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

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‘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.

Red Cross Regional CEO Deploying to California for Wildfire Relief Efforts

CHICAGO, IL (Nov. 15, 2018) — American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois CEO Celena Roldán is deploying to California tomorrow to support people affected by the devastating wildfires. Celena will be deploying as part of a Latino Outreach team helping Hispanic neighborhoods deeply affected by this disaster and will be the sixth person from the Chicago & Northern Illinois region to deploy to the California wildfires.

Celena is leaving tomorrow, Friday November 16, 2018 from O’Hare Airport and will be available for interviews in English and Spanish from 8:45AM-9:15AM in the United Airlines terminal.

Celena will be deployed over Thanksgiving again after being deployed to Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria almost exactly one year ago.

Celena recently returned from North Carolina where she had been deployed for Hurricane Florence. She was also deployed for Hurricane Harvey and for the Louisiana Floods of 2017. Celena holds a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Administration from National Louis University, as well as Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

WILDFIRE FAST FACTS

  • Wednesday night, more than 840 people stayed in 10 Red Cross and community shelters across California.
  • People are relying on Red Cross reunification services, including use of the Safe and Well website. There are just over 6,700 Safe and Well registrations for the wildfires, as many as 72,000 searches, and more than 1,400 matches through Safe and Well.
  • More than 780 Red Cross disaster workers are helping to support people affected by the wildfires in California.
  • Working with partners, the Red Cross has served more than 40,200 meals and snacks.
  • Volunteer mental health, health services and spiritual care professionals have provided more than 9,500 contacts to provide support and care to evacuees.
  • We’ve distributed more than 14,400 relief items for people forced from their homes2018 CA wildfires.jpg

HOW TO HELP Disaster relief involves complex responses and the Red Cross needs the public’s support to help the people affected. Those who would like to help the Red Cross support people affected by disasters like flooding, wildfires and countless other crises can make a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief. People can donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting CAWILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation. These donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.

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 in Northern Illinois 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 at @ChicagoRedCross.

 

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Through the Heart of a Red Crosser: A Hurricane Michael Base Camp

Steve Wise is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois who is currently deployed to Florida for Hurricane Michael. He had only recently returned home after deploying to North Carolina for Hurricane Florence. Steve is now sharing some of his experiences.

Last night was my first night ever in a First Responders Base Camp.  For the Red Cross and utility company first responders – a base camp was stood up at the Tallahassee Airport in response to Hurricane Michael.

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Next to one of its runways and in a large open field – you will find this camp.  It consists of many large white tents that include housing, a feeding area, and other support functions.  Between them you will find many trailers that include sinks, showers, and laundry.

This is probably the closest that I have come to camping since my childhood days.  The food was good, chatted with fellow team and local Red Crossers, slept well, and had a warm shower. But the thing that you marvel at the most – is what you find inside this base camp.

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Inside you will find the hearts of many, many volunteers.  They get up early, go through their daily ritual that we all have which is something like grabbing a bite to eat, assembling their gear, and being ready to go.  This camp is full of energy and is a beehive of activity.  It is truly something to marvel at.

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For those flying out of the Tallahassee Airport – those that don’t know will look at this base camp as a simple tent city.  But inside these tents you will find the hearts of volunteers from across the country.  Those that stop their lives for a few weeks – and have the support of their families and loved ones that they leave behind.

And the one thing that unites us – is our willingness to help put the lives of those so negatively impacted…back together.

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So, if you ever see or pass a tent city that is setup in response to a disaster – stop and think of who is inside it.  And say a prayer for those inside to be safe and to do their best – helping those that so desperately need their help.

American Red Cross Responds to 25 Fires and Opens 1 Shelter in the Past Week

Disaster responders with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois responded to 25 fires from Monday, October 15 to this morning across the 21-county region including fires in Naperville, Blue Island, Elmwood Park, Darien, Rockford, Machesney Park and 15 of the fires happening in Chicago.

The fires affected 134 people including 80 adults and 54 children.

The Red Cross provided resources to help address the immediate basic needs of those affected such as temporary housing, food, clothing, comfort kits with toiletry items, information about recovery services, and health and mental health services. Additional information about these incidents, if available, may be obtained from the local first responding agency/fire department.

Responding volunteers are members of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, a group of specially trained volunteers who respond to the scene of a disaster when called upon any time of the day or night.

Additionally, 18 Red Cross responders were on the scene in Waukegan as a senior living facility was evacuated on Friday evening. Just before 5PM on October 19, the Red Cross was notified by the city of Waukegan that around 250 people would be without a home that night as an expanding sinkhole made their apartment building temporarily unlivable for days and sheltering assistance would be needed.

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Red Cross trailer with supplies in Waukegan during sheltering response on October 19, 2018

A shelter was opened at Waukegan High School on Washington Street and the Red Cross provided food, health services, casework, mental health services, and cots for residents for the night and all day on Saturday. The Red Cross worked with the building management and local hotels to provide rooms for the residents and caseworkers will continue to follow up with the people affected by this evacuation.

Hurricane Florence: Hurricane Florence made landfall early on September 14 as a Category 1 storm just south of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Florence set tropical storm rainfall records in two states, surpassing 20 inches in South Carolina and 35 inches in North Carolina. Over the course of five days, Hurricane Florence dumped an estimated 10 trillion gallons of water across the Carolinas. More than 60 volunteers and staff were deployed for Hurricane Florence including CEO Celena Roldán and this response is on-going. Sunday night, more than 260 people stayed in 7 Red Cross shelters in North Carolina.

Hurricane Michael: On October 9, the Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois began deploying local volunteers and staff to Hurricane Michael. As of today, 19 people have been deployed for Hurricane Michael and are on the ground or are on the way to the affected area. Last night, more than 1,300 people stayed in as many as 15 Red Cross and community evacuation centers across Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

HOW PEOPLE CAN HELP: After two major hurricanes in less than a month, thousands of people are looking for help. The Red Cross depends on financial donations to fund our relief services. Help people affected by Hurricane Michael by visiting redcross.org, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS or texting the word MICHAEL to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from this disaster.

DONATE BLOOD: The Red Cross also has a critical need for blood and platelet donations to help meet patient needs. This fall, Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence have forced the cancellation of about 200 blood drives, causing approximately 7,000 units of blood to go uncollected in the Southeast. The Red Cross asks eligible individuals to make an appointment today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

The Red Cross responds to 3 to 4 home fires every day in Chicago and northern Illinois. The Red Cross recommends two easy steps to help protect your home and loved ones from a fire: get a smoke alarm and create a fire escape plan. For more Red Cross fire safety and preparedness information visit www.redcross.org/prepare.

Local Volunteer Geoff Fishwick is Always At the Ready

A crucial part of being a Red Cross volunteer is the commitment and willingness to be “at the ready” in the face of disaster. While people across the country were watching Hurricane Florence barrel towards the Carolinas at an alarming category 4 pace, Red Cross volunteers began preparing for possible deployment.

To get a better idea of what exactly volunteer deployment is, what it involves, and what the experience is like, we’re sharing the experience of a local Chicago Red Cross volunteer who has recently returned from deployment.

Meet Geoff Fishwick: Now living in Wheaton but born and raised in the city, Geoff considers himself a true Chicagoan. After retiring from work as a manager of a commodity trading firm, Geoff was drawn to the Red Cross through his familiarity with responsibility and collaborating with others in order to accomplish a goal. He has been with the Red Cross for about 8.5 years and this was his third long-term deployment of 2 or more weeks.

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Volunteer Geoff Fishwick of Wheaton, IL

For this deployment, Geoff was mostly stationed in Florence, South Carolina where he worked in logistics for about 13 days. When asked about the role he usually takes on in volunteer situations, Geoff described himself as, “short- not only in stature but in talk. I try and be friendly and open to everybody and say, this is what we need to have done, and this is how I’d like to see it done.”

Being activated for deployment often occurs on very short notice. Geoff said if he has the time, and approval of his family, he usually puts himself down for two weeks of deployment. When a hurricane hits and he gets that phone call, Geoff is ready to go. Geoff says that the Red Cross of Chicago has made him very well trained as a volunteer, especially in roles such as shelter manager and kitchen manager. He emphasizes that flexibility during deployment is important: “you have to be willing to take on whatever comes your way.”

For those of us who have never been deployed to aid in disaster relief, Geoff explains a little bit about what it’s like: “An average day on deployment usually means getting up pretty early for a meeting at the shelter to say ‘this is what we’re looking for.’ After that I’d usually meet up with my logistics team and look at what supplies had to be moved and how many shelters needed to be opened to meet the needs of the people. At the end of the day, you try and prepare for the next day as best you can.”

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A memory that sticks out for Geoff was when one day, while volunteering at an elementary school that had been turned into a shelter, Geoff and other volunteers came across a rattlesnake that was blocking the entrance to the building. “Let me think of a nice way to say this… the rattlesnake expired. We had to get rid of it.”

Of course, some of Geoff’s more personal experiences with members of the communities stood out to him as the most meaningful parts of his trip. “People thanking you… that can be moving,” Geoff said.

“One woman I met came up and thanked me for saving her and her kid’s life. It bothers you because you’re going away and you can’t help them forever. But that’s part of your job, and I am just grateful to be a part of it. ”

Interested in volunteering with the Red Cross and helping with disasters big and small? Visit www.redcross.org/volunteer to find a volunteer opportunity for you!

 

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.

Written by Sophie Kendrick, Communications and Marketing Intern

Through the Heart of a Red Crosser: “Imagine walking in their shoes”

Steve Wise is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois who recently deployed to North Carolina ahead of Hurricane Florence. There, he helped run a mega shelter for people affected by the storm in September, 2018. Steve is now sharing some of his experiences.

For a good portion of us – we don’t experience an event that changes our life as we know it.

We often see tragic stories about home fires – some of which that claim the lives of people including young ones.  Or we watch from afar how communities affected by major storms like Hurricane Florence – suffer utter destruction that will require years if not generations for people to recover from.

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A screengrab of Steve’s phone as he monitored the storm while in North Carolina.

Image for a moment – walking in their shoes.  How do you think that you and your family could survive such an event?  Would you know where to turn to for help?  Would you have the drive and heart to get through such a life changing event – or would you need help from others to get through it?

When the American Red Cross responds to such disasters – whether it be individual in nature or on a mass scale – we often hear stories that make our hearts cry.  It is so common to hear those impacted tell us that their home is gone and that they don’t have the means to start anew.  This is where the generosity of Volunteers and Donors comes in.

Many people that suffer from such life changing events – need us.  Whether it be our time, hands, or donations – we must be willing to be there for them and help them out.  If we are not…what do you think that their chances of recovery would be?

Take a moment and put yourself in their shoes.  I would bet that all of us would hope that there are others willing to help us out.  Think about donating to the Red Cross – Hurricane Florence Relief Fund.

Written by Steve Wise, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Disaster Volunteer