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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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: The Other Volunteers

Steve Wise is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois who recently 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.

Hurricane Michael was a storm that many of us will remember…possibly for our lifetimes.  For this writer – never in my life have I seen so much damage – that will most certainly take many years if not generations to recover from.

But aside from the damage that my eyes witnessed – I will remember the many people that came to help those in need – and who shared their hearts with those so needing.

It was common to meet people that drove hours just to lend a hand.  They had no connection to those impacted – but just wanted to be there for them and to help them in any way that they could.

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It was common to meet people who had full-time jobs not related to disaster relief – that either took vacation or a personal leave from their workplace – so that they could use their skills in any way that was needed.  It was common to see people with their own individual challenges – who put them aside and used their skills to identify ways that made those impacted feel comfortable and able in their shelter home.

So many people in the Florida panhandle were so negatively impacted by this storm.  Whether it be the loss of their home, their workplace, or other personal possessions – they now must find ways to recover from.  And by their side were and will be the hearts of first responders and volunteers – that stopped their lives and answered their call.

For what I will remember the most from Michael – are the hearts that came and were shared with those so needing.

If you’d like to help the people affected by disasters, you can make a donation at www.redcross.org.

Local Red Cross Volunteers Help Out at Jesse Brown Food Pantry Every Week

Every week through the VA Voluntary Services Program, Red Cross volunteers help distribute food to veterans at the Jesse Brown VA Food Pantry. This is their way of saying thank you to the men and women who answered to their country’s call.

IMG_1059Kelsey Smith and Adisa Suljic from the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois with Don Jackson from the Jesse Brown VA Food Pantry.

Unlike most pantries, which provide fixed food selections, the Jesse Brown VA Food Pantry is a self-select pantry where recipients have a variety of food to choose from. By choosing their own food, veterans are receiving food that they need, enjoy, and will use. This also enables veterans to meet their personal dietary needs.

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On Tuesday, October 30, a total of 150 veterans were served fresh produce, meat, dairy, bread, and canned goods. Volunteers assisted as personal shoppers for the veterans by bagging items that veterans chose. While browsing the available food options, a veteran exclaimed, “Wow, this is better than going to a supermarket!”

The Red Cross is all about neighbors helping neighbors, and at the Jesse Brown VA Food Pantry, it’s all about helping veterans. In five years, the pantry has helped over 15,000 veterans and their families; and every Tuesday, Red Cross volunteers are there to meet, greet, and support veterans.

If you know of any veterans that need help with food supplement, please let them know of this service. The pantry is located on the second floor of the Damen Pavilion in the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, and it’s open every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

To learn more about the Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces programs, visit www.redcross.org/saf.

Written by Adisa Suljic, Communications and Marketing Intern

Meet Sue Brenner: 17 Years of Making an Impact at The Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois

The Red Cross of Chicago and Greater Northern Illinois is fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers who have been working with us for years. One of those volunteers, who has worked with the Red Cross of Chicago for about 17 years, is Sue Brenner.

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Sue volunteering to answer phones at the CBS Telethon in 2016

 

After getting her masters in Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy, Sue and her husband moved to Chicago where she worked as a preschool teacher and as a director of a preschool for many years. “When I was ready to leave that job, I knew I wanted to do something hands on, and the Red Cross seemed like it would give me that opportunity,” Sue said.

Sue started out as a Disaster Action Team volunteer, which meant being on-call to respond to fires and help the people affected. Eventually, Sue and several other team members decided that they needed more volunteers to respond to fires. Together, they helped develop a program to build up the volunteer corps, which Sue now describes as a “robust volunteer corps put together over the years.”

After 10 years of working 2-3 days a week in Volunteer Leadership, Sue decided to scale back a bit. She now works once a week on casework for victims of fires. “I call clients who have had a fire and I ask how they are doing, if they were able to move back in, if they have insurance, or any other disaster related needs.” Through working with partners, Sue is able to provide victims with resources to help them get back on their feet. This can be anywhere from a week to a multi-week process depending on the case.

One aspect that Sue emphasized as crucial for recovering more quickly from a fire, is by having insurance. “I am a big fan and cheerleader of insurance and rental insurance! It is really important and not expensive, and people get back on their feet so much quicker.”

Some of the biggest obstacles for Sue’s clients can often be finding new housing. “Once they find something we can give them referrals to partner agencies who might be able to give them furniture. But a lot of times just getting a client placed in a new home can be quite challenging.”

In addition to casework, Sue is involved in many other areas of the Red Cross: “I teach a Disaster Supervision class for people working in Disaster who are going to become supervisors. I’ve also participated in the Home Fire Campaign to put smoke alarms in people’s homes- which is always a really worthwhile thing to be doing.”

Out of all of Sue’s involvement in her 17 years of working with the Red Cross, she did not hesitate when asked what stands out to her the most: “I think the building up of the volunteer base is the thing that I would be the most proud of. And I didn’t do that by myself- it took a lot of work from a lot of people. But of all the things we’ve done that would be one I am the most proud of.”

Thank you, Sue for all of your hard work over these past 17 years!

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

Written by Sophie Kendrick, Communications and Marketing Intern

From 1970 to 2018, Red Cross Volunteer Shares Her Story

When a disaster strikes, Red Cross volunteers work around the clock to provide food, comfort, and shelter for disaster victims. Dorothy Dodendorf, a disaster workforce volunteer, is one of the many volunteers who assists in disaster relief behind the scenes. In her staff relations position, she helps guide and support Red Cross volunteers with any hurdles they encounter.

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Dorothy on deployment for Hurricane Florence

Dorothy recalls being associated with the Red Cross as early as junior high. She took First Aid, babysitting, and home nursing courses that the Red Cross offered at the time. She was also part of the Red Cross youth club in high school, but her life-long commitment started years later after graduating from college and getting married.

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In 2016, Dorothy was recognized for her service with the Clara Barton Award, the highest award a volunteer can receive.

 

Since Dorothy couldn’t donate blood while she was pregnant, she did the next best thing she could by becoming a blood service ambassador for the Red Cross.  Since then Dorothy has volunteered in various positions including but not limited to: disaster instructor, pillowcase project trainer, and disaster workforce engagement specialist.

Dorothy’s very first deployment was to Florida in 1992 to help with relief efforts for Hurricane Andrew. One of her more recent deployments include a three-week deployment to North Carolina for Hurricane Florence relief efforts. When asked how many times she’s been deployed, Dorothy stated, “I have no idea, I lost count years ago, but definitely well over 30.”

“When I sit on the plane, and look out the window and see the disaster from above, I realize how much more still needs to be done,” said Dorothy about the most challenging aspect of deployment for her, leaving.  She describes this moment as bittersweet because she knows she helped as much as she could while there, but realizes how much more work is still required.

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When asked if Dorothy would consider being deployed again, she responded saying, “Definitely, I’ve been doing this for 48 years, and I’m shooting for 50!”

Written by Adisa Suljic, Communications Intern for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

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.