Volunteer reflects on Red Cross memories after achieving huge milestone

Tess Sheil says being prepared is a skill she holds valuable, which has allowed her to help others in life from disaster response to helping people during medical emergencies.

She learned that at an early age, while in high school she took CPR classes through the Red Cross and  was able to help clear a woman’s airway on scene of a car accident in Moline, Illinois. That incident would blaze a long trail for her at the Red Cross.

Tess continued volunteering while in nursing school during the 70’s, and says she was inspired by one of her mentors and eventually went on to receive her Red Cross nursing pin.

 “My nursing instructor was a Red Cross nurse and I guess I just wanted to be like her, and I really did because she was just such a goodhearted person that I wanted to follow her footsteps,” she says.

Tess is a volunteer with the Red Cross Quad Cities and West Central Illinois and the Greater New York Chapter. She has completed more than 5,000 volunteer hours with the Red Cross!

She describes it as a pleasure to help educate and help those in need in both areas, while building memories that will last a lifetime.

While she has deployed multiple times over the last few decades, Tess shared some of her most memorable moments including helping after the September 11th attacks in New York City in 2001.

 “I went for the firefighters’ families,” she explained. “I went to the armory for the families there. That was part of my community that was impacted.”

During that time, she did anything she could to help survivors and their families including helping pass out water, made ribbons and simply had conversations with them.

“I wanted to help people feel that they had some sense of direction, because people didn’t know what was happening,” Tess says.

Her experience in New York has led her to focus more on mental health support at the Red Cross. She is currently the lead for the Red Cross National Staff Support Hotline, where staff or volunteers can call and receive any kind of help or advice they may need.

Aside from her role in the support hotline, she is also the Leadership Development Lead for the Illinois Region, and the Deployment Lead for the Greater Chapter of New York.

One of her most recent deployments was the Marshalltown, Iowa tornado is 2018. She remembers the huge sense of community and the many miracles that she was able to witness after the tornado.

Tess adds during her deployments, someone special always travels with her and that is Yokum. A stuffed animal monkey, who is a Red Cross volunteer with his own name tag and gear!

Over the years, Yokum has listened to children and even adults, who may not feel comfortable speaking directly to another person after a disaster.

With her background in mental health, Tess says Yokum has served as an outlet for dozens and provided comfort for people’s darkest moments.

Now, Tess volunteers virtually helping fellow volunteers and providing training through different Red Cross programs in both states. She makes sure people realize that they are making a difference in their communities.

“It’s a place I know where I can make the world a better place. The goal for my entire career was to leave the world better than I came into it and I can do that at the Red Cross.”

To learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer visit redcross.org/volunteer.

*All photos taken before the pandemic

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Justin Wang

Deployment brings home memories for volunteer

For ten years, Dean Otta has volunteered with the Illinois Red Cross, and has deployed multiple times to respond to different disasters.

Dean recently deployed to Salem, Oregon where he was tasked with delivering food and supplies to communities impacted by the wildfires.

While in Oregon, Dean was sent as part of the first group of volunteers to Detroit Mountain to help with the devastation. He remembers speaking with one of the survivors, a veteran named Ed.

Dean recalls Ed sharing his story about sending his wife to evacuate their town first, and how he stayed back with another friend to gather as many personal belongings from his home into his pickup truck.

“They took off south down Route 22 and it was fire on both sides of the road. Trees burning, falling down on the road, the forest area was full of smoke,” Dean says.

Ed told Dean it was like a tunnel of nighttime and that he told his buddy, “We are either going to survive or we are going to perish in this fire.”

But Ed was later rescued by a military group who joined the Red Cross in assisting with relief.

Dean describes his deployment to Oregon to be his most impactful, and something he will never forget.

“We met a lot of the people that lived there, and I still get a little emotional,” Dean says. “To hear their stories of what they went through to survive that fire, I can’t imagine.”

Dean adds his motivation to become a volunteer comes from after he witnessed 9/11.

“When 9/11 happened, I knew I wanted to help people, to be a responder.”

As soon as he retired, Dean began to research ways he could get involved. He realized the Red Cross was the perfect opportunity for him to help others.

 “That’s how I got started with Red Cross. Disaster Relief, I love it. I love going to a place where I feel I can make a difference,” Dean says.

If you would like to volunteer with the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Justin Wang

Red Cross volunteer deploys to make a difference after Hurricane Laura

Red Cross volunteers deploy to help with relief efforts, they come back with memories that last a lifetime.

South Central Illinois Chapter volunteer Tara Lund became involved with the Red Cross ten years ago, with previous deployments including Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Sandy.

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We caught up with Tara after her most recent deployment to Louisiana where she had traveled in early September.

Tara says she spent her time between Baton Rouge and New Orleans helping to provide a safe place to stay and meals to those displaced by Hurricane Laura.

She also helped distribute cleaning supplies so people could attempt to save what they have left.

“The people you meet and the experiences that’s what keep me going through some of those deployments,” Tara adds.

During her time in Louisiana, she did drive to Lake Charles and saw all the damage the hurricane brought to the area, which she described as devastating.

Tara tells us that talking with people who lived in those areas, filled with emotion based on what happened and knowing Hurricane Sally was coming next, is something that left an imprint on her.

But providing help to people in need while they are going through their toughest moments is important, she says.

If you would like to volunteer with the Red Cross visit redcross.org/volunteer

Written by Justin Wang, Communications Intern.

Dr. Kaleem Malik Honored as 2020 “Everyday Extraordinary” Disaster Services Hero

For twenty-five years, Dr. Kaleem Malik has been a physician specializing in emergency medicine and trauma. In medical school, Kaleem decided to focus on emergency response to “do the most good and administer to the needs of many.” Trained early on as a Flight for Life physician, he witnessed the severity of emergency medicine and the sanctity of life each time he boarded a helicopter and administered to a critical needs patient. This vital work inspired Kaleem to dedicate his life to emergency medicine, and to focus on serving Chicago’s most vulnerable and providing critical and life sustaining care, where empathy is of the utmost importance.  

As a volunteer for Humanity First USA, a nonprofit organization that provides disaster relief and development assistance in 52 countries across 6 continents, over the past 17 years, Kaleem has held leadership roles including Chief Medical Officer. He is currently the U.S. Course Director and Faculty lead for Medical and Global Disaster Relief Training. Kaleem is also a practicing emergency staff physician with the DuPage Medical Group and is the CEO of TriLab, an academic lab partnering with healthcare systems to combat the U.S. opioid epidemic, a crisis that Kaleem has witnessed firsthand impacting “a vulnerable population with a stigma that has dehumanized.”

Kaleem has volunteered for many global disaster emergencies with Humanity First USA, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake, 2010 Pakistan floods, 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, hurricane Katrina and more. Despite the tough medical disaster situations he has encountered, his time as Medical Lead for Humanity First USA in Coopers Town [Abaco, Bahamas] challenged all his disaster relief skills.

Hurricane Dorian was one of the deadliest natural disasters to hit the Bahamas, causing at least 70 deaths and widespread destruction. Kaleem and Humanity First USA were part of the first medical relief team invited to the Coopers Town Clinic on Great Abaco Island, one of the islands hit hardest. They were summoned by the Bahamian Ministry of Health, the Pan-American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, based on their ability to nimbly and effectively assist in the devastating humanitarian health crisis. Within 48 hours of the hurricane making landfall, Kaleem and his team of 10, spent all night packing four tons of medical equipment and flew to the Bahamas where the death toll was increasing, and the health crisis was escalating.  Hundreds of people were trapped on the Abaco islands including many undocumented Haitians who were afraid to heed the evacuation warnings.  

“This particular disaster, in my experience, contained all of the elements that we train for,” he said. “There was a paucity of resources, primarily communications, so no way to get word out. No power, running water.”

After a 13-hour boat ride to Abaco, Kaleem and his team, along with their four tons of medical equipment, were tasked with restoring a badly damaged clinic on Abaco Island. The team brought medicine, tents, food, generators, pumps and a desalination unit to help provide drinking water. The devastation, destruction and debris on the island was unfathomable. “you would think a nuclear bomb had gone off,” said Kaleem. The clinic had major roof and water damage, no water, power or cell signal and the team began near-impossible tasks of cleaning and sanitizing the flood damaged clinic, while prepping sterile conditions to see patients. Sleeping on the clinic floor, cleaning again and again after rain continued to pour in and caring for the many patients, was difficult, but Kaleem and his team persevered.

The need was so great, that Kaleem extended his initial 5-day deployment to nearly 12 days and returned only because he had to leave for Guatemala on another relief trip, where he and Humanity First USA had opened a hospital. Kaleem serves as the chair of the emergency department and administers medicine in remote Guatemalan villages. 

In between disasters, Kaleem and his wife are raising three teenage daughters who have accompanied their dad on some medical missions and training programs. Kaleem also serves as Humanity First USA’s Course Director for Disaster Response Training, where he prepares others to deploy on humanitarian relief missions. What Kaleem is most proud of is “training (others)… It is the key to disaster response, scalability is what I have focused on the last 10 years, working to mobilize others and get them excited to go, to be that spark that may inspire empathy.”

For the first time in 18 years, coronavirus caused the cancellation of the Red Cross Heroes Breakfast, but stories of resilience and determination prevail. These “Everyday Extraordinary Heroes” live among us. Watch their stories every Tuesday & Thursday starting April 14 at 10 a.m. in social media.

You can support the American Red Cross during this Coronavirus outbreak at Redcross.org/ChicagoHero.

Local SAF volunteers support “The Moving Wall” exhibit for veterans

Over the weekend, the last weekend in September, volunteers with Services to the Armed Forces of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois teamed up with Disaster Mental Health volunteers to support “The Moving Wall” exhibit at the Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.

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“The Moving Wall” is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., and it has toured the U.S. since 1984. The exhibit serves as a way for those who cannot travel to Washington D.C. to still pay tribute to all veterans- especially Vietnam War veterans. Two Moving Wall exhibits travel the U.S. from April through November, spending a week at each site.

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American flags, 1,587 of them, were placed at Queen of Heaven Cemetery, with each one representing a military member who is Missing in Action. In addition, 50 state flags were placed to indicate that the service members displayed on the wall were from all 50 states in the U.S.

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Valerie Moreno-Tucker, an SAF volunteer, wore a POW MIA bracelet that she received in college to the exhibit. As Valerie was offering mental health support to local veterans she was able to find the name of the service member that was on her bracelet on the wall. She says the experience was very touching for her and the other volunteers to be part of such a powerful remembrance.

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The Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program dates back to the establishment of the American Red Cross by Clara Barton in May 1881. Not only did the “Angel of the Battlefield” risk her life tending to soldiers wounded in the Civil War, she bolstered their morale by writing letters for them to send to their families. Today’s American Red Cross workers proudly carry on this tradition through the SAF program, which serves as a critical line of communication between the U.S Armed Forces and their families.

Learn more about the American Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces here.

Written by Services to the Armed Forces Regional Specialist Kelsey Smith

Oak Lawn home fire survivor shares her story

In June of 2019, Barbara Juris was preparing dinner for her husband in their Oak Lawn home. It was a summer evening, and she was planning on making french fries and spare ribs – some of her husband’s favorite things. It was in a crucial few minutes when Barbara left the kitchen that would completely change the course of the evening, and her life.

Barbara stepped outside to tend to the ribs on the grill, when she hears her neighbor yelling. The neighbor had seen what Barbara hadn’t yet- smoke pouring out of her kitchen window. She rushed back into the house to see her kitchen stove on fire and quickly spreading up cabinets and to the floor.

The Oak Lawn Fire Department was called and arrived within minutes- pushing Barbara and her husband Walter out of the house.

Barbara’s friends and neighbors gathered around her outside as she helplessly stood and watched the home she had lived in for 64 years go up in terrible smoke and destroy her kitchen and parts of the roof.

“I was devastated because I had raised 4 children in that home,” Barbara said.

Realizing her home was not going to be suitable to live in for a while, Barbara began feeling an unfamiliar uncertainty of not knowing where she would sleep in the coming days.

“We had no place to go,” she said.

The Oak Lawn Fire Department assured her that she would be OK as Red Cross volunteers also arrived at the fire. The two volunteers, Brian and Donald, talked to Barbara and made sure she and her husband had accommodations and helped them through the next steps to take.

“They were just so supportive and everything, and they told me I’ll get through it and they’ll find a place for me… couldn’t ask for anything kinder,” Barbara said.

At 93-years-old, Barbara says she has been cooking all her life, but this still happened to her. She says she is so grateful to her neighbors, the fire and police departments and the Red Cross for supporting her through the fire.

Her home is now under renovation but she hopes to be back in it by Christmas and have a big party to celebrate.

“I cannot rave enough about the Red Cross. They’ve always been wonderful but they outdo themselves,” Barbara said.

Barbara says she has so much to be grateful for, “but I hope that nobody has to go through that.”

The American Red Cross responds to more than 62,000 disasters a year and most are home fires.

Tips to avoid cooking fires include:

  • Keep young children and pets at least three feet away from the stove.
  • Move items that can burn away from the stove such as dishtowels, bags and boxes.
  • Clean the stove and the area around it before turning on the heat.
  • Don’t leave food on the stove unattended.
  • Turn pot handles to the back of the stove to avoid spills.

IF A COOKING FIRE OCCURS If a pan catches fire, don’t move it. Slide a pan lid or cookie sheet on top of the pan to put out the fire. Turn off the heat. Keep the lid on the pan until it cools. Never try to stop a grease or oil fire with water – it will fuel the fire.

If something catches fire in the oven, keep the door closed. Call 9-1-1 so firefighters can make sure the fire didn’t spread to the walls. If a fire occurs in the microwave, keep the door closed and unplug the microwave if you can. Don’t use it again until a repairman checks it.

If the kitchen catches fire, make sure everyone gets out and call 9-1-1 when outside. Once outside, stay out. Never go back inside a burning building.

The Red Cross has been working to reduce that number through its Home Fire Campaign. Launched in October of 2014, the Red Cross and thousands of campaign partners have helped save numerous lives through the effort, as well as installing more than one million smoke alarms in homes all across the country. The Red Cross is asking people to do two things – create and practice their home fire escape plan and check their smoke alarms.

For more information on home fire safety, click or tap here.

Written and produced by Holly Baker, Regional Communications Manager

Volunteer dedicates “Sound the Alarm” event to brothers lost in Back of the Yards fire

On April 27, 2019 nearly 100 volunteers gathered at Columbus Park in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood for an American Red Cross “Sound the Alarm” event.

Chicago Fire Commissioner Richard C. Ford as well as Alderman Taliaferro and the CEO of the Red Cross, Celena Roldan, spoke to the volunteers and emphasized why what they were about to do was so important.

“Sound the Alarm” is the Red Cross’ life-saving campaign to install free smoke alarms in homes across the country and it takes many community partners, sponsors and enthusiastic volunteers to make it happen.

Denise Daichendt of Norwood Park was one of those volunteers. She has helped out with many other volunteer organizations, but this “Sound the Alarm” event was the first time she was volunteering with the Red Cross.

When she heard of the program through another volunteer, she immediately thought of the two young brothers lost to a terrible fire in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood in January of this year: Abelardo and Pedro Sanchez. They were just 25 and 16 years old. Pedro had sat right next to Denise’s son in chemistry class at Lane Tech High School.

The Chicago Fire Department reports that a fire broke out at their home on W 53rd Street around 8:30AM during Chicago’s “polar vortex” week in January. School was not in session due to the cold weather and the young men became trapped in the home’s attic from the heavy fire. The department also reports that there were no smoke alarms in the attic area.

Denise decided to sign up as a volunteer and dedicated the event to Abelardo and Pedro; writing their names on the back of her volunteer shirt.

“Something in me was just bursting to dedicate this to them,” Denise said. “It didn’t feel right if I didn’t.”

Denise, a mother of 6, along with other local families and Lane Tech’s director of culture and climate also helped organize a balloon memorial for the brothers and helped the family with collecting donations and getting new furniture. She says hopefully they can move back into their home soon.

“It was devastating, I can’t imagine what their mother goes through,” Denise said.

Denise says she wanted to honor the brothers and hopes that by sharing the story, more people will learn about fire safety and make sure their homes are equipped with working smoke alarms. After being a volunteer firefighter in college, she says it’s not enough to teach children about fire safety at school- it has to get to adults as well.

The components of “Sound the Alarm” include installing new smoke alarms with 10-year batteries and also going over fire safety with members of the household. Volunteers also provide families with a home escape plan so families can create and practice their plan to escape from their home in the event of a fire.

During the April 27th event, Denise says she visited a home in the neighborhood that had just had a fire in the basement days earlier and her volunteer team was able to install multiple alarms in the home, thinking of Abelardo and Pedro with each one.

“You see the Red Cross at like, hurricanes and different disasters like tornadoes, but you don’t know all the aspects of what the Red Cross does so this was a great experience.”

The family and the community is deeply mourning the loss of these beloved family members. “They were lives lost too soon.”

For more infomration on how to get involved with “Sound the Alarm,” visit www.soundthealarm.org/chicago. To sign up for an appointment for a free smoke alarm at your home, visit www.getasmokealarm.org.

Written by Red Cross communications manager Holly Baker

Streator family on path to recovery after home fire

It was mid-December of 2018 around 4PM when a house caught fire in Streator, IL.

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Firefighers with the Streator Fire Department were arriving at the single-family home within minutes and shortly after them, two volunteers with the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley were there.

The home was unlivable, and everything changed for that Streator family that night. Everyone was able to get out of the home, but all of their pet hamsters and fish were lost. The three children who lived there and their parents lost all their belongings from the fire or the heavy smell of smoke that had seeped into everything.

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Standing outside of their home, Red Cross volunteers wrapped each family member in a Red Cross blanket and gave everyone a comfort kit containing basic items like a toothbrush, toothpaste and shampoo. The volunteers made sure the family had a place to go for the next few days and connected them with resources that would become the bridge to their next home, as they could not return to the burnt out house.

The Streator family was able to find a new place to live and was able to get new clothes for the everyone with assistance from the Red Cross. “That really helped us out a lot,” the children’s mother said.

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She says although they had to start over completely, the Red Cross was there to help her family during those difficult days following the fire and now they are together in a new home in Streator.

Written by communications manager Holly Baker.

 

Red Cross staff member reflects on Hurricane Michael deployment

It has been a few months since Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach on the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 storm in early October.

The deadly storm was considered one of the top four strongest hurricanes to hit the United States and it left behind devastation across communities.

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People completely lost their homes and many were left living without power, food, running water and other basic necessities.

Soon after Hurricane Michael hit, American Red Cross disaster workers got to work to help people in shelters, kitchens, and many distributed relief items to those in need.

Isamar Montezuma, Senior Recruitment Specialist for the American Red Cross, was one of hundreds of Red Cross disaster workers deployed to help those impacted by the deadly storm.

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Montezuma was deployed to District 1, Panama City in Florida. She traveled to different shelters and kitchens in Washington County and Day County.

“It’s been very impactful to see damage created by Hurricane Michael, but I’ve been really impressed by volunteers and community members,” Montezuma said.

Throughout her deployment, Montezuma went to different shelters to identify and find volunteers locally. She also helped with background check screenings for volunteers willing to assist.

Montezuma also volunteered for three different kitchens while deployed in Florida.

According to Montezuma, everyone in District 1, Panama City was working hard to rebuild and empower their community.

Even though people completely lost their homes and everything in them, they were grateful for their safety.

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A photo inside a the staff shelter where Red Cross volunteers were staying at a school in Florida

“The fact that I’ve had someone tell me that even though they lost everything, at the end of the day they are thankful they have their family,” Montezuma said. “These families will go back home, but they’ve lost it and lost memories, but the most important thing is that they are together.”

American Red Cross volunteers respond to nearly 64,000 disasters every year. Deployment is something American Red Cross volunteers do to reach disaster-affected areas like Hurricane Michael.

This was Montezuma’s first deployment to respond to a disaster and it was an eye-opening experience.

“I wanted to be deployed,” Montezuma said. “It’s something that we do to assist during a disaster. I wanted to get that experience to learn from it and to be able to speak about it to other volunteers.”

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Isamar with a Chicago Red Cross volunteer, Shelley who also deployed to Hurricane Michael

Interested in being a disaster volunteer? Head over to the site to look at the different volunteer positions under Volunteer Management, Disaster Services, Public Affairs and more!

Written by Jasminne Hernandez, Communications & Marketing Volunteer for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

‘Give Something That Means Something’ with American Red Cross on Giving Tuesday

During the holidays, bring comfort and hope to people in need

ILLINOIS – In a year when disasters upended the lives of thousands of people, the American Red Cross is asking everyone to Give Something that Means Something for families in need through its 2018 Holiday Giving Campaign.

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“Every day, home fires and other everyday crises turn people’s lives upside down,” said Celena Roldan, chief executive officer of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois. “Families are counting on your support to remember them during this special time of year. On Giving Tuesday, please consider making a financial donation or a blood donation, or volunteering your time.”

GIVING TUESDAY Beginning on Giving Tuesday—November 27—please #GiveWithMeaning here to support people in need with a symbolic gift, which you can make in honor of the special people in your life:

  • Help disaster victims. Your gift of $250 can deliver hot meals for 25 people who need nourishment after a disaster. A donation of $100 can provide a family of two with a full day’s worth of emergency shelter with meals, snacks, blankets, a cot and hygiene supplies. Help provide warmth with a gift of $50, which can provide blankets for 10 people.
  • Help our veterans. A donation of $125 can help veterans transition back to civilian life by connecting them and their families to critical services such as food, housing, counseling and rehabilitation.
  • Help internationally. Your gift of $100 can help provide lifesaving vaccinations for 100 children who face an increased risk of measles and rubella around the world.

 

In addition, you can also:

 

GIVING HOPE EVERY DAY Every 8 minutes, someone affected by disaster is helped by donations to the Red Cross. The generosity of Red Cross donors helps provide people with necessities like shelter, food, relief supplies, emotional support, recovery planning and other assistance.

The need is constant—and this year was no different. In Chicago & Northern Illinois, the Red Cross helped 10,766 people affected by 1,430 local disasters including floods and home fires. Home fires—the nation’s most frequent disaster—account for the vast majority of our responses.

In addition to helping families recover from these events, we also help save lives by installing free smoke alarms and helping residents create escape plans through our Home Fire Campaign.

About the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois:

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois serves 9.5 million people in 21 counties including Boone, Bureau, Carroll, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Jo Daviess, LaSalle, Lake, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Putnam, Stephenson, Whiteside, Will and Winnebago. The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit us at redcross.org/il/chicago or visit us on Twitter @ChicagoRedCross.