Chicago Rallies Hope for Heroes
Created with flickr slideshow.

Outside the main entrance to the North Kedzie Armory, a gathering buzz of anticipation travelled through the crowd. Guys in swarthy coats at the outskirts took a break from the chatter to cast an anxious glance at the door every couple of minutes. Guys near the entrance inched up the stairs to snare a glimpse through the windows. The formation soon swelled the sidewalk and seeped into the flanks of the building. Some of them had been there for two or three hours already; a tightly wrapped man on a wheelchair named Zellmore had come at 3 in the morning. He wanted to make sure he got in early so all the good stuff would still be there.

It was the day before Veteran’s Day and the bone sinking chill of the night before still clung to the air surrounding the Armory. Inside, volunteers were stacking the sweatpants, long johns, coats, and t-shirts that would be distributed to the 700 some veterans that will shuffle through the vast drill floor before the day was over.

Jesse Brown VA Hospital nurse Aldridge Locke was monitoring the unpacking of the supplies. He explained that this was the second Stand Down of the year for Chicago’s population of homeless veterans and the only one that will carry them through for the winter. The term “Stand Down” originated from the battlefield: it refers to the moment of respite taken by soldiers in the midst of combat. Since its first staging in 1988, the Stand Down has taken that principle of recharging to the home front, mobilizing local communities to reach out directly to the over 75,000 veterans of the United States Armed Forces who are homeless.

The operation has gathered momentum across the country over the past two decades. The November 10th event was a collaboration of 12 different agencies operating under the umbrella of the Chicago Veterans Economics Development Council.

On top of stocking up for the winter, the Stand Down also served as a hub for local organizations and programs focused on veteran needs to raise awareness about the critical financial, psychological, and legal challenges to getting homeless vets off the streets.

Some organizations, like Catholic Charities and Community Housing & Development (CHAD), assist veterans with finding homes and employment. The two issues interlock in a vicious cycle: losing a job is the largest risk to homelessness and incarceration among veterans, and having a record or being homeless is the biggest hurdle to getting a job. Think of all the upstart costs required before you can even begin to look for a job: an address, a permanent phone number—not to mention funds for reliable transportation to go hunt down applications and attend interviews.

Many of the people staffing the stands were veterans themselves. Don, a social worker at the Veteran Justice Outreach stand was in the Army and spoke of the stigma often associated with asking for help amongst a group of people who had been trained to be “self-sufficient, for safety and for survival.” He believes that by “offering the face of a vet to a vet,” veterans in need can talk about the difficulties they face to someone who can relate to the unique pressures that can isolate them from civilian life.

Others, like Matt, who works in Disaster Response at the Red Cross, have family members who were veterans. With a father who served in the first Iraqi War, Matt has a special appreciation for the measure of sacrifice given by soldiers. He points to the “stereotypical image of the homeless vet” that populates civilian perceptions about the kind of people gathered here today, preventing them from “see[ing] past the gruff because they deserve way better.” He said he was heartened by the sight of the 250 some volunteers who came out to help at the Stand Down.

At midday, volunteers, veterans and a couple of active duty service members from the Armory mingle over a lunch of barbecue chicken and ribs inside the canteen. Zellmore was pleased with the haircut he had gotten at the barber stand and compares a sweater he had gotten in his bag with his neighbor. At the table next to him, George, a large, spirited army vet expressed hope between mouthfuls of blueberry ice cream that he can use the money he gets from CHAD to move to Savannah. “It’s warm outside over there,” he grinned, “it’ll be a new beginning for me.”

Written by: Christine Li

How can you be a hero? Watch some videos for inspiration

We talk a lot about heroes at the Red Cross. I think it’s because we are surrounded by them-our volunteers, the people we serve, the first responders we meet at disasters and the people we run across who do extraordinary things for each other.

Last Thursday we honored some local heroes for doing amazing things; watch their videos for some inspiration. Stories include those of people like Brian Otto, a Chicago firefighter who saved a child from drowning in Lake Michigan and Irving Ibarez, an office worker, who performed CPR on a coworker and effectively saved his life. It’s pretty inspirational stuff.

You can be our hero by signing up as our fan on Facebook and by following us on twitter. This week we’re even having a contest (with prizes, not that you need that type of incentive) to see who can recruit the most fans to our Facebook Causes page. We even have a poll you can fill out and let us know what type of information you want to hear about from us from us.

This is unrelated but I know it’s top of mind for many; if you’re looking for Swine Flu info visit the CDC web site they’ll have the most up to date info on this situation as it evolves.

Additionally here’s an ABC-7 press conference from yesterday about Swine Flu, featuring Dr. Damon Arnold, giving some other tips about how to avoid Swine Flu. (there’s a very loose connection here to today’s whole hero theme, Dr. Damon Arnold-now the state public health director who is speaking in the press conference news clip, received an American Red Cross of Greater Chicago hero award two years ago).

Tick, Tock. Tick, Tock. There Is Still Time to Nominate a Hero!

It’s February 4th already. That means…that there are still 44 days until the first day of spring!

But that also means that there are only 2 days left to nominate your hometown hero for the 2009 Heroes Breakfast!

(Sorry, Batman, we know that your movie brought a lot Chicago pride for being filmed here, but you don’t count.)

The event’s sponsor CBS 2 is helping spread the word around the Chicagoland area to encourage you to recognize a REAL person, an ordinary individual who has made an extraordinary difference in your community.

Heroism is measured by great acts of bravery, commitment, and goodwill. It may only take seconds to perform CPR and save a stranger’s life in an emergency. It may take days or weeks just to help neighbors rebuild a home and life after having lost everything to a disaster.

Either way, it only takes a few minutes to share your hero’s inspiring story with us! Check out the award categories to see where your hero fits in, and nominate that special person by visiting

Spread the word around your neighborhood about the 2009 Heroes Breakfast. We look forward to helping you say “Thank you!” to your hero…in a big way!

John Is NOT a Hero. Nominate Someone Who Is.

Have you made a nomination for the 2009 Heroes Breakfast yet? You know you like breakfast (French toast, muffins, coffee, mmmm), so what’s the heroes part all about? Each year, the Greater Chicago Red Cross honors regular people from the Chicago area who have done selfless, great things.

Some heroic acts happened in an instant—rushing into a burning building to save a child. Other became heroes over time—volunteering hundreds of hours of community service. We’re looking for brave, kind, dedicated people who inspire us and reveal the potential for good that lies within everyone.

Not like John. John is NOT a hero. There’s goodness that lies within him, sure, but he’s certainly not letting it out. We hope this video makes you smile and reminds you to go make a nomination. Share it with your friends!

It’s time to recognize a hero in your life. I bet you know some people who are changing lives in our community—teachers, police officers, mothers, students, friends. To learn more about the categories (which include Youth Good Samaritan, Nursing, Law Enforcement and more) and to make your nomination, visit

The cards are coming in. Want to see some?

Check out this cool image from The first holiday cards for heroes are coming in! If you’d like to send a card here’s the address Holiday Mail for Heroes PO Box 5456 Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456. Just make sure you get it to us by 12/10 so we have time to get it to our friends in the military. Complete details are available here.

Holiday Mail for Heroes

Imagine being in a foreign country away from your family during the holidays or being a member of a family with one of their siblings overseas. Then, you receive a bright card covered in winter decorations thanking you for all that you or your family member does for our country. I know that would brighten my day!

This is the second year that the Red Cross is collecting holiday cards for the Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign. The cards are sent to American service members, veterans, and their families in the USA and around the world. This year, we are partnering with Pitney Bowes. Our holiday campaign would not be possible without their generous donation of technology, resources and postage.

Our goal is to collect and distribute one million holiday cards! You can send cards by December 10, 2008 to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
PO Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Can’t think of an idea for a card? Print out a free card here.

For more information and guidelines about Holiday Mail for Heroes, visit the website.

Do you know a hero?

We are starting to collect nominations for our Annual Heroes Breakfast next April.

The design concept is completed, using photos of everyday people paired with dynamic quotes from nominators on who their hero is and why they were nominated.

Each year at the Heroes Breakfast, the Greater Chicago Red Cross honors community members who have demonstrated heroism through remarkable acts of courage or kindness.
Awards will be given in the following categories:
Adult Good Samaritan | Citizenship | Community Impact
Disaster Relief | Emergency Medical Assistance | Firefighter Nurse | Law Enforcement | Military | Youth Good Samaritan
Candidates must live or work in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry
or Will Counties. The heroic act must have taken place after January 1, 2008.
Selected Red Cross heroes will be formally honored on April 23, 2009, at the
Heroes Breakfast.
To nominate your hero, please visit
or call 312.729.6134.

Nominations are due February 6, 2009.