Knit Together for a Cause

Winter hats and mittens. These are necessary items during the cold weather months and can be taken for granted, sometimes. However, a group of American Red Cross volunteers in the Quad Cities do not take these items for granted. They are dedicated to using their talents for the good of other people, and have spent countless hours knitting these items together for children and military families who need them.

The knitting group meets weekly in Moline and got its start in 2011. The group donates an average of 200 sets of handmade mittens every year and, in total, these ladies have made and donated more than 2,000 sets of knitted items since 2011. The mittens and hats are provided to military members and their families through Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces.

“Hats, gloves, and scarves are distributed at stand downs for homeless veterans, helping them to stay warm throughout the winter. These knitted items provide not only for the physical needs of our veterans, but the personal nature of these handcrafted items show them that someone cares,” said Crystal Smith, regional director of Red Cross Service to Armed Forces & International Services.

Carol Van De Walle has been there since the beginning. She helped form the group and is glad to see it has continued through the years, even during the pandemic when they have met virtually on Zoom meetings or outdoors. None of the people in the group knew each other before joining, but consider each other good friends, now.

“I think the camaraderie of the people is what I enjoy the most. Our group, we just enjoy each other a lot and we’re very supportive of each other. We have very talented people, and we have beginners. It’s a very accepting group. I really enjoy having that connection, it has been very rewarding,” she said.

Carol and her fellow group members have worked with the Rock Island Arsenal in recent years, sending their handmade items to be distributed to military families. Items ranging from lap blankets to dishcloths to pet accessories all have been lovingly donated, through the years.

“We feel like we’re helping our community and that’s important to all of us,” she said.

Carol has been a Red Cross volunteer for 20 years, formerly serving on our disaster team. She loves giving her time and is thankful to still have the opportunity to do so.

“This is something I can do to still contribute. What’s nice about the Red Cross is there’s something for everybody. When you’re young and strong you can do some of the things and when you’re not, there’s other things you can do and you can still be useful and helpful to your community and the Red Cross in general,” she said.

Trish Burnett, our executive director for the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter, has worked with these dedicated volunteers for many years and appreciates the efforts they make on a regular basis.

“Carol and the group of volunteers who selflessly give their time to knit these items by hand show true kindness and generosity, again and again. They are dedicated to serving members of the military, the Red Cross and the community and we are very appreciative of their continued efforts.”
-Trish Burnett

This month, we celebrated the knitting group for their efforts during a reception in their honor. Please join us in thanking this team of dedicated volunteers for all they do!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Red Cross Month: Service to the Armed Forces

The American Red Cross helps members of the military, veterans, their families and caregivers cope with the challenges of service, providing more than 513,000 services each year through a worldwide network of volunteers.

Military and veteran communities face unique circumstances. The Red Cross offers a variety of resiliency workshops with effective tools for the whole family to help improve communications, face challenges and manage stress. These programs are free, confidential and offered in person or online by licensed mental health professionals.

The “Coping with Deployments” program helps military families to manage stress and communicate effectively while their service member is deployed. Participants learn how to help their children cope with stress, in addition to building a family communication plan and discussing psychological tips on handling separation. These workshops are available in person or as a self-guided online course.

Reconnection workshops are designed to help service members, veterans, their families and caregivers learn how to cope with military-specific challenges and are available for adults, teenagers and children. These discussion-based workshops encourage participants to share their experiences and practice resilience-building activities to help reconnect with family members, work environments and communities.

Mind-body workshops focus on how emotional, mental, social and spiritual factors can directly affect physical health, and provide tools to stay grounded and refocus during times of stress. One workshop teaches participants foundational techniques like mindfulness, breathing and stretching, which are proven to lower stress and improve well-being. Another workshop guides participants through techniques for personal and professional growth, such as drawing, journaling and meditation. These workshops were developed and reviewed by a team of experts in mental health, mind-body practice, military culture, and complementary and integrative healing.

The Red Cross Military and Veteran Caregiver Network offers peer-based support to those providing care to wounded, ill or aging service members and veterans. This is a global network created by caregivers for caregivers, supporting one another to decrease feelings of isolation and increase feelings of connection, hope and well-being. The network also supports veterans who are caregivers.

The Red Cross works with military aid societies to connect eligible military, retired military, veterans and their families with financial assistance in times of hardship. This assistance can include funds for emergency travel, food and shelter and more.

Volunteers are needed to support the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces mission. Please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up as a volunteer. Also, visit redcross.org/saf to learn more about how the Red Cross serves members of the military and their families.

In March, the American Red Cross of Illinois is honoring the people who make its mission possible every day during its annual Red Cross Month celebration – a national tradition started nearly 80 years ago when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the first national Red Cross Month proclamation recognizing those who give back through the American Red Cross. Each U.S. president has issued a proclamation ever since. Join Red Cross Month by visiting redcross.org to make a financial donation, sign up to give blood, become a volunteer or take a class in lifesaving skills, such as first aid and CPR.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Services to the Armed Forces program: National Military Appreciation Month

Sergeant Jacinda with her grandmother: Red Cross helps military families connect during emergencies

Sergeant Jacinda with her grandmother: Red Cross helps military families connect during emergencies

From its early days, the American Red Cross has provided full support to the members of the U.S. military, veterans and their families. Jonathan Aguilera attests to these efforts whole-heartedly. Jonathan is the proud father of Jacinda Aguilera who is a Sergeant with the Army National Guard and who also served in Afghanistan before being stationed in El Paso, Texas after she suffered injuries. Recently Jacinda’s grandmother Ursula unexpectedly fell ill, her prognosis was grave and her doctors didn’t feel she had much time left.

After hearing about the Red Cross services from fellow soldiers in similar situations, Jacinda asked her father to reach out to the organization. Jonathan then contacted the Chicago chapter late one night and received a prompt response. He was extremely impressed by the efficiency with which the Red Cross handled the response. Within mere two hours of the call, the paperwork for Jacinda’s emergency leave was processed and sent off to her supervisors in El Paso, Texas. In addition, the Red Cross kept the worried father posted on every step of the process by doing follow-up calls and providing him regular updates. Shortly, Jacinda was on a flight home and could meet her grandmother before she passed away.

“We should be grateful to have such a source to connect us with our loved ones during family emergencies. We really appreciate the services you have provided to bring my daughter home in time to see her grandmother one last time,” said Jonathan.

Through its  Services to the Armed Forces program, the Red Cross supports our service members in the military by connecting them with their families during emergencies,  providing them resilience training to deal with the challenges of deployment, and linking their families with local community resources.  But the service most commonly used connects a deployed service member to their family in times of emergency.

These services have their roots in the beginning of the Vietnam War when 365 Chicago Red Cross volunteers were providing relief at 107 Red Cross stations.  During this time, the American Red Cross implemented a unique program called “Voices from Home” where individuals recorded messages for service men overseas. The programs were met with an astounding number of requests and helped establish the Red Cross as the major military aid institution in Chicago. Like the Aguilera family, Red Cross helps military personnel to communicate with their families far away.

The American Red Cross Emergency Communications Center is available to help 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to relay urgent messages containing accurate, factual, complete and verified descriptions of the emergency to service members stationed anywhere in the world, including on ships at sea and at embassies and remote locations. For more information visit: http://www.redcross.org/find-help/military-families/emergency-communication-services

Tonight when you go home and spend quality time with your family and friends, take a moment to pause  and remember our fellow Americans who are risking their lives and serving the nation, domestically and internationally, so you can enjoy these days of freedom. The American Red Cross salutes the Armed Forces of the United States of America and all members serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard as well as all veterans and their families during the National Military Appreciation Month this May.

Written by: Amisha Sud

A Simple Thank You Isn’t Always Enough

Volunteers of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago proudly said, “Thank you for your service, sir,” while they handed out hundreds of wallets and other services to unnamed veterans during the Veteran Stand-Down Event on Chicago’s Southside. The Veteran Stand-Down event that took place on June 22, 2012 assisted homeless veterans with food, clothing and other essential necessities. These heroes also received health screenings, Veteran’s Affairs and Social Security benefits counseling, and referrals to a variety of other services, such as health care, housing, employment and substance use treatment.

One of the many veterans in line waiting for services was George Griffin, who was helped by the VA for his drinking and drug addiction. George admired the work that the American Red Cross had done for him when he had a house fire. As George recalled his encounter with the Red Cross, he was joined by his brother, Maurice Garrett, a fellow veteran who served six years in the military.

Like George, the American Red Cross had made a lifelong impression on Maurice. Maurice wasn’t able to communicate with his family about his whereabouts after he returned to the US from active duty abroad.  His mother was deeply concerned and contacted the American Red Cross for assistance. The American Red Cross was able to locate Maurice and reconnect him with his family. “[The American Red Cross] got me a ride home,” Maurice said fondly.

The brothers were not only thankful that the American Red Cross was there to help them but also to the other organizations that came out that day. The American Red Cross was able to be a part of their lives once again in another way that they hadn’t imagined. This dynamic duo even talked about someday volunteering with the American Red Cross so they can make an impact on someone else’s life like the other volunteers had done to theirs.

-Written By Amisha Sud and Lindsey Warneke