Volunteer Spotlight: Tina Martin

“I just want to give back to the community, because the Red Cross was there for me, and if they hadn’t been, I would probably not be here.”
-Tina Martin

Tina Martin is a Red Cross volunteer in the Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region. She serves, because others chose to serve before her.

In 1973, Tina needed a blood transfusion. She says, donated blood helped save her life. From that point on, Tina has felt motivated to help others.

“That’s the reason why I got started in volunteering, was to give back to the community,” she says. “I just really appreciate how everything worked out.”

Tina has been serving as a volunteer in Florida this week, helping people affected by Hurricane Ian. She has helped with serving food and distribution of supplies, among other tasks.

Tina says, it has been a rewarding experience, being able to help others who need it. She is enjoying working as part of the disaster response team serving the community, there.

“People are very nice and friendly. Everyone is just working together to help out and doing their very best. I just enjoy being here an part of the team as a volunteer,” says Tina.

Thank you very much, Tina for volunteering your time and helping others.

Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join Tina as a disaster response volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Couple Recovers After Destructive Home Fire

Couple Recovers After Destructive Home Fire

“We hit rock bottom,” said Nick Tedeschi. “And the Red Cross gave us a start.”

Nick and his wife, Shirley, were going about their daily routine on Feb 13, 2016, when their condo caught on fire. They were left with the clothes on their back. “You never expect, when you leave for the day, to come back and have lost everything,” said Nick. Their Valentine’s Day plans were derailed as they tried to recover.


Nick and Shirley lost everything in the home fire.

The Red Cross responded to the fire, caused by a next door neighbor’s cigarette, to help them get back on their feet during the immediate recovery after their loss.

Nick reflected on that time, “I was totally gutted out.”

He talked about the months following the fire as a very difficult time. He would wipe his tears away and keep it inside while he was at work, delivering supplies to customers throughout the loop. He didn’t want anyone to know.

Nick and Shirley showed resiliency, and even humor, during a difficult time. Nick said he watched his house burn down while eating a bowl of chili he had picked up on the way home. He laughed, looking back on it, because the chili was from a local chain called Firehouse Subs.

They moved into her daughter’s basement for a few months until they were able to purchase a new home. “We were blessed tremendously,” Nick reflects.


The house that Nick and Shirley purchased after a fire destroyed their previous home.

Now, he and his wife live in a house and, Nick says, they do things differently. They triple check everything before leaving the house, they put in new smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and they keep flammable things away from their house – they don’t even have a grill. “We have backyard BYOF parties: bring your own food,” said Nick.

In 2017, Nick plans to volunteer for the Red Cross to answer telephones at a Red Cross telethon. “You guys did so much. It gave us a starting point.”

Learn more about the American Red Cross Home Fire Prevention Campaign.

By: Cat Rabenstine

Postcards From Louisiana: “Keep People in Your Prayers”

IMG_20160815_091537529_HDRHi Friends & Family-

Fran and I were traveling home from a RV Rally in Elkader, Iowa on Aug. 21 and got a call from the American Red Cross asking us to drive an emergency response vehicle to Louisiana to help with the floods.

We left the next day.

Nearly 10 hours later, we drove 600 miles to Blytheville, Ark. After a few hours rest, we drove another 420 miles and arrived in Baton Rouge. We stayed overnight in a Red Cross shelter.

DSCF4960We got to work the next morning. Our day begins about 7:30 a.m. We deliver food, water and supplies to families. The weather here is very hot and muggy and the smell of wet trash is overpowering at times.

Of all our previous deployments, this is the first time for us in a disaster that is still on going. We see the massive effort made to help people.

Fran and I take hot meals and water to people. We’re working with the Southern Baptist, who partner with the Red Cross during these big disasters. They bring in trailers with stoves and ovens to cook meat, vegetables and pasta. In a single day, meals are prepared for thousands of people a small kitchen.

Be sure to keep the people of Louisiana in your prayers as they have lost so much and it will be a long and difficult recovery.

Our Best,

Frank and Fran

Frank & Fran Cornwell are American Red Cross volunteers from Fulton, Illinois deployed to Louisiana to aid relief efforts.




Local Volunteer Humbled to Help in Saipan

Lee talking to client 2
(SAIPAN) – With less than 48 hours notice, Red Cross volunteer Lee Gramas, of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, was on a plane from Chicago to Sapian to join disaster relief efforts halfway around the world. The island of 50,000 people in the western Pacific Ocean was hit hard by powerful Typhoon Soudelor, which caused electrical outages and sewage back up, displacing hundreds and leaving thousands more with no food.

Since Gramas has arrived Aug. 6, more than 1,200 damage assessments of impacted housing has been made, yet theIMG_20150806_173155751 number continues to grow.

The work that Gramas has helped out with has varied each day. On one day he helped procure more than 4,000
cans of tuna and Spam, as well as pallets of rice, noodles and toilet paper. The next day he helped with casework, giving direct assistance to the impacted population, while standing up a call center to answer the pleas for help.

“Our commitment is to provide relief to the impacted population,” said Gramas. “To be able to deploy half way around the world is an incredible honor and perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a disaster that would not occur in the continental United States.”

signVolunteering with the Red Cross for five years when he’s not running his own construction business, Gramas has been deployed to aid in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Isaac and the Colorado Floods of 2013, in addition to responding to many local fires and tornadoes.

“Being a volunteer for the American Red Cross is not only a privilege, but a humbling experience to work among an incredible cadre of intelligent giving people,” said Gramas.

HOW TO HELP People can help by donating to Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations to Disaster Relief will be used to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. We respond to nearly 70,000 other disasters every year, from home fires to hurricanes, typhoons and more. Learn more about how Disaster Relief donations have helped people affected by previous disasters including home fires.

Story by Tyler Beischke, Public Affairs Volunteer, 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 www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

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

Photo By: dirkfletcher.com


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 ChicagoDCS@redcross.org.

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 www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

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

Photo By: dirkfletcher.com

“I’m Thankful the Red Cross Could Do Something For Us”

IMAG3211For 35-year-old Towanda Price, Thursday morning started out as just another day at work at a local restaurant.  But just minutes into her shift, she got a phone call that her Southside Chicago apartment was on fire.

Towanda’s son Terrance was at home sleeping at the time of the fire that started in the apartment above them. The 16-year-old inhaled some smoke, but got out safely.

Everything the family owned was completely soaked in water and ruined.  With almost nothing in the refrigerator, and a home that was uninhabitable, Towanda was grateful the Red Cross quickly arrived on the scene.

“I’m thankful the Red Cross could do something for us,” she said. “I’m not sure what we could have done without their help.”

Both mom and son were tearful that they lost their home, but said help from the Red Cross, and words of encouragement from the dedicated volunteers, will help them get back on their feet.

Story and photo by Bob McCaffrey, American Red Cross Volunteer

Disaster Recovery Partners Weather the Storm

I first got to know Church World Service (CWS) during the severe storms and floods last spring that were so widespread that 49 Illinois counties received federal disaster declarations. I had just taken on my new responsibility for partner relations with the American Red Cross Greater Chicago Region.

CWS support for flood survivors started right away in the form of CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets. The buckets arrived at the perfect time and we got them right out to flooded households. People really, really appreciated them.

So did our volunteers. The buckets are so visual, and our volunteers
asked, “Who’s behind these?” The buckets helped spur the interest of our volunteers in our partner relationships, including the long-time partnership between CWS and the American Red Cross nationally and in communities across the United States.

Early on, the CWS U.S. disaster response webinars and on-site “Recovery Tools and Training” workshops helped us lay the groundwork for long-term recovery following the floods.

039I got a lot of my first education through the CWS webinars. A lot of people sent me a lot of reading material about long-term recovery, but I didn’t have time to sit and read hundreds of pages during those first weeks responding to the flood disaster. But I could find an hour here and there to watch an archived webinar on the CWS website.

I’ve listened to the same CWS webinars over and over again and learned something new each time. The webinars also have been great for a lot of members of our local COADs – Community Organizations Active in Disaster.

Then in October there were three day-long CWS “Recovery Tools and Training” workshops, two in my region and one farther south, in Peoria. I can’t say enough good about them. CWS brought into our area really strong education, with presenters from CWS, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Lutheran Disaster Response, World Renew, FEMA and the American Red Cross, which also provided funding. It was so valuable to have the chance to talk with staff from these agencies, and really helpful in moving us forward in our long-term recovery.

The workshops really helped our local nongovernmental partners understand the disaster recovery process. For example, we have an organization that provides counseling services. They had no direct disaster experience. The workshop increased the staff’s confidence working with people recovering from flooding.

Floods are so difficult. They are not very visual. A lot of the damage is inside the house. It affects pockets here and there. One part of the city may be flooded and another part completely unaffected. A lot of people inside and outside our communities didn’t know we were experiencing such a large disaster.

Lisle ERV Run 4.29.13 009The Red Cross introduced a new Flood App this year. It’s helpful for families in areas prone to flooding so they can receive flood and flash flood watches and warning alerts. It’s free to download from the iTunes and Google Play app stores.

This new technology is great, but it’s also important for people to connect face-to-face with agencies that can help. The workshops brought us media attention for the recovery, letting members of the community know there were these needs in their area and introducing them to what long-term recovery involves.

Susanne Gilmore is the CWS Emergency Response Specialist who relates to Illinois, and she has been wonderful. She’s a great organizer, knows how to put on a really sharp training, keeps the schedule moving and makes sure it’s relevant for the group. And she’s a mentor to me. She is available whenever little questions arise and provides a lot of honest and wise support plus connection to other partners.

Because of a lot of CWS assistance we’ve been able to constantly move forward in recovery. CWS is dedicated to our needs even now after public attention has gone elsewhere.

I know as we move forward that if we need CWS they are still there.


Sara Echols is Partner and Emergency Management Agency Program Support Manager, American Red Cross Greater Chicago Region.



Johnson Family is thankful for the Red Cross this holiday season

IMG_4986Shanquell Johnson was in the kitchen prepping a turkey dinner for her family on the eve of Thanksgiving.

“Then the whole house went black, and then flames came through the walls,” she said.

Shanquell, her brother, and her four children, 15-year-old Shavon, 12-year-old twins Jachi and Jacruri, and 10-year-old Jakyla left everything behind and ran outside. They moved into their home in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side the month before. A few weeks earlier, everything was on the upswing for the Johnson family. They were unpacked and settled and looking forward to the spending time together in their home during the holidays.

“We lost everything in the fire,” said Shanquell. “I’m still in a state of shock.”

Shanquell returned to her scorched and boarded up home on a cold December morning to salvage what few items were left scattered inside the ruins of her living room. Finding a new place for her children to live is the only item on her Christmas list now.

Like the Johnson family, so many people are in need this holiday season. But the Red Cross is there, responding to 3 to 4 home fires every day in the Chicago region to help families recover. Volunteers find shelter, food, clothing, replace medications and offer mental health services to talk people through the stress of coping with loss.

Shanquell and her children are staying with family and friends, but the night of the fire the Red Cross responded to help with her family’s immediate needs. Volunteers gave the Johnson family the means to purchase food and warm clothes like coats and socks and find a safe place to sleep.

“I’m thankful for that, otherwise we wouldn’t have had a place to go,” she said.

  Written by: Patricia Kemp