Help Can’t Wait: Home Fire Response

Fire destroyed Debbie Barger’s Benton, Illinois home earlier this year. Jane Perr was there to help.

Take a look at this video to learn more about why Jane loves what she does as a disaster volunteer, and to hear why her efforts made a big impact on Debbie.

Volunteers like Jane make up 90 percent of our workforce. Please visit to sign up as a volunteer and to learn more about what we do to help people after a disaster. Thank you for supporting the American Red Cross!

Red Cross Month: Getting Involved and Making a Difference

Shelly Oliver started volunteering for the American Red Cross in 2018, shortly before Hurricane Michael made landfall in the U.S. She has traveled to Florida, Oregon, Louisiana and elsewhere to provide disaster relief after hurricanes, wildfires and other disaster scenes.

Shelly lives in Macon County, near Decatur and responds locally to home fires and other incidents, providing immediate assistance to people who have been impacted by disasters. She also helps install smoke alarms as part of our Sound the Alarm program.

“I like the disaster response work, being on scene with the clients. You take these people with you. I call to check up on them and they will call me sometimes,” she said.

Despite the challenges presented during the COVID pandemic, Shelly still has been able to assist in a virtual setting, and she is glad to have had to have been able to serve during this time.

“I love the virtual intake process because I am still able to meet with the clients, even though it has not been in person during the pandemic,” she said. “When we do intake over the phone, we’re able to connect a little deeper because we have more opportunities to talk after the initial response.”

Shelly has been a great asset to the Illinois region and beyond. Her positive attitude and strong work ethic have helped people in numerous situations during her time as a volunteer. For Shelly, it is something she enjoys doing.

“I love everything about Red Cross. I wish I had known what the Red Cross did a long time ago, I would have gotten involved long before I did. Four years ago, I had no idea all they did; it just amazes me.”

If you would like to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer, please click here.

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 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

Streator family on path to recovery after home fire

It was mid-December of 2018 around 4PM when a house caught fire in Streator, IL.


Firefighers with the Streator Fire Department were arriving at the single-family home within minutes and shortly after them, two volunteers with the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley were there.

The home was unlivable, and everything changed for that Streator family that night. Everyone was able to get out of the home, but all of their pet hamsters and fish were lost. The three children who lived there and their parents lost all their belongings from the fire or the heavy smell of smoke that had seeped into everything.


Standing outside of their home, Red Cross volunteers wrapped each family member in a Red Cross blanket and gave everyone a comfort kit containing basic items like a toothbrush, toothpaste and shampoo. The volunteers made sure the family had a place to go for the next few days and connected them with resources that would become the bridge to their next home, as they could not return to the burnt out house.

The Streator family was able to find a new place to live and was able to get new clothes for the everyone with assistance from the Red Cross. “That really helped us out a lot,” the children’s mother said.


She says although they had to start over completely, the Red Cross was there to help her family during those difficult days following the fire and now they are together in a new home in Streator.

Written by communications manager Holly Baker.


“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

Grandma’s hug makes everything okay

Grandma’s hug makes everything okay

As far as 4-year-old Darian is concerned, everything’s ok again when you’re with Grandma – Tunya and granddaughter Darian share a moment together, thankful that after fire struck their Maywood apartment Sunday afternoon that they are all ok. The fire department responded quickly and prevented major damage, but said the unit would be unsafe to live in until basic repairs were made.  The Red Cross assisted the family of five by providing aid  for shelter, food, infant supplies and two stuffed animals for Darian and her little brother. 

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago helps people, like Tunya and others, affected by 3 to 4 home fires a day, every day in Chicagoland. This assistance is provided free of charge to all disaster victims and is made possible by voluntary gifts of time and money made by our community residents.  Get your family prepared by reading these fire safety tips to avoid a disturbing home fire or help by making a donation or volunteering

Written by  Judy Gustafson

At the Scene of a Home Fire

Almost everyday Chicagoans hear about a house fire in the news. It’s something that happens so often and impacts so few at a time that we tend not to give it too much attention. It’s disregarded as “another fire somewhere in the city”, but the story looks very different if you experience it personally. It’s not numbers you look at then, it’s the faces. And knowing that you’re standing in someone’s burned up home makes the fire very real and extremely scary.

Last week, I was on scene with Red Cross responders at a fire on Chicago’s south side. The blaze started at 1:30 p.m. in a two story home which housed a family of four. Within minutes, the flames got completely out of hand and swallowed up the entire structure. Three of the residents were not at home at the time, but unfortunately, the one person who was there, was trapped on the first floor bedroom. The firefighters soon came to his rescue and dragged him out, but not before he received serious burns and had inhaled a lot of the smoke.

When I arrived with the Red Cross disaster volunteer team, the house and the family were in a mess. The mother, Catalina, was desperately trying to salvage some items from the char ridden house. One of her sons, Marcelo, was in the hospital with serious injuries, and her other son, Jose, was pacing around the place with an expression of complete daze and confusion. The frame of the house was still standing but everything else was in ruins. There were big holes in the ceiling and the floors. The windows were out and all the furniture was badly burned.

The Red Cross volunteers sat the family down in their van, helped calm them down, listened to their story and comforted them as best as they could. They also provided them with assistance for food, shelter and clothing.

The immediate security that your donations provide to the victims of a fire help them recover from the shock of the incident, and gives them a warm and safe place to stay and collect their thoughts. Every little bit counts-ask someone who’s been through a fire.

Keep yourself and your family safe from fires- click here for some fire safety tips.

Written by Maliha Sadiq