“That Cup of Coffee Reconnected Me to Humanity”

Rick and Patty Colclasure rode out a devastating storm in Coal City, IL. Thanks to a cup of coffee, they know the power of small things bringing big hope.

(COAL CITY, IL) – Rick and Patty Colclasure were frantic when they couldn’t reach their daughter on her cell phone the night a tornado struck their neighborhood in Coal City on June 22nd.

“I just kept thinking ‘My kids! Where are my kids!’ ” Patty recalled. Emerging from their crawl space after the storm, they found their house blown half to pieces.

After walking 45 minutes in the dark and rain, the couple breathed a sigh of relief learning their daughter’s family was safe. But Rick knew he had to check on his other neighbors, too. He ran door to door asking if everyone was ok, even taking his 80-year old neighbor into to his own home.

They know what it means to help a neighbor in need. Less than two years ago, they volunteered at after a devastating tornado ripped through their sister town of Diamond, IL. “It feels so good to help other people, even though we are now on the other end of it,” said Patty.

“At first you’re just thinking about your own house, your life. But the more you look around, the more your awareness expands. It’s about your whole community.  They are your family.”

Just hours after the storm, Red Cross response vehicles circled neighborhood streets delivering hot coffee, snacks and water to residents whose lives had been turned upside down overnight.

“We’ve gone through a lot. But that cup of coffee reconnected me to humanity,” Rick said. “For a second we felt like we were back to normal. It made me cry.”

Story by Katie Wilkes, Marketing Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Red Cross is the “One Constant Through This Entire Disaster”

Chris Thick and Jackie Jordan are heroes. At first they tried to outrun the storm about to strike Fairdale April 9 with their two childrenJackie-Chris-Charlie
in the car, but decided to turn around when the top of a house blew across the road.

They returned home to seek refuge and brought a handful of dazed neighbors inside with them. With the family safe for the moment when the fierce winds passed, Chris joined others in the search and rescue for other neighbors who needed help and were injured.

The couple has two sons Oliver, 2, and Ryder, 1. The boys are exactly one year apart and share the same birthday – April 10; the day after the tornado hit. So there wasn’t much of a celebration for them this year.

Gov Rauner visits fairdale 4.17.15Governor Bruce Rauner visited Chris and Jackie and their boys at their home on April 17. “It’s been a privilege for me just to come and offer condolences and emotional support and financial support, in the future, to the families here, as we’ve walked through the community,” Rauner said.

Chris and Jackie are also grateful to Red Cross volunteer Charlie Sharpe from nearby Sycamore. The couple first met Charlie on White Street when the Red Cross was handing out supplies. They’ve run into Charlie several more times.

Charlie was also Chris and Jackie’s ambassador at the tornado survivor center at First Lutheran Church, helping them navigate the paperwork and casework process.

The couple said Charlie and the Red Cross are the one thing that’s been constant through this entire disaster. “We’ve had more help than we ever thought possible,” said Jackie. “It’s just amazing there’s been a lot of help for just this little town.”

Story and Photos by:

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

Future Volunteers Lend a Helping Hand

ERV kidsFour-year-old Hope Marston survived the tornado that hit Fairdale April 9. A few days later, Hope and her older siblings, Mikey, 7, and Shayna, 5, wanted to help. So they climbed aboard a Red Cross feeding truck stationed at that the tornado survivor center at First Lutheran Church in Kirkland.

They handed out snacks and water with Red Cross Volunteer Services Manager Peggy Pirovano. “They were so eager to help,” Pirovano said. “I can see they have a future with the Red Cross.”

Story and Photo by:

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

Meet the Families of Fairdale: Tornado Survivors

Davis Family Fairdale_4.15.15

The small, tight-knit community of Fairdale is surrounded by cornfields in Northwest Illinois. On April 9, the town of about 150 people took a direct hit by a tornado that leveled many homes.

The families that call Fairdale home are strong and determined to recover. Through the help of the American Red Cross and other community and government agencies, they are getting a good start.

Janet and John Davis live with Janet’s adult daughter, Bridgette Wittenholt in Fairdale. They listened to weather warnings on Bridgette’s cell phone and took cover in the basement when the storm hit. They stayed there for two hours until they felt it was safe to come out.

Even through all three are disabled, they wanted to go home after staying several days with family. They were able to once the electricity was turned back on. The Red Cross has been delivering meals to them.

John is a retired construction worker and a Vietnam vet. Janet is a big Chicago Bears fan, and lived in the Fairdale home for 44 years. Bridgette said when the storm hit, the glass breaking was something she would never forget.Beverly Richardson Fairdale_4.15.15

Their neighbor, Beverly Richardson lived in her Fairdale home for 41 years. Her home was sliced in two; the upstairs was ripped off and landed on the ground next to her living room. Beverly salvaged a few items she recognized – a green dish, a few tools, and the cast-iron “Welcome” sign that used to hang on her front door.

Across the street, Charlene and Ray Roach’s home is still standing, although the inside is in shambles. They have great pride in their home, which they built in 1959. Ray painted the green shutters and Charlene sewed the curtains. All the little details about what makes it their home. Now, glass litters the living room and kitchen from the windows blown out, although remarkably her entire glassware collection remains intact.

The Roaches are fortunate as many of their neighbors’ homes were destroyed. Charlene said,” We’re survivors.”

The Red Cross is helping all families who need support and identifying resources for their long-term recovery needs. It’s a long road to recovery, but the Red Cross is here to help.

Story and photos by:

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

Red Cross Helps Families Day and Night in Coal City

_MG_9805As dawn broke the morning after a tornado outbreak ripped across Illinois, residents woke with the challenge all survivors of devastating storms face. Where to turn for help?

The American Red Cross, Governor Pat Quinn and state emergency management officials banded together to tell people relief is coming, because help is on the way. “We’re all in this together, we’re a team,” said Quinn.

_MG_9759As the team fanned out across affected regions, the arm of the Red Cross reached out to families in Coal City. People were up early to begin assessing damage to their homes.  Red Cross emergency response vehicles carrying supplies like blankets, water and doughnuts winded through debris-lined streets. On board were volunteers Rich Arons and Diana Spathis.  They saw a lot of community strength under the rubble. Still, when the unavoidable fatigue settled over the neighborhoods later in the day, the two disaster mental health specialists provided a pivotal break to help people push through it by taking time to talk over a cup of coffee.

Inside Rachetti’s Café and Pizzeria downtown, Mark Evans was prepping for a special_MG_9789 Red Cross delivery. The day before, Mark was grilling burgers, one of his favorite dishes to cook. When he saw the funnel cloud, he forgot the food and hustled the handful of customers and employees though the kitchen to safety. Today, Mark took extra care and found new meaning in preparing dinner. The Red Cross was sending volunteers to distribute the food to families who no longer had working kitchens of their own.

For teenager Zach Hajduk that calzone never tasted so good. Zach is sleeping in the dining room until the roof over his bedroom is repaired. Now sleeping where he should be eating, and eating outside; Zach and his family were grateful the Red Cross found the path to his door and extend a hand to help.

Written by Patricia Kemp

Photos by Gerry Holmes

Tornadoes Aren’t Just For Kansas, Toto

A year ago last week, a tornado tore through Atlanta causing lots and lots of damage and killing one person. I live in Chicago, and the thought of a twister tearing down Michigan Avenue just never really occurs to me, but maybe it should.

Sure, I grew up hearing tornado sirens and marching dutifully to the basement to seek refuge. But the city seems to varied, too dense to allow a tornado to get very far.

Turns out, my hunch is very wrong and cities might contain the forces that cause tornadoes to begin with. From a Wired article about the Atlanta tornadoes:

“As with any tornado, the causes were many, but the prime culprits were the drought, and the nature of the city itself. The findings are preliminary but disturbing. Atlanta is an archetypal modern sprawl city, and droughts are expected to become more common as Earth’s climate changes.”

I guess us city dwellers need to be hyper-aware of the tornado sirens, too. Sit back, relax, and watch an urban tornado develop on YouTube. While you’re at it, check out the Red Cross tornado safety tips.