Through the Heart of a Red Crosser: Touching the lives of the people

Steve Wise is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois who recently deployed to Marshalltown, Iowa after a tornado devastated part of the town in July, 2018. Steve is now sharing some of the experiences he had after helping coordinate resources to help the hundreds of people affected by the tornado.

Whenever the Red Cross responds to a disaster…we often touch so many lives. After the Marshalltown tornadoes hit, the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago dispatched two ERV (Emergency Response Vehicles) to help out with feeding those so negatively impacted within the community.

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These teams would drive through the hard-hit neighborhoods and pass out both lunch and dinner with food that was cooked and donated by the Hy-Vee Supermarket Company. On any given day, one ERV would pass out on average 400 plus meals – often times to families that lost everything. And they were able to touch their lives.
As the days wore on, it was common for those assigned to these ERV’s to strike up friendships with those that they would meet and talk with. They would often hear the stories of where residents were when the tornadoes hit – and how they survived. They would see neighbors helping neighbors – no matter what condition their house was in.
Jeff Dorn remembers one day when a car stopped them while driving their route to say “thank you” for what they were doing. In addition, Jeff and his partner Kyle started a “Marshalltown Wall of Fame” – where they recorded the first names of the Children that they met along their way.

At times like these, touching the lives that you meet – means so much. It can help take away their feelings of despair and hopelessness. And it gives such lives, the chance of better tomorrows.

Through the Heart of a Red Crosser: The Resiliency of a Community

Steve Wise is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois who has helped with many disasters including tornadoes, floods, fires and more. Now he is sharing some of his experiences on what it is like to be a Red Crosser.

It is truly amazing to see and watch a Community recover from a disaster.  Whether it be a tornado that devastates blocks and blocks of a town – or a fire that destroys many units of an apartment complex – you will see how a community comes together.

Large disasters can affect so many people – and often times those that will struggle greatly to recover from it.  They may not have the means or resources to repair or replace what they lost so quickly and without warning.  So, they depend on others – and often their own community to help them out.

Being out in a hard-hit community like in Marshalltown, IA – it was common to see neighbors helping neighbors.  Whether picking up debris from the many trees that were blown down, to helping repair items torn from a house – you would see a group affair.

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Drone view of the destruction in Marshalltown, IA after a tornado in July, 2018.

For those that were lucky and not impacted – you would see them donating food, clothing, or simply their time however they could.  Local residents volunteered in many roles, often requiring them to be on their feet all day.  They went out of their way to help their fellow resident – and were back the next day to volunteer some more.

We stood up a Resource Center (MARC) to help those in the community that had damage to their homes.  Twenty plus organizations came to provide free assistance – many of which were from outside Marshalltown.  They listened to, may have cried with, and did whatever they could to help out the many families that sought their help.

Such stories are repeated time and time again when tragedy strikes.  Learn to be prepared not only for any disaster that may come your way – but also be prepared to help out your neighbors when they may need you the most.

Helping our communities prepare, recover and flourish from disaster

Helping our communities prepare, recover and flourish from disaster

Guest Post by Jeff Winton, President, Astellas USA Foundation

When Jeff Winton was a child, his rural farming community in upstate New York was struck by a series of disasters, including a fire that burnt down his house and a set of tornadoes that devastated his town. As Astellas USA Foundation president, Winton understands that disaster can strike when we least expect it, and that being prepared can ease the burden of those affected. He explains how Astellas USA Foundation is helping communities prepare, recover and flourish when the unexpected happens.

When I was a young boy, one Sunday afternoon I discovered that my home had caught fire and destroyed several rooms in the house. Fortunately, I was able to alert my parents in time before the entire house was destroyed. As I look back on that moment, I remember American Red Cross volunteers being there for my family and me, helping us sort through the wreckage and move forward from the loss.

Around the same time, another disaster struck my community. A set of tornadoes took out the small farming community I lived in, destroying dozens of homes and buildings and killing a massive number of livestock. Looking back, I’m again reminded of Red Cross volunteers on the scene, helping us recover.

These personal experiences with disaster have driven my passion to ensure that all communities, no matter how far removed, are prepared when disaster strikes. At Astellas USA Foundation, we believe that crisis prevention and recovery are at the forefront of building sustainable communities. It is essential to provide communities with proper resources and education, to help ease the burden of those most affected so they that may recover and flourish when the worst happens.

Growing up in a rural community, we were miles away from the nearest large city and amenities, including hospitals. That made it more difficult for emergency responders to reach my town quickly, so we often had to wait longer to receive help. With that perspective and experience, I believe our support of at-risk and far removed communities, both in Chicagoland and across the Americas, is especially crucial.

Continuing our seventh year of support of the Red Cross, in 2016, Astellas USA Foundation donated funds to purchase 23,000 smoke alarms, helping 9,200 families be more prepared for home fires. Special emphasis was placed on low-income, elderly, disabled and youth populations, who are more at risk for a fire, and more likely to be severely affected than the general population. We are ensuring these populations are educated and equipped to secure their homes.

In addition to fire safety efforts, Astellas USA Foundation supports the Red Cross to be on the scene when disaster strikes. This year, we’ve provided relief to victims of the floods in Louisiana and Texas, Canadian wildfires, and the earthquake in Ecuador. Due to our longstanding commitment to this partner, we were honored with the Wesbury Leadership award this summer from the American Red Cross of Chicago for our efforts to prepare and strengthen communities.

But relief comes in many forms. We also work with Americares, which provides medicine, supplies, education and training to more than 900 health facilities across the United States, helping 5 million low-income patients receive care they might forgo due to cost. We’re also building self-reliance in rural communities in El Salvador to help them build a more sustainable future after the food crisis that resulted from El Niño. By working with World Food Program USA, Astellas USA Foundation is helping new mothers and young children receive the nutrition they need to thrive and be healthy. To do this, we helped these mothers access SuperCereal+, a supplemental food to eradicate hunger and malnutrition during their children’s crucial developmental years.

We call this Living Smart – or, preparing our communities today for what could happen tomorrow. Astellas USA Foundation enlists the help of Astellas employee volunteers through the Living Smart Program. So far, employees have participated in blood drives (most recently collecting 48 pints of blood, which could help Red Cross save up to 144 lives) and provided the Red Cross with a first-of-its-kind energy efficient emergency response vehicle to reach people affected by disaster.

I’ve experienced first-hand how devastating and unexpected disasters can be. But I’ve also seen how help from organizations like the Red Cross can turn around a seemingly hopeless situation by providing resources and support to ease the burden of those most affected. Astellas USA Foundation looks forward to continuing its support of these organizations so that our communities can prepare, recover and flourish from disaster, facing the future with confidence.

This story was cross-posted with permission and is also available here.

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 or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

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

Photos By:

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 or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

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

Photos By:

“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 or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

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

Photo By:


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

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

Coal City Tornado Survivor: “I’m One of the Lucky Ones”

18958425470_58a7635484_o(COAL CITY, IL) – Marcia Wills was at home watching TV Monday night when the power went out and she heard a loud crash. The next thing she remembered was rescue workers picking her up and taking her to the hospital. Her senior apartment complex in Coal City was destroyed so she couldn’t go home after the storm. But she arrived at a familiar place, First Methodist Church, where she’s a member of the congregation and where the Red Cross opened shelter.

Marcia was greeted by shelter manager Joyce Cook, who got her settled and made sure her medications were replaced. They sit together every afternoon. Marcia’s worried about her neighbors, but Joyce, who located the building manger, assured Marcia everyone is ok.

“The good lord was looking after me. I’m one of the lucky ones,” said Marcia. “My heart breaks for my friends.”

Joyce and the Red Cross will continue to comfort Marcia during her stay and help her find a home.

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 or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

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

Photo By:

Volunteers and Therapy Dogs Comfort Fairdale Families

Bekah & Bekah 4.15.15Meet Bekah and Bekah. Together, they make a great team.

Bekah Kinsella is a Red Cross disaster mental health volunteer. Golden Retriever Bekah is a therapy dog from Addison, Illinois-based Lutheran Church Charities.  Whether offering a hand or a paw, both Bekahs were a comfort to Fairdale families arriving at the tornado survivor center at First Lutheran Church in Kirkland.

As a Red Cross mental health volunteer, Bekah helps people talk through their emotions so they can cope with disaster and loss. Bekah, the therapy dog, also helps the healing process as furry friend to hug.

Dog trainer Helga Berutti said Bekah started training as comfort dog when she was a puppy. And even through the three-year old Golden Retriever likes to run and play, “when she has her vest on, she knows she’s working.”

Volunteers, like Bekah Kinsella, have the same call of duty, too. Every time they put on their Red Cross vest, it’s an opportunity to comfort those who need our help.

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

Photo by: Ira Meinhofer, American Red Cross volunteer