after any disaster are critical, the Red Cross welcomes anyone who is willing to assist with the relief efforts. If you are interested in volunteering with disaster services please call (312) 729-6100 or email the Disaster Cycle Services department at ChicagoDCS@redcross.org.

Story & Photos By: Alexandra Sobczak, American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer

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