Hispanic Heritage Month: Red Cross Volunteer Martha García Barragán Shares Highlights of her Mexican Culture

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 José Pablo 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!      

To become a Red Cross volunteer and make a difference in your community like Martha, please visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley.

Reflecting on 9/11 Twenty Years Later

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.

The final step to preparing your household is to be informed. Consider taking a First Aid for Severe Trauma™ or first aid and CPR course so you’ll know what to do until help arrives in the event of an emergency.

Quincy Volunteer Shares Joy of Serving as Blood Donor Ambassador

Julia Goerlich has been volunteering as a blood donor ambassador with the Red Cross Quad Cities/West Central Illinois Chapter for the past 12 years. Julia worked in the medical field, so volunteering as a blood donor ambassador was a natural transition for her. She helps to make the blood donor experience a positive one by greeting people at the door, takes their temperature, and makes them feel welcome. Julia treasures the personal stories she hears from donors and it motivates her to keep going.

“It’s amazing to hear why people are donating”, Julia says.

In addition to volunteering, Julia also serves on the Biomedical Outreach Committee, where she helps spread the word about blood drives in the community. Her first experience organizing a blood drive was at her church Blessed Sacrament in Quincy.

Julia says she was nervous in the beginning speaking to her church, but eventually became more comfortable.

“[Promoting blood drives] individually is one thing, but when you’re talking to 100 to 200 people, it’s a whole different story”, Julia says.

Julia shared with her church how blood and platelet donations impacted her life personally, after it helped her mother and siblings battle illnesses. This experience made Julia want to give back to others who may need the gift of life. She teamed up with members of her church to host a blood drive. In their first year, more than 40 people donated blood.

Julia continues to encourage others to volunteer and get the full experience of what it’s like as a blood donor ambassador.

“I love getting people excited about it,” Julia says, “I tell them all about what I do, what I see, and what I hear before they come out.”

To learn more about becoming a blood donor ambassador, visit redcross.org/volunteertoday. If you are healthy and feeling well, consider donating blood by making an appointment at redcrossblood.org.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Central Illinois Board Member Shares Long Journey With The Red Cross

Deb Smith’s experience at the Red Cross began in the 90s. She was seeking an opportunity to volunteer, while furthering her education and working for OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, Illinois as a nurse and in various leadership roles. She was eventually approached by Executive Director Lyn Hruska and then board chair Leanna Bordner, to serve on the volunteer board of directors. Deb was more than excited to take on the responsibility and knew she was in the right place.

“I felt so aligned with their mission” Deb says.

For Deb, the work of the Red Cross became personal. She experienced the importance of blood donation as her sister and mother received blood transfusions while battling illnesses. Although her sister passed, she still recognizes how blood donations can make a difference.

“It strengthened me with needing to help however I can with blood”, says Deb, “It was there for my family when we needed it the most.”

It wasn’t long until Deb started to find more opportunities within the Red Cross to fulfill her passion for helping others. She became a blood donor ambassador, helping provide a positive experience to blood donors at blood drives.

Although, she is a board member and has retired from the workforce, she still wants to utilize her nursing skills. Last fall, she became a Divisional Nurse Leader for the Red Cross. Currently, she speaks to nursing students in Peoria and Bloomington about becoming involved with the Red Cross.

“I think it’s a wonderful way to serve the Red Cross”, says Deb, “It’s easy to learn, and if you’re a people person, it’s the place to be.”

The Red Cross has opened many doors for Deb’s love of giving back to those in need. She’s come across people from all walks of life throughout her journey and cherishes the stories that come with it.

To become a Red Cross volunteer like Deb, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

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

Giving back through blood donations and time

Kelly Easton dedicates her time to the Illinois Red Cross through blood donations and helping organize blood drives. After a battle with cancer, she describes how she became motivated to give back to her community in any way that she could.

“Once I got the all clear, I began donating blood. Now every 56 days I’m donating,” Kelly proudly says.

Besides donating blood, Kelly is also raising awareness in her community about the importance of blood donation in Southern Illinois.

“I was emailing people in different communities trying to recruit people for blood donations. I was sending out emails to church leaders, village board members, presidents, anyone I could find really,” Kelly explains.

She also hopes that more people across Illinois will give some time to volunteering with the Red Cross, explaining that the time they give can be extremely valuable. “

Kelly’s reasoning for all her hard work is simple: “I guess I just like helping other people.”

To become a volunteer like Kelly, please visit redcross.org/volunteer. You can also make an appointment to donate blood at redcrossblood.org.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Justin Wang

New Volunteer Finds Her Place in the Red Cross

Britta McKenna considers herself to be a problem solver. The description makes complete sense. With a career focused on innovation, she launched a new company in March 2020. Yes, right as the coronavirus pandemic began. The timing was disappointing for a company launch, so with a background in consulting non-profits at various points in her career, Britta chose to put the company on hold and help others instead.

In April 2020, Britta joined the Red Cross, after Governor Pritzker urged people to roll up their sleeves to help others during the pandemic. She hopped on the website, filled out the application and joined the mission.

“With everything that’s going on, and with all the disasters going on, I figured I’d help,” Britta says.

That’s exactly what Britta did. In Chicago, she joined the Volunteer Services Team to help recruit more volunteers, a role she’s enjoyed.

“I’m not afraid to ask questions, to really help the organization grow in areas it never thought,” Britta says. “I’m glad I found somebody who was very open to that and able to bring my background and gave me that flexibility and a long leash.”

But Britta didn’t stop in Chicago. She wanted to help others impacted firsthand by the disasters happening around the country. In September, she deployed for the first time to Baton Rouge, Louisiana after Hurricane Laura struck the South. She was prepared to assist as a Shelter Supervisor.

“I was nervous because I didn’t know what the environment was going to be like. It was easy once I got there, observed, on-boarded quickly and led in the shelter space that I was in,” Britta says.

Britta assisted at a hotel in Baton Rouge, sheltering 78 people who had been displaced by Hurricane Laura.

“You learned by doing. You learned from the person before you. It was more like being an RA in a dorm,” Britta explains. “I focused on service to the clients and making a difference at a personal level. I talked to them. I asked them questions. ‘How do you feel about the food? How do you feel about this?’ I took those cues and I acted on them.”

She quickly learned that residents were looking for activities to keep entertained in the hotel. Britta teamed up with the East Baton Rouge Library to get books for families.

She even helped organize athletic balls, cleaned them, and kept them within COVID-safety requirements, to allow kids to play with something while they were in the hotel.

And finally, she organized the Box O’Fun, filled with items like coloring books, toys, etc. for kids to choose and keep.

“We were able to do those small things like helping a mom with her two little kids who were going stir crazy,” Britta says. “Imagine being in a hotel room for a month. It was a little lifeline.”

In just her six short months at the Red Cross, Britta says it’s been impactful already. The mission is truly making a difference.

“I have loved meeting other Red Cross volunteers, learning their theories and stories and their why,” Britta says. “Why they volunteer, which is all over the map, and just seeing that we’re all in with our sleeves up and hearts open. The common thread is helping another person. The Red Cross allows you to do that in so many ways.”

While her business took a backseat during the pandemic, Britta says she most likely wouldn’t have become a volunteer if not for COVID. She encourages others now to join the mission to volunteer.

“We’re all in search of purpose,” Britta says. “It doesn’t matter what age you are. When you move throughout your life, whether you’re going to college, finding a career, your kids leave home and you’re empty nesters, there is something for everybody at the Red Cross.”

To become a volunteer, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

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.

Tara Lund with fellow volunteers

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.

Driving to keep the Red Cross mission going

When people roll up their sleeves at American Red Cross blood drives, the journey to send it to patients in need continues once the drive is complete.

That is where Volunteer Transportation Specialists like John Fearis come in. Drivers like him, dedicate a few hours out of their day to deliver life-saving blood products from the Red Cross to hospitals.

John, who became a Red Cross volunteer 10 years ago, says that over the years he has known people living with illnesses who are in need of blood transfusions, so he understands the importance of getting blood to hospitals.

Based in Peoria, he drives to various cities including Dixon and Normal and appreciates the teamwork that makes carrying out the Red Cross mission possible.

“It’s rewarding to me that we get the blood to them on a timely basis, it’s there for them when they need it” adds John.

He says volunteering is something that can make a huge impact and serve others during their most critical moments in life.

The work of the Red Cross is made possible by volunteers like John, who contribute their time and talents and more volunteer transportation specialist are needed.

To become a Red Cross volunteer visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Drew Brown, Regional Communications and Marketing Manager