2021 Red Cross South Central Illinois Heroes

Lori CamachoLifesaving Rescue Hero 

Lori Camacho is a hospice nurse supervisor at Carle Foundation Hospital, and one of our 2021 Red Cross Lifesaving Rescue Heroes. 

On October 22, 2020, Lori’s daughter and family came to visit. That morning, as her son-in-law opened the blinds, he saw a car in the 29-foot-deep retention pond outside Lori’s condo. Immediately, Lori went to help.  

“I first thought, is there anyone in the car?” Lori said. “I ran outside and asked. People said, ‘yes, there is a lady in there.’” 

When Lori got to the pond, without a thought of hesitation, she got in the water and swam over to the car. The woman was still sitting in the driver’s seat, as water quickly filled up that side of the car. Holding onto the open windows, she asked the lady in the car if she could swim. Unfortunately, she could not. 

“You have to come over to the passenger’s side of the car,” Lori told the lady. 

As soon as the driver moved to the other side of the car, Lori pulled her out of the passenger window. 

“I knew as soon as the water started filling up, I had to get her out of the car if there was any chance of her making it. That was just instinct there,” Lori said. “She had to come out, so I went to get her out.” 

Immediately after getting the driver out, the car began to sink to the bottom of the pond. The suction from the submerging car pulled the woman and Lori under with it. Lori was able to swim to the surface with the driver, and another neighbor arrived to help. After they were both safe, Lori waited with the driver, comforting her while she cried, until help arrived.   

Lori says the scariest part of the whole situation was not the fear that she would drown, but the fear that her family would be there to witness it. 

“I could’ve very easily died and so could she,” Lori said. “My two granddaughters, daughter, and son-in-law were watching, and the fact that I could’ve died in front of them [is difficult to think about.] …What tempers that a bit is that they saw me do something selfless. I didn’t think about anything, I just did it because it had to be done.” 

Lori went about her day after the incident, as she jumped on a Zoom meeting directly afterwards with her hospice team. The seriousness of the whole episode did not register to Lori until a police officer came to her door to talk to her. When she looked outside and saw the commotion, she realized, “Wow, something significant just happened here.” 

“I tend to shy away from the spotlight, but when I was talking to police afterward, one of the firemen had me stand with three other firemen and said, ‘Guys, today you’re with a hero.’” 

Later that evening, the woman’s husband stopped by, explaining to Lori that his wife had suffered a heart attack behind the wheel and regained consciousness when she was already in the water. He thanked her from the bottom of his heart.  

“I’ve been a nurse for 42 years. I’ve encountered a lot of stuff,” Lori said. “I’ve attended countless codes, that’s kind of what I compared it to. It’s like you go on autopilot, you get done what needs to be done, and you fall apart later.” 

Decades ago, Lori paid her way through nursing school by lifeguarding and took all of her swimming lessons with the Red Cross when she was a child. She used the lifesaving skills she learned to save this woman’s life.  

“I would tell everybody to take swimming lessons,” Lori said. “All my grandkids can swim, my kids can swim, it’s one of those things. It’s like walking and breathing. You have to know how to do it. Anybody can end up in that situation. Especially if you have children, you need to know how to get them out of the water.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco

Lynn EhmenEssential Services Hero 

Lynn Ehmen is one of our 2021 Red Cross Essential Services Heroes. Throughout the pandemic, she has dedicated her time to helping her community.  

Lynn is a mother of four from Springfield, Illinois and has always been inspired to help others. She grew up poor in her small country community and remembers how other people helped her family by offering boxes of food to drives at her school.  

Their generosity inspired Lynn to give back and decades later, she joined the Springfield Families Helping Families Facebook group. The group has allowed hundreds of people to connect to help each other during the pandemic. Families can reach out online for items like food, laundry detergent, toilet paper, and any basic needs.  

“It’s people asking for help and people giving help. That’s it,” Lynn said. 

She would check the page, keep track of people who needed food, and deliver meals to residents in her local area. After seeing the overwhelming demand, Lynn wanted to make the process easier for families. The gentleman who started the Facebook group built a small micro-pantry outside of his office. The pantry looked like a tiny house and was set up like a neighborhood library, except instead of books, it was filled with food. As Lynn got to know him, they became friends, and she started filling the pantries with food.  

“When I was filling it, and there were people waiting in line to use it, I thought, ‘Hey, this is a thing I can do.’ I’m pretty handy. My contractor friend took me into his shop, and I made 11 more of them,” Lynn added.  

She raised nearly $20,000 dollars to create more micro-pantries during the pandemic.  

“Take what you need and leave what you can. That’s the whole philosophy. I don’t own them or monitor them. It’s just a community place where people can drop stuff off and anybody can take what they need,” said Lynn.  

These micro-pantries are open 24/7 and people do not need any paperwork to receive food, which allows for anonymous pickup. The pantries operate on an honor system, encouraging families to only take what they need. The Facebook page keeps track of the pantry locations and people can go to the page to view a list of the nearest micro-pantries  

“They can walk up to their community micro-pantry, the one that’s closest to their home, and get what they need. If they don’t have something to eat for one particular night, and the food banks are not open, they have the option of going to the micro-pantries. That’s why I chose to build them,” explained Lynn. 

Due to the pandemic, many stable families found themselves out of work and struggling financially. The situation inspired Lynn to create a resource that anyone could access to avoid food insecurity. 

“All I could think about [were] the kids,” said Lynn. “There’s a lot of low-income poverty kids that count on breakfast and lunch at school. Those are the only meals they get in a day. How are they going to get food? How are their parents going to teach them at home?” recalled Lynn. 

As of October 2020, Lynn had established over 30 micro-pantries to serve those in need. She also started a community garden at Washington Middle school last year. The garden continues to expand, and its produce is donated to the micro-pantries.  

Although Lynn is being honored as a hero, she thinks that the real heroes are the teachers who are getting the children through this, online and in person. However, she is grateful for the recognition.  

“A hero is somebody who can see a bad situation… and help, or solve the problem without hurting anyone else and without asking to be paid for it,” Lynn said. “[A hero sees that] action needs to be taken and they take it, without any concern for their own situation.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco

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