Martha is a new volunteer with the Illinois Red Cross, and she didn’t hesitate to jump right on to the front lines at the United Center and Truman College COVID vaccination sites. For several months she assisted step-by-step with the vaccination process, from client registration, temperature checks, and translating English and Spanish. This was an extraordinary experience for Martha: “I love how a group of strangers can come together for the good of others; this was heart-strengthening during the COVID pandemic.” As a member of the Disaster Cycle Services team, she plans to continue promoting the American Red Cross in Chicago’s Hispanic communities.
Also important to Martha is her Hispanic heritage. Originally from Mexico City, Martha has called Chicago home for many years. Almost anything you want from Mexico is here, including parades and block festivals in Pilsen and La Villita to celebrate Mexican Independence Day on September 16th, explains Martha.
Preparing traditional food is one way Martha celebrates this month with her family, starting with Chiles en nogada. These are poblano peppers stuffed with ground meat served with a walnut sauce and adorned with pomegranate seeds. Some of Martha’s favorites foods when she visits Mexico include tacos al pastor, which is marinated pork served in a taco with pineapple on top. The food in Veracruz, on the Golf Coast of Mexico, is absolutely unique, mainly seafood with a variety of chili sauces – primarily chipotle.
Martha relishes other parts of her Mexican heritage. The art and muralist movement because they use strong colors and images that are publicly accessible to tell important histories; her favorite muralist is Rufino Tamayo. Music wise, her favorite composer is JoséPablo Moncayo and her favorite piece is the Huapango. If you plan to visit Mexico, Martha recommends the artisan city of Oaxaca, the traditions of San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico, and the turquoise Caribbean Sea in Cancún.
For Martha, Hispanic Heritage Month “is an acknowledgment of the contribution of my community to the success of this country.” Thank you for sharing some of your rich culture with us!
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.
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 hereto find out about how to serve your community through AmeriCorps.
Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley
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.
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.
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 Louisianafrom 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.
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 PEOPLEaffected 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.
GIBSON CITY FLOODING
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.
TROPICAL STORM HENRI
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.
BE A RED CROSS VOLUNTEER
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“This really put Rockton on the map, though I wish it was for a different reason,” Lori Oostendorp thought aloud in the Roscoe Middle School gym. Seated next to her at a round table was her mother, Kathryn Markley. They both were in the evacuation zone after a fire started at Chemtool Inc. just down the road from their homes on Monday, June 14, 2021.
The American Red Cross of Illinois has converted the middle school into an evacuation site, first and then a full shelter when local authorities made it clear those who evacuated could not immediately go home. The Red Cross is providing the air-conditioned space, meals, snacks, water, personal hygiene items, cots and blankets and more to the people who left so quickly.
Other family members joined them; Kathryn says in her haste to evacuate she grabbed her two cats first and says she was thankful it wasn’t a problem to bring them to the shelter. They’re kept away from other guests, but she says there’s no way she was leaving her 2 black cats, Ferrari and Neelix, behind.
“I think a pet is like having a baby, you are responsible for that life,” Kathryn Markley declared, and finds comfort in having her pets nearby during the evacuation.
On Wednesday, more furry friends were in the shelter to provide support to all those experiencing being out of their homes in the form of comfort dogs. Golden retrievers were available for guests of the shelter to meet and pet and relieve some of the stress they may be feeling.
The mother/daughter team isn’t the only set of family members; Patrick Mira-Contreras and his brother are also staying at the middle school during the evacuation order and experiencing national attention for the first time.
“You always hear about this stuff happening and its almost like its not real….I’ve never been in a disaster-type situation like this before but from what I’ve experienced you guys are doing a great job of offering water, food, accommodations and what not,” he said.
Mira-Contreras is focusing in mindfulness during this time of being uncomfortable and trying to stay positive, an attitude that is rubbing off on others staying in the shelter.
“If you have a good outlook, things will work out,” he said confidently.
A sense of cameraderie is evident throughout the people during their time, and at the age of 94 Mickey Tooley says she’s happy she had a place to go after the shock of the blast and knew some of the other people there.
“The smoke was just pouring out from the fire and I kinda left in a hurry,” she laughed, “and I forgot all my meds but they were so nice,” and she was able to get her medications with the help of the Red Cross and local police.
Tooley says she’s hoping to go home soon but if the Red Cross shelter is where she has to be in the meantime, she’s grateful.
“The Red Cross has been really wonderful with all the food and snacks! Everyone has been so nice but everyone will be really happy to get home.”
“You guys go above and beyond to try and make it as comfortable under the circumstances as you can,” said Oostendorp.
Sometimes the shelter guest numbers dwindle to just 5 or 6, but as long as people need a place to stay the Red Cross is working to be there for them and provide resources such as this. Executive Director of the American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois, Leslie Luther, explained to local news media how the Red Cross is providing a safe place for anyone who seeks it.
“It doesn’t matter if its one person or one hundred, our volunteers are trained and ready to be a source of comfort during an uncertain time like this,” Luther said. “This was unexpected, but we’re prepared for disasters and to help with easing the big way they affect the people experiencing them.”
If you are displaced and are looking for support, you can visit the shelter at the Roscoe Middle School on Elevator Road or call 877-597-0747.
Emergencies can happen at any time: in the grocery store parking lot, at a family wedding, on a hot day at the community pool or even at the office and inside your very own home. But regardless of when and where they occur, emergency situations usually have one thing in common: a crowd of people standing around, staring at a victim—wondering who should act and trying to remember what to do. That is, until a hero emerges from the crowd.
On February 2, 2020, during church service at Riverside Community Church in Machesney Park, IL, a gentleman in the congregation appeared to be slumped over and unresponsive. Those attending church, and those sitting near him, called out for help. Pastor Cory Whitford calmly responded. He conducted an assessment and determined that the gentleman was no longer breathing.
Pastor Whitford placed the gentleman on the floor of the church pew and began administering chest compressions. After several cycles, the gentleman began to respond. Pastor Whitford continued to keep the gentleman calm and comfortable until EMS arrived. Pastor Whitford’s quick and calm action helped to save this man’s life!
“It was an honor to be able to do this and to be able to receive this award,” says Pastor Whitford. “I would do it again in a heartbeat because I would want someone to do the same for me or one of my loved ones.”
On behalf of the American Red Cross, Cory was presented with the Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action, awarded to individuals who step up in an emergency situation and help save or sustain a life. Cory exemplifies the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.
Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager