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How the Red Cross Helped Veterans and Military Families Recover After Tennessee Tornadoes

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 13:08

In March, deadly tornadoes ripped through Tennessee, devastating many who lived in Nashville and surrounding areas. Sadly, military and veteran families were among those who were hit the hardest. After seeing the destruction, Tonya Glasgow, a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Specialist in Tennessee, knew she needed to jump in and help. Keep reading to learn about her experiences helping these military communities recover from disaster.

Tonya, how do you support the military and veteran communities at the Red Cross?

At the Red Cross, we serve active-duty military, veterans, the National Guard, Reserves and their family members. We help in so many different ways! We follow up on emergency calls from service members and their families in times of crisis, and assist with financial aid through our Hero Care Network and the military aid societies. We have volunteers at veteran and military hospitals; we brief families on what to expect when their family member has just joined the military; we provide refreshments to our local guard members and their families at Welcome Home Events and comfort kits to our deployed troops. We also hold a Military Kids Serve Too event every year for military children and support homeless veterans in finding housing and employment. The list goes on!

After the tornadoes struck in Nashville, how did you identify veterans and military families in need?

I immediately went to work looking for people to help. I contacted the Tennessee National Guard and asked how many guard members had been impacted. They granted me permission to call each person. So, I called every family on that list and asked them, “What do you need and how can we help?” Then we went to work trying to meet as many of those needs as possible. We also went to the hardest hit areas in search of veterans’ homes, and we worked with the local Veterans Service Office to offer our assistance in reaching out to the veterans in the area.

So many people lost everything; the devastation was massive. But I was so impressed at how resilient the veterans and military families were. Even though they had lost so much, they were still so happy because their families were all safe. That was their main concern.

Can you share some stories of people that were helped?

We helped so many amazing people. There was a Sergeant Major who had served six tours in Iraq. He and his family had recently completed building their dream retirement home. Then the tornado hit, and nothing was left but the concrete slab.  Fortunately, they survived, and he was so thankful for that.  Most of their items can be replaced, but some items could not, like their family Bible and his purple heart award. We were able to provide them with toiletries, food, water and clothing, and we connected them with grants and other resources in the community. They even continued to pay it forward by helping others in their neighborhood. They are a truly remarkable and inspiring family.

There was also a Vietnam veteran who was seriously impacted by the tornado and lost most of his belongings. As with most of the other veterans that we offered assistance to, he proudly said that he didn’t need anything. I asked him his shoe size, knowing that we had one pair of combat boots donated by the 118th Air Wing of the Tennessee Air Guard. The shoes just happened to be his size and he was so happy when we handed them to him!

There was also a Specialist serving in the National Guard with eight children who needed help. One of the children was a premature baby that had to be on constant oxygen. Then the tornado hit, damaging their home and both of their vehicles. Having transportation was crucial so they could get the baby to and from the hospital for her appointments. Luckily, we were able to assist them with the insurance deductibles for their vehicles to be repaired, thanks to a generous donation from VFW Post 1970 in Nashville. We also brought them clothes, food, water and some toys, since the children lost most of their toys. Among the donations from the Tennessee Air Guard was a brand-new tricycle. There was no doubt in my mind exactly where that needed to go.  The kids were thrilled when we pulled the tricycle off the truck and gave it to them.  Seeing them smile made me smile. I’m so glad that we were able to add a little bit of joy back into their lives. Those kids taught me what true resiliency was that day.

Tonya, who helps you carry out these important missions?

I could not do this alone. It takes every single volunteer stepping up! I am so thankful for the amazing group of volunteers that we have. They have such a heart for helping the military and veteran communities in the area. I also work with amazing organizations like the VA, the American Legion, VetLinx and the VFW.

Why do you specifically serve veterans and military families?

I’m a veteran and these are my brothers and sisters. In the military you learn, “never leave a soldier behind,” and I live by that. I think that once you’ve been in the service, it becomes a part of you to always be in service to others for the rest of your life. I want to make sure that no service member, veteran or their families are ever left behind. Through the Red Cross, I’m able to serve those communities, find out their needs and offer solutions.

I want to also provide them with hope. At the Red Cross, we take the time to listen and provide relief, letting them know we are there and we care.

What do you want people to know about the Red Cross?

I want people to know that the Red Cross was born on the battlefield. I think people forget that the American Red Cross was started as a service to soldiers by Clara Barton. I believe that if more people knew just how much we are doing behind the scenes to support our military, veterans and their families, then they would want to help as well!

On a personal note, I am so proud to be a Red Crosser in Tennessee. Whenever a disaster strikes or someone is in need, we take our role as the Volunteer State seriously. We never shy away from lending a helping hand.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces or would like to volunteer, click here to find out more.

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Celebrating Pride Month: Meet Hannah Simpson

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 06:46

This Pride Month, we’re celebrating our employees and volunteers who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Each and every day they work to carry out our humanitarian mission in communities across the country. Meet Hannah Simpson, a Disaster Cycle Services volunteer in our Greater New York Region. She is also a member of our American Red Cross Pride Team Resource Group. Here is a conversation we had with her around Pride Month and the importance of diversity and representation.

Why is Pride Month important to you?

I like to explain to those unfamiliar with Pride that while it ends each year on June 30th, it begins again on July 1st. In my own life, Pride, specifically the days when there is a march or a parade, became a proving ground for presenting myself in public as Hannah long before I fully came out or transitioned. Like Halloween, it felt like permission for me to conquer my fear of interacting with the world as a female, even if only for a day at a time. Most importantly, it drew me closer to others on the same journey.

Six years since revealing myself as Hannah once and for all, Pride might feel easy and effortless to me not only in New York, but traveling to Austin, Montreal, Amsterdam, or Jerusalem. It can only be a party though if it remains a promise too. We must remember those we have lost who paved the way for us to even contemplate our identities, let alone flourish within them. We must remember the murdered, particularly the men and women of color, whose chances to realize themselves were cut short. The path moving forward must be wider and more welcoming for those next to come out than we ourselves found.

What is your role at the Red Cross?

I am a Disaster Cycle Services volunteer in the Greater New York Region helping locally with the Workforce Engagement team. Whenever a disaster hits, this team is slightly behind the scenes making lots of phone calls to see which volunteers are available, track who has been activated, and make sure everyone’s contributions are logged.

I have deployed four times to efforts in Texas during Hurricane Harvey, to Florida for Hurricane Michael and for preparations for Hurricane Dorian, and to the Camp Fires in Northern California, where I work directly with clients in our shelters and as a member of our Disability Integration (DI) team. When we establish ourselves in an impacted community, our mandate is to be there for everyone to the best of our ability. The DI team focuses in on those who need specialized assistance or equipment to help them progress in their own recovery. This may mean replacing a walker that someone evacuated without, setting up a video-phone laptop for signing clients, or maintaining a few less sensory-intensive spaces within a shelter for neurodiverse individuals of any age.

I have also had to the privilege to give lunchtime talks about gender identity and how it relates to disaster from this volunteer’s perspective at my local chapter and others nearby.

What drew you to the Red Cross?

This is a favorite story. I was on a business trip, hired to be the keynote speaker and sermon-giver for Austin, Texas’s Interfaith Pride Coalition’s 2017 annual Pride service. This was held on Tuesday night of Pride week and went great, but I booked my flight home for Sunday to stay for Saturday’s planned parade. A storm now called Hurricane Harvey was suddenly forecast to make landfall and stay overhead all weekend. Pride was sensibly cancelled for safety and the entire airport was shuttered too.

Unable to leave, I started reading the local news about the storm prep and saw an ad that the Red Cross was recruiting local volunteers. My host in Texas dropped me off at the Central and South Texas Chapter office, where I was at first told the intake training was full and asked to come back that evening. I walked around the back to the staff entrance instead, and just said, “I’m hanging around for the next meeting, how can I help while I wait?” Once I got signed up formally and was cleared, I was immediately dispatched on a team to help set up an evacuation shelter at a local school gym for everyone bussed away from the coast. As the storm came in, I began client intakes, read stories to kids with donated books, and helped in the shelter for the next 30 straight hours through the entire storm. Even though I took breaks, I don’t think I slept at all.

I loved what I was doing in Austin so much that I stayed on there and then transferred to Houston as a general volunteer for a total of three and a half weeks.

What is one of your favorite Red Cross moments?

I was volunteering at a shelter for the Camp Fires not far outside of the city of Paradise, which had burned to the ground, displacing countless people from their familiar surroundings and resources that help them live independently. I had been referred to a new woman who arrived at the shelter and at first appeared disoriented and in perhaps mental or medical distress. I had the chance to sit down and start talking with her and realized that she was cognitively much younger than she appeared physically. She needed special attention more than emergency services, which is the goal for the DI team to help facilitate. I regularly carry clown balloons and a small pump with me for entertaining kids while their parents speak with caseworkers or agencies, so I took them out for her. We made balloon swords and circled the shelter in marching steps pretending to be its guardian knights. I made her a Red Cross blanket cape too. It was make-believe, but she immediately felt more relaxed, more seen, and safer.

What does it mean for you to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community and work at the Red Cross?

There is no wrong way to volunteer for your community, but I particularly love being a proud trans woman in an organization works hard to serve our nation and to embrace diversity. Some people want to believe that LGBTQ+ issues only impact the fringes of society and can be disregarded when emergencies arise, but in reality, the opposite is true. Who we are doesn’t burn down with a house in wildfires or dissolve away with material possessions in floodwaters.

For anyone who survives a disaster, your sense of self could suddenly be all you have left. Yet transgender and nonbinary people, as well as those in other marginalized identities, might feel like recovery services are less available or that they will risk mistreatment by other clients, or even staff. I strive to be one face among the many changing that perception. There is work to be done to improve for sure.

I also love that we can and do proactively devote resources to empower volunteers, who might be blind, deaf, work with service animals, or utilize mobility assistance, to contribute meaningfully.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your 20-year-old self?

My grandfather recently passed away at 97. He only met me being my authentic self at age 92. He took it in stride, and stands as an example for anyone’s conservative grandpa. At his funeral, something hit me: I spent so much more of my life with him wondering how to say what I had to than we had together once it had been said. We only get so much time for ourselves and with those we care about it, don’t waste it being something or someone you aren’t. I am visible and open because not hiding my past might help others to stop hiding their futures.

What would you tell someone who is interested in working or volunteering with the Red Cross?

Call your local chapter. Then show up. Be persistent. The organization may feel large, but it’s really just because there is so much going on from home fire prevention to blood collection to local and national response efforts. It can admittedly take a little while to figure out where your schedule and interests will fit best.

Connect with Hannah on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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Blood Donation Makes Me Feel Alive

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 12:50

Just as I was beginning high school I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism. Over the years I had been bullied and called names for being “different.” During my junior year I became a blood donor. Giving blood made me feel brave and proud to help save lives, like I could finally be just like my peers. Growing up on the autism spectrum has made it difficult to connect and build relationships in my community. However, from the moment I entered my first blood drive and gave my first donation, a mutual friendship with the American Red Cross was established and has been constant for more than 20 years.

Every two months, I schedule an appointment to give blood or platelets to the Red Cross to help people in need. Donating blood and getting a chance to interact with others during this pandemic has given me a sense of normalcy and is helping to keep me going. It may sound weird, but it’s one of the few activities I can take part in now, in the same ways that I was able to before COVID-19. The only major difference is that I can further show my support for the autism community by sporting a puzzle-print face mask during my donation. Multi-colored puzzle pieces are a trademark symbol that represent the autism spectrum.

Maintaining a Passion for Blood Donation  

Donating blood is one of my passions and a generous act that provides a comfortable and peaceful setting when the world beyond its walls can be so loud and cruel. I feel like a champion and like I’m solving a problem every time I roll up my sleeve to give. I know that with each blood donation I make, I am helping to save more than one life. As a man living with Asperger’s, this is one of the few ways I feel like I am instantly making a difference and only takes as little as an hour from start to finish!

Preventing a Blood Shortage During a Pandemic

Coming together to help others in need has been empowering for me. I want others to share in this momentum and urge all eligible blood, platelet and plasma donors to join me in my efforts. Right now, the Red Cross has an urgent need for blood and donors who will step up to donate. Blood products can’t be bought or created. They must come from people who are generous enough to help someone in need.

My ultimate dream is that the silver lining of this pandemic will inspire a new population of blood donors who will pass along this tradition to the generations that follow. Even during this pandemic, I am hopeful that eligible individuals will make appointments to give blood.

COVID-19 has No End Date: Help the Red Cross Meet Urgent Blood Needs

We’re especially grateful to our blood donors who help to ensure a diverse blood supply is available for patients battling cancer, sickle cell disease, those involved in car accidents or undergoing planned and unexpected surgeries. Patients in need across the U.S. depend on the generosity of blood donors to ensure their needs are met as we all navigate the uncertainties of COVID-19.

Unfortunately, there is no end date to this pandemic. During this time, we have an urgent need for blood and platelets. If you are healthy, feeling well and eligible to donate please help us meet patient needs and prevent a summer blood shortage by scheduling an appointment to give by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

Together, we can make a difference to help a patient in need. Our friends at Amazon have a special gift for you this June. To thank you for making time to donate by June 30, we will send you a $5 Amazon.com Gift Card* via email.**

*Restrictions apply, see amazon.com/gclegal.

About Jesse

Jesse Saperstein is a 38-year-old motivational speaker and autism advocate. He is the author of Atypical and Getting a Life with Asperger’s published by Penguin Group (USA). Jesse currently lives in Guilderland, NY and has been a Media and Activities Liaison for the College Experience since 2015, run by Living Resources, Inc. There he works to provide students with intellectual disabilities a modified education at the College of Saint Rose located in Albany, NY.

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The Importance of Juneteenth for One Red Crosser

Thu, 06/18/2020 - 13:48

Our nation is heartbroken by the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Floyd’s death, captured on video, was the catalyst that reignited a movement promoting racial justice and equality for Black Americans. As a Black woman, I’ve observed the movement transcend cultures and ethnicities. I find pride in witnessing many groups, from corporations to civic organizations, join forces and take action aimed at creating change, promoting equity and moving the country forward.

The movement has also sparked renewed interest in the Juneteenth holiday, a special occasion marked by Black communities for more than 155 years. This year, there’s a special significance in recognizing Juneteenth. For many, it’s a way to stand in solidarity with the voices fighting for the liberties that all Americans value.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a day of reflection and pride that commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States. It has been observed on June 19, since 1866. On that date one year earlier, enslaved people in Texas learned of the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery, though the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two and a half years earlier in 1863. In 1980, Juneteenth officially became a holiday in Texas and has since been recognized by 45 other states.

Celebrating Juneteenth

Many communities across the country have adopted Juneteenth celebrations, including parades, cookouts and festivals. Juneteenth is more than a commemoration of the end of slavery or an appreciation for African American history. Juneteenth celebrates the Black experience. It celebrates the accomplishments of our ancestors like Red Cross blood bank pioneer, Dr. Charles Drew. It celebrates the progression toward equality and healing from decades of a painful history.

As a young girl, I vividly remember Juneteenth celebrations in my hometown of Denver, Colorado. I remember it as a multicultural gathering where diversity was a value that was respected. As a Red Crosser, I take pride in the organization also recognizing diversity as a value that helps drive our mission forward, especially during the uncertain times our nation is facing.

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How Red Cross Donut Dollies Supported U.S. Troops During Wartime

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 14:00
December 1970. Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam. Red Cross worker Christine Foerster, 21, of 1545 Hialeah St., Orlando, Florida, and Sgt. Thomas L. Micka, of 813 Lee St., Vicksburg, Mississippi, investigate the contents of his ditty bag. Sgt. Micka was on guard along the Tan Son Nhut air base perimeter in an armored personnel carrier. Photo by John E. Hendrickson/American Red Cross

It’s National Donut Day! Here at the Red Cross, our favorite donuts are our “Donut Dollies.” Today, we love them all and want to honor them.

You might be wondering, what is a Donut Dolly? The term “Donut Dolly” was actually a nickname given to American women that deployed and served soldiers overseas during war time in Korea and Vietnam. Their official title was Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas staff or SRAO.

Starting in WWII, the American Red Cross mobilized its club service into the clubmobile program. “Clubmobiles” were equipped to provide food, drink, newspapers and other American items for soldiers at war. The aim was to bring a taste of home to the frontlines.

Staffing the clubmobiles were American women who wanted to actively support the troops on the frontlines. From WWII to the Vietnam War, these women deployed to warzones and followed American soldiers as they fought, providing the soldiers with hope and cheer.

Donut Dollies did not shy away from the mission; they were fearless. They arrived shortly after the invasion of Normandy. They flew to Korea during the war and served soldiers in combat. They even flew alongside soldiers in helicopters during the Vietnam War. They were a brave, selfless group of women.

We are honored to learn about their mission through pictures, videos and through their own words. Many Donut Dollies are still around today and love to share their experiences with others. Two of these exceptional women are Joyce LeGrande and Linda Jager.

Joyce LeGrande (left) helping provide service members with snacks and drinks.

Joyce LeGrande served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and was one of the first five Red Cross staff to be sent into Vietnam. Not only did she ride in helicopters, helping soldiers during the war, she also assisted Bob Hope when he came to visit the troops.

Joyce loved bringing comfort and cheer to soldiers. While serving in Vietnam, she penned to her mother, “We are needed desperately. We watch the flares go off outside the perimeter…hearing the artillery firing in the distance…we dream of peace.”

Joyce was recently awarded the American Red Cross legacy certificate and pin for her service. At the award ceremony, she recounted her time serving and said, “The Red Cross impacted my life more than anything else, other than having my children!”

Joyce with Red Cross volunteers from the Virginia region.

Joyce shared that she recently visited a Vietnam War memorial and started crying.

“I lost a part of myself there,” Joyce said. “I wasn’t sure if anyone remembered us.”

Veterans hugged her and said, “We remember you. We remember the Donut Dollies!”

Linda Jager sitting with a service member.

Linda Jager was a Donut Dolly during the Vietnam War, and we are honored that she continues to serve as a Red Cross volunteer for the Cascades region helping military and veteran families.

“On a typical day, we would rise at 5:30 a.m., board a UH-1H ‘Huey’ helicopter and depart with a large canvas club mobile kit and partner,” she said. “Each day, we went to service clubs, units, mess halls, hospitals or off into ‘the bush,’ where the war and men who fought in it, became an intimate part of our lives. Working 10 to 12-hour days, six days a week. It was only when we were in our billets that we would cry, scream, or let ourselves talk about our experiences.”

“In 1970, U.S. troops were fighting some of the fiercest battles of the war. I remember standing in the middle of a large field, surrounded by tanks. The day before, one of these tank units had lost some of their men. There I was, trying to cheer them up. Our task seemed ludicrous.”

“But, slowly, something began to happen. First, there were a few smiles, then, a couple of wisecracking jokes. Gradually, the men got caught up in the program.”

“The pictures I have remind me of the places, Pleiku, Freedom Hill, Monkey Mountain, and Danang Air Base. The memories I have remind me of the people, my role, and my purpose for going.”

Thank you, Donut Dollies, for the vital role you played in our Red Cross mission. Thank you for supporting our service members on the frontlines. Today, we honor you!

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A Survivor Aims to Save Lives Through AED Program at California Wineries

Tue, 06/02/2020 - 13:48

It’s fair to say that until he collapsed while training for a marathon, Ron Rubin hadn’t given a lot of thought to the public availability of automated external defibrillators (AED).

A day after running 20 miles to prepare for what would have been his eighth marathon, Ron was knocked flat by an abnormally fast heart rate, a condition known as ventricular tachycardia. This cardiac emergency can only be remedied by trying to shock the heart into a regular rhythm using a defibrillator.

Ron’s son called 9-1-1 and they were transported to the local emergency room where the medical staff sprang into action. They administered shocks using a defibrillator, and this action saved Ron’s life. Not long afterwards, doctors implanted a defibrillator in him to monitor his heart rate and shock him if an abnormal rhythm occurred again.

Two years after Ron’s 2009 cardiac emergency, he bought a winery in Sonoma County, California. Eight years later, local vintners launched a “safe and sustainable” campaign for wineries that required certification. Ron reviewed the list of qualifications, and it occurred to him that the certification’s definition of “safe and sustainable” might be too narrow. For Ron, these two words meant taking care of both the planet and the people who call it home.

“There was an interest in whether people were trained to be safe around winery equipment,” said Ron. “But I was thinking that you have to keep your staff and visitors safe in other ways. Are employees trained in CPR and do you have an AED in your tasting room?”

Ron started speaking to his fellow vintners about safety, probing to see if they had AEDs and staff trained in first aid and CPR at their wineries. “The more people I talked to, the more who told me ‘no,’” Ron continued. “I thought, there is a need.”

Unfortunately, the cost of an AED, generally priced around $1,700, was a hurdle for many wineries. Then Ron connected with the American Red Cross and ZOLL Medical Corporation, which collaborated with him on a program to secure AEDs and offer first aid, CPR and AED training. If a winery qualifies for the TRAINED FOR SAVING LIVES program, it receives a ZOLL AED PLUS and installation at no cost.

As a requirement to get an AED at no cost, the winery must offer Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED training to its staff. The Red Cross handles the training, which occasionally means being flexible to accommodate the busy harvest season.

More than 280 California wineries have participated in the program since its inception two and a half years ago. The majority of the wineries have installed their AEDs in the tasting rooms, but because the AEDs are portable, some wineries will keep them in the vineyards during peak harvest times so that the lifesaving device is close at hand should a cardiac emergency occur. That’s important because for every minute without CPR and an AED, odds of surviving a cardiac arrest drop by 10 percent.

Ron admits that the reception to the program has been humbling, as he launched it with safety and sustainability in mind, not for accolades. However, he is proud of the Innovator Award bestowed upon him last year by the Sonoma County Vintners Association.

And, while the AEDs that he’s donated have yet to be used in an emergency, they are there with people who are trained to use them should the need arise. “It’s a good way to give back to the community,” said Ron. “What’s more important than to save someone’s life?”

Get Trained to Save Lives

Download the free Red Cross First Aid App and get trained at www.redcross.org/takeaclass to learn lifesaving skills.

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How One Food Bank is Helping Military Families During COVID-19

Tue, 06/02/2020 - 13:32

During this challenging time, making sure families have access to basic food and necessities is paramount. In Kentucky, the Red Cross Helping Hands food bank on base at Ft. Knox is reaching out to help military families stay fully stocked. We sat down and spoke with May Giulitto, Red Cross manager at Helping Hands, to learn more about her work with the military community during this trying time.

What is Helping Hands?

Helping Hands is a local Red Cross program that provides non-perishable food, clothing and household goods to active duty military, the National Guard, retirees and veterans that are in financial need on base. We also have a lending closet to help soldiers who need temporary household goods while they wait for their items to return from overseas.

How are you helping during COVID-19?

Currently, the need for essentials is large. We’ve been providing a lot of food assistance to military families during this pandemic. We’ve seen an uptick in the need for diapers, so we’ve been providing a lot of those to families in need. We’re helping widows of deceased veterans who need food and other necessities.. A large part of our mission also involves making sure we adhere to social distancing protocols while we distribute supplies to quarantined barracks. These supplies include comfort kits, sheets, snacks and more. They go to soldiers and family members who are coming from high risk areas or have been ill.

Who helps you at Helping Hands?

I’m very fortunate to have so many amazing Red Cross volunteers. I couldn’t do it alone. So many people pitch in to keep our shelves full, help organize and distribute items when needed. It’s people just like my volunteer lead Tangela Brooks, a retired veteran, who make this work. She gives back to her community by supporting it through Helping Hands.

Tangela Brooks What makes Helping Hands unique?

We seek out ways to help meet the needs of the military community here. Whether that be through holiday programs like Thanksgiving dinners or Santa’s workshops or just providing full meals for families, just because, we’re here. We’re always open for emergency cases.

Why did you start this and what motivates you?

I took this on because I’m a retired military spouse and my heart is in this. My husband told me this was the job for me because I had already spent half of my life volunteering for the Red Cross, so why not. To be honest, the first day, the phone didn’t ring, and nobody came to the door. Six months later, people were coming in full force to get food for their families. Ten years and three warehouses later, now we run a full operation to help the military community.

What do you want people to know about Helping Hands?

Our doors are open to you. Come on in! It’s important for us to support the military in this way. The Red Cross has always been there for the military, and the military looks to the Red Cross especially in emergencies. The value of us being available, especially during this time, is instrumental.

Learn More

If you’re interested in learning more about the services at Helping Hands in Ft. Knox or would like to volunteer, click here to find out more.

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Museums, Sports Arenas Step up to Help Fill Blood Needs During Pandemic

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 11:51

We are so grateful to the many organizations who have stepped up to help host blood drives during this pandemic. Instead of museums and sports arenas swarming with visitors and sports fans, they have been filled with generous (and socially distanced) blood donors for the past couple of months. This kind of support and compassion has helped us collect lifesaving blood donations during this coronavirus pandemic for patients in need.

Since March, tens of thousands of blood drives have been canceled because people have been working remotely and practicing social distancing. More than 80% of blood donations are made at blood drives, which is why blood drive hosts like these play an important role in helping us ensure blood is available for patients at about 2,500 hospitals across the country.

See how communities, organizations and sports teams across the country have come together to support patients during COVID-19 and learn how you can host a blood drive of your own.

The Red Cross was front and center, ready to meet blood donors that filled the Los Angeles Football Club in Los Angeles, CA to donate blood. Generous donors sat close to the field as they made lifesaving blood donations in Atlanta, GA.  Photo credit: Jim Blackburn The Navy Pier in Chicago, IL lent its space and its Ferris wheel to the Red Cross to ensure blood needs are met during this pandemic. Blood donors were welcomed in the sanctuary of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC to roll up a sleeve and donate blood. Sports fans became blood donors during a recent blood drive at Allianz Field in St. Paul, MN. Views of artifacts and life-size elephants were on display during a recent blood drive at the Field Museum in Chicago, IL. We’re All in This Together

During these uncertain times, it’s important to rally for patients in need – we’re all in this together! Come give blood May 15-31 and receive a Red Cross T-shirt by mail, while supplies last!* If you are feeling well, please make an appointment to give by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

*Offer applicable to presenting donors May 15-31, 2020, while supplies last. Offer subject to availability of donation opportunities in your area. Instructions on how to receive your T-shirt will be sent to the email address provided on your donor record approximately 14 days after attempted donation.

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Five Questions in Five Minutes with Ryan Wallace, EMS Instructor

Mon, 05/18/2020 - 13:53

This EMS Week 2020 (May 17 – May 23), we want to recognize emergency medical services (EMS) workers who help carry out our mission by providing assistance during disasters and lifesaving training. We also want to thank these first responders for all they are doing to help during the COVID-19 crisis, and highlight that important work.

We reached out to Ryan Wallace, a paramedic and a Red Cross Instructor, to learn more about his work as an EMS provider. Here he answers five questions in five minutes.

How did you get involved in this profession?

“I come from a family of public servants. My stepdad is a cop and my mom is a paramedic. They met at the scene of a car accident. At 16, my mother signed me up for a certified first responder class. The anatomy, physiology, operations and teamwork were very appealing to me as a teen, and I’ve held a certification ever since.”

What do you think would surprise people about the EMS profession?

“EMTs and paramedics are highly trained and highly motivated. You can’t just hop on an ambulance and start driving. The foundation of our education is a semester-long, 6 credit plus lab college course that covers medical and trauma emergencies. I find that EMS is a gateway into healthcare; many EMS providers are often moving toward the next step in their career, be it nursing, firefighting, physical therapy or med school, to name a few.”

Ryan and his then infant son, who visited him at work. Have you ever saved a life?

“I’ve probably been on somewhere in the range of 5,000 calls and, like most EMS providers, have spent most of my time sustaining a patient until we transfer care or offering psychological first aid.

I had an interesting cardiac arrest call many years ago. I was in a rural area so there were only two of us in the rig – the driver up front and me in the back with the patient. She was having chest pains and the electrocardiogram (EKG), a test that measures the electrical activity of someone’s heartbeat, was difficult to interpret. About a third of the way to the hospital, she experienced cardiac arrest. I immediately started ventilations and CPR. With just one of us available to do CPR, she wasn’t going to last until the hospital, so we stopped at a fire department with medics who helped continue CPR as I defibrillated her. We got a pulse back and by the time we went to the hospital she was pushing the mask off her face. Then we finished our paperwork and went on to the next call.”

What goes through your mind as an EMS provider working through a pandemic?

“We are fighting an enemy we can’t see. As an EMS provider, you don’t know what you’re walking into. There are protocols in place, but at the end of the day, you have minimal information and are putting yourself at risk on every call. You’re in other people’s homes and around many people. Your family could get exposed. I worry about the physical and mental health of those providers, and I try to support them as much as I can.”

How can we support EMS providers?  

“As I’ve gotten further in my career as a healthcare provider, I have more appreciation for EMS Week. This is a good week to sign up for first aid and CPR training. Learn how to use an AED. Download the Red Cross First Aid App. You can use this knowledge not only to help someone who might need it, but to support the work of EMS providers when they arrive on the scene.”

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Recovered COVID-19 Patients Help to Spread Hope Through Plasma Donation

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 10:38

More and more Americans are recovering from the coronavirus and seeking ways to help others that are in hospitals, isolated from loved ones and struggling to beat the virus. The good news is we may be able to help them share their good health with those in need by donating their plasma.

People who have fully recovered from the coronavirus may be able to donate convalescent plasma, which is rich in antibodies that can attack the virus and may help patients with life-threatening COVID-19 infections. We’ve worked with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and others in the blood industry to collect and share convalescent plasma with patients fighting the virus. So far, we’ve distributed hundreds of convalescent plasma products and hope to collect and process thousands more before this pandemic is over.

Check out the experiences of some of the generous donors who are making a difference during this unprecedented public health crisis.

Marisa Leuzzi

Marisa Leuzzi was the first Red Cross donor to participate in this program. Marisa tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-March and made her first convalescent plasma donation after it was confirmed she was symptom free for 14 days.

“As soon as I heard about this experimental treatment, I knew I had to do it. I immediately started looking (for) where I could donate,” said Marisa. She traveled from the suburbs of Philadelphia to Pennsauken, New Jersey, to make her donation at a Red Cross blood donation center.

“I had to put my fear aside because someone’s life depended on me doing this. It was super easy, the staff was great to work with and I was in and out in about two hours,” said Marisa. Within three days of making her plasma donation, Marisa was saving a life.

Marisa urges eligible individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to give back, “Your plasma donation will make a difference and bring positivity and hope, which is what the world needs right now.”

Chris Cuevas

Chris Cuevas tested positive for COVID-19 in March, and as an active member of his community, Chris knew that once he was fully recovered, donating his plasma was just another way to serve others and have the chance to heal patients in need.

“I want to potentially save someone’s life,” said Chris. “There is no greater reason to donate my plasma, in my opinion.”

“I feel that there is no greater deed that can be done for others in need right now during this pandemic,” said Chris. “The plasma donation itself is very easy and comfortable, and the Red Cross staff goes above and beyond to take care of you from start to finish.”

Emma Milliard

Emma Milliard was uncertain of how she could help others in need as the number of cases and death tolls of patients that succumbed to the coronavirus continued to climb to staggering numbers. Fortunate enough to have fully recovered from this debilitating virus, her thoughts continued to be with the patients still suffering in hospitals without the contact of friends or family.

“I’ve felt desperately helpless, as many have, throughout this pandemic, to ease suffering. When I realized there was any chance at all that my antibodies could possibly help critically ill patients there was no question as to whether or not I would donate my plasma. It’s been the most rewarding thing I could possibly do. And then I found out I could do it every 28 days, so I’ll be doing it again!”

Zack Kaplan

Zack Kaplan started hearing about convalescent plasma donations happening in other parts of the country while he was sick, and immediately knew that it was something that he would be interested in pursuing if he had the opportunity. He was inspired by the countless nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals at Duke Hospital and across Durham that helped him while he was sick. Donating his plasma seemed like a great way to “pay it forward” to patients currently fighting the virus since there was no way he could repay the medical providers that were so helpful.

He has been an active blood donor since participating in his high school’s blood drive at 17 years old. In the 10 years following his first blood donation he’s donated 32 times, including one previous platelet/plasma donation.

“Not everyone who contracts this virus is fortunate enough to survive it, and not everyone who survives it is healthy enough to donate plasma. For those of us who recover and are healthy enough to donate, then, especially young people like me, a few hours of our time and a few needle sticks is a small price to pay to know that we played a small role in helping someone else recover from the virus, and help our community recover from this crisis.”

Samantha Price

Samantha Price is an emergency department technician from Farmington, New York, and describes her experience battling COVID-19 as emotionally and physically draining. From the moment her symptoms started she felt awful but counts herself lucky that her and her husband and son, who all eventually became ill, did not need a hospital to beat the virus. When all was said and done, she couldn’t wait to get back to work on the front lines in the ER and pursue the opportunity to help others by donating her convalescent plasma.

She gets emotional thinking about how something so negative and frightening like COVID-19 could turn out so powerful and positive. “It’s humbling, so humbling! Knowing that I could possibly save a life and help someone share another day with their loved ones makes me so happy! I would hope that someone would do the same for my family. I am looking forward to donating again in the future to help many others.”

Testing Convalescent Plasma Donations for COVID-19 Antibodies

We are now testing convalescent plasma for COVID-19 antibodies in collaboration with our partner, which will allow us to simplify the eligibility process and qualify more potential donors. It’s important to note that we won’t be testing the general public or routine blood donors for COVID-19 antibodies.

How to Donate Plasma if You’ve Recovered from COVID-19
  • We are encouraging people who have fully recovered from this new coronavirus to donate convalescent plasma. Your donation may be able to help seriously ill coronavirus patients and aid in families’ suffering. To qualify, you must meet the following requirements:
    • Be at least 17 years old and weigh 110 lbs. Additional weight requirements apply for donors age 18 or younger.
    • Be in good health and generally feel well, even if being treated for a chronic condition. View blood donation eligibility FAQ.
    • Be symptom-free and fully recovered from COVID-19.

    If you meet the criteria above and are willing to help, please complete our Donor Request form. For additional information please visit http://www.redcrossblood.org/plasma4covid.

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SAF volunteer sews face masks to assist VA hospital

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 07:08

*Originally published on the American Red Cross Northeast Ohio Region blog.*

Jennifer Blatnik is delighted to be using her quilt-making skills to fill a vital need in the face of COVID-19.

Working through the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program of the American Red Cross, Jennifer is turning out dozens of face masks for use at the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center in Cleveland.

In her professional life, Jennifer actually works at the VA center: She talks with geriatric patients who are admitted through the emergency room and their families to find out what other services – beyond immediate medical care – they need to live successfully at home.

“I love it,” she says of her job, so the veteran of 20 years in the Navy decided to get her degree in social work. That led her to the SAF, where she can fulfill her course requirement for hands-on social work experience.

“When I saw something about making masks, I thought, ‘I could totally whip out a whole bunch of those’.”

Jennifer turns out close-fitting “bird beak” style masks, which have space for an extra filter layer made of furnace vent material.

So far, the full-time worker, full-time student and full-time mom has churned out more than four dozen of the colorful – but vital – face coverings.

Meanwhile, Jeanette Petrick is adding homemade face masks to her Red Cross volunteer portfolio. Normally, she mans the SAF coffee and cookies cart every Friday at the VA center.

“I’m in the process of making 200 masks for whoever can use them at the VA,” she said. “As part of the SAF, we wanted to help, as so many are, during this health crisis.”

Just this week Jennifer recognized one of her creations on a co-worker. “That’s one of my masks!” she thought. “It was really cool,” to know she could put her hobby to serious purpose.

Meanwhile, her experience with the Red Cross has given her a new perspective.

“It makes me appreciate everyone who has ever volunteered,” she said. “It’s all for the greater good.”

Become a Volunteer

For more information about Red Cross volunteer activities to support our men and women in uniform and our veterans, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

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The Hero Care Network Never Sleeps

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 10:52

This blog post was originally published on the Red Cross Central California blog.

JoAnne (second from the right) standing with the Red Cross Central California Region Service to the Armed Forces team.

During this pandemic, military families are really feeling the sting. A lot of service members and their families are in an unfortunate holding pattern. Families that were scheduled to be reunited after long periods of separation are having to wait even longer to be together again. Others are waiting to hear when they will get their next assignment. That is why Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces volunteers like JoAnne Barsenas are committed to providing help to our military community. Through the Red Cross Hero Care Network, we offer 24/7 emergency communications for service members and veterans. JoAnne is a shining example of how volunteers are giving back to our military, at a time when they need it the most.

The voice on the line was barely audible when JoAnne  picked up the phone. In between sobs, the caller identified herself as the wife of a recently deployed sailor. She had only been married for a few months. She was all alone for the first time in her life. She was barely nineteen. She was pregnant. And she wanted her husband to come home.

JoAnne knew two things as she took a deep breath and moved to a comfortable chair. The first was that this young woman’s husband was not coming home. The second was that it would take some time to calm her and reassure her that everything would work out.

“I was on the phone with her for almost three hours,” recalls JoAnne. “She was scared and alone, away from her family and friends. But we did eventually work everything out. I set her up with a Navy Family Ombudsman, who can be a key resource, particularly during deployments. I was really glad to hear back from her a few weeks later when she called to let me know how well she was doing.”

So what, you may ask, does this have to do with the Red Cross? Well, JoAnne is a volunteer with the American Red Cross and helps with the Hero Care Network. The Hero Care Network provides emergency communications and critical services to military members, veterans and their families all over the world – 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. These Red Crossers are a critical link for service families, providing confidential assistance and connecting those in need with local, state and national resources.

Hailing from a military family herself – father, brother, husband, and son – JoAnne is a perfect fit for the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces team. “I worked for the Navy for 30 years, monitoring and guiding spouses and children in the home care program,” she said. “My dad lost his leg fighting in WWII and our family received a lot of help from the VA. When I retired, I joined Hero Care so I could continue to help and to give back for the help we received.”

Hero Care casework is all done by phone. The national office screens the calls and forwards the information to the closest regional office. About 90% of the calls are for a death in the family, others are for a critically ill family member. The Red Cross is the only organization that the military allows to verify the emergency – through a doctor, hospital or the coroner. The verified information is then sent to the member’s commanding officer, who has the final decision on whether the member will receive leave to come home.

Sometimes though, according to JoAnne, there is no life and death emergency. She’ll pick up the phone and find that the caller just needs someone to talk to. “When you work in a Red Cross shelter, you meet and help people face to face. With Service to the Armed Forces, we have to learn to hug them over the phone.”

Working out of the Red Cross office on the base in Port Hueneme, JoAnne and the crew there provide a wide range of services for active military members. In addition to responding to emergency needs for food, clothing, and shelter, they provide referrals to counseling services (e.g., financial, legal, mental health), respite care for caregivers, and other resources that meet the unique needs of local military members. They also support a critical care program for veterans – helping them get medical care at a VA facility, providing information on veterans’ cemeteries and burial benefits, and assisting in preparing and developing applicants’ claims for veterans’ benefits.

While her role with Red Cross Hero Care Network is rewarding, JoAnne admits that it does take its toll emotionally. “My favorite is when there’s a birth. I get to call and give the congratulations. But the sickness and death are hard. Sometimes I have to put the phone down because I’m crying too.”

“Being in the military is one of the hardest jobs,” she continues. “It’s really tough when families are separated by deployments. Even when they are together, they are moving every three years and having to start over again. Volunteering with the Hero Care Network is one of the best things I’ve ever done. People just need to know that there is someone who cares.”

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QUIZ: What Kind of Social Distancer Are You?

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 08:32

We all handle social distancing differently. More time at home can mean more time spent on your favorite hobby, starting a new project, and reaching out to friends and family. The fun things we enjoy while hanging out indoors are great stress relievers during these difficult times. Take this quiz to discover what kind of social distancer you are and learn some helpful tips for mental wellness.

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Emergencies Don’t Stop: Meet the People Behind Our Lifesaving Mission

Tue, 03/24/2020 - 11:48

Emergencies don’t stop, and neither does the American Red Cross. During challenging times like these, it’s even more important for organizations like us to be there to help those who need it most. March 25 is Red Cross Giving Day and we’re asking for your support.

Read on to meet some of the people who carry our mission and find out how your donation will enable us to continue delivering our lifesaving work — both today and in the days ahead.

Teaching Lifesaving Skills

Nate is one of our Red Cross First Aid & CPR instructors who dedicates his time to helping others learn how to save lives in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. “I love being an instructor because I enjoy seeing how the people I train are able to help others in emergencies,” he said.

Helping Hospital Patients Who Depend on Blood

Kadijah is a Red Cross Collections Technician in Greenville, North Carolina. She travels from city to city collecting blood donations for hospital patients in need. “What I love most about my job is being able to hear the different stories behind ‘why’ donors give the gift of life,” she said.

Providing Food, Shelter and Care After Disasters

As a Disaster Action Team volunteer, Pilar travels across the five New York City boroughs after local emergencies to help provide impacted residents with water, food, shelter and other emergency relief items. “I never really thought about this until I started volunteering with the Red Cross, but we are so vulnerable to lose everything in just a matter of seconds, and for the Red Cross to be there and to be able to provide that assistance, it’s just amazing,” she said.

Supporting Military Families Who Need Emergency Assistance

Hilary spent 24 years in the U.S. Army and continues to serve her country as one of our Service to Armed Forces (SAF) volunteers. She has seen the real impact of SAF, as both a service member and a volunteer. “When you give to the Red Cross, you’re giving more than just to that office or that community. You’re part of a bigger international family of giving, of serving, of just doing the right thing and giving back to the world,” she said.

Join Us

Stand with us on Red Cross Giving Day to support the urgent needs of our mission — which touches millions of lives each year. Please donate at redcross.org/GivingDay.

About our Giving Day Supporters

The American Red Cross is grateful for those donors who are making an impact by supporting our Giving Day, especially the Energy Transfer / Sunoco Foundation. Thanks to the kindness of these and other supporters, the Red Cross is able to provide hope and emergency support when people need it most.

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