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After 72 years, sisters separated by war are reconnected by Red Cross

Tue, 12/11/2018 - 10:04

Originally appeared on the Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region blog.

From 1941 to 1944, the Germans subjected Leningrad, the former capital of Russia known today as “Saint Petersburg,” to one of the longest and most destructive chapters of World War II. Historians believe that the Siege of Leningrad — occurring over a nearly 900-day period — resulted in the deaths of up to 1.5 million soldiers and civilians and the evacuation of another 1.4 million people, mostly women and children.

Two little girls — Tamara Haltsonen, who was then 6 years old, and her older sister, Lidia, who was 10 — illustrate the unfathomable human toll of the infamous siege: The girls suffered through the death of their mother, Tatiana, to starvation and/or illness, and the loss of their father, Alexsander, to the “German Labor Camps.” Devastated and suddenly with no one to care for them, the two were placed in separate sections of a local orphanage, before being moved with other evacuees to a monastery in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Tamara is holding a cherished photo of herself, her late husband Oleg, and their daughter, Natalie. (Photo: Samar M. Salma)

Both girls were eventually adopted by different families.

Miraculously, Alexsander survived and eventually found his two daughters. However, by then Tamara was in failing health, so he was counseled to leave his daughter with her new family. Tamara’s health would slowly improve, but she would never see her father again, as he and Lidia began a torturous decades-long odyssey that included difficult years in German-occupied Finland and even more hardships behind the Iron Curtain in war-torn Russia.

Young Tamara and her new family, meanwhile, moved to Germany, then to Chicago in the United States. After marrying years later, Tamara Terichow and her husband eventually settled in San Rafael, California.

After a separation that lasted more than 70 years, Tamara (right) and her sister, Lidia, embrace during their reunion in Finland. (Photo: Anna Haltsonen, Lidia’s granddaughter)

While Alexsander died in 1988, Lidia survived, never losing hope that she would one day be connected with her beloved sister.

Tamara too had known nothing about the fate or whereabouts of her older sister — for more than seven decades. She had tried to cope with the loss in part by never speaking of her adoption with her American family.

But that all changed last fall around Thanksgiving. Seventy-two years after being separated from her sister, Tamara received a phone call she will never forget. It was from the Red Cross Restoring Family Links (RFL) program, and the person on the phone informed Tamara that Lidia was alive and well — and looking for her.

It was a phone call to be truly thankful for. At long last, their long-hoped-for reunion was in the works.

Tamara, now 83, speaks tearfully about the sisters’ separation and their eventual reunion, which took place earlier this year in Finland. “It hurts me that for the longest time I tried to keep my mum in my memory and same thing with my sister,” she says, explaining that even the most hopeful memories fade over time.

But hope, luck, and the services of the Red Cross enabled Tamara to finally reunite with her sister. “It is such good work,” she says about the RFL program operated by the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network.

The United Nations reports that 68.5 million people were displaced worldwide in 2017 due to violence, war, and other forms of persecution. “No one becomes a refugee by choice; but the rest of us can have a choice about how we help,” stated U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on the eve of World Refugee Day 2018.

During their special reunion, the sisters had plenty of catching up to do. (Photo: Natalie Rogen, Tamara’s daughter)

Given the scale of the challenge, humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross — through its Restoring Family Links program — are playing a vital role in reconnecting families, as well as supporting those who are displaced.

People in the USA who are separated from family members due to conflicts, disasters, or migration can start a search by:

  • contacting their local Red Cross chapter;
  • calling the American Red Cross’s free national helpline at 844-782-9441; or
  • visiting

Tamara has one other bit of important advice: “Keep on hoping,” she says, even if doing so becomes difficult to do. “If my sister didn’t talk about it, nothing would have happened,” Tamara says.


About the author: Samar M. Salma is a volunteer writer for the American Red Cross. She currently resides in Monterey.

About the Restoring Family Links program: Through RFL, the American Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the globe work together to locate people and put them back into contact with their relatives. This work includes looking for family members separated by conflict, disaster, or migration.

About the American Red Cross: The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

The post After 72 years, sisters separated by war are reconnected by Red Cross appeared first on red cross chat.

30th Anniversary of the Spitak Earthquake in Armenia

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 05:00

Thirty years ago today, on December 7, 1988, a 6.9 earthquake devastated Armenia. Also known as the Spitak earthquake due to the fault rupture’s proximity to the town of Spitak, the massive quake hit a densely populated region in Armenia. At least 25,000 died, 15,000 were injured and 500,000 were left homeless in the catastrophic earthquake. 

While Armenia existed behind the Iron Curtain at the time of the quake, the vast devastation compelled Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to formally request humanitarian aid from the United States — the first such request since the start of the Cold War. The American Red Cross responded by providing funds and people to assist with the relief efforts. In the year following the earthquake, the Red Cross directed more than $14 million in disaster assistance to Armenia, $6.5 million in cash and $8 million in in-kind goods, including antibiotics and other medical supplies. Anticipating the long process to rebuild cities and rehabilitate the injured, the Red Cross established a disaster preparedness program, prosthetic workshop and a spinal trauma rehabilitation unit. 

December 1988. Armenia. American Red Cross President Dick Schubert surveys the damage in Armenia following the earthquake in December.

Located on the lawn outside the 17th street Red Cross building in Washington D.C., is a 30-foot-tall bronze statue of a mother protectively embracing her child. Created by Armenian sculptor Frederic Sogoyan, “Motherland”, was a gift from the Armenian people to commemorate Red Cross relief services following the 1988 Armenia earthquake. This statue highlights just a small part of the global humanitarian contributions that have occurred since the organization’s foundation and that will continue to occur in the future.   

A close-up of “Motherland”, Washington, D.C.

“Motherland” embodies the ideal of service that has motivated the American Red Cross throughout its history: people giving generously of themselves to alleviate suffering, always ready to serve with warmth and compassion. For those visiting D.C. for the first time and even those who call D.C. home, we welcome you to visit Red Cross Square to experience “Motherland” and other remarkable memorials in person.  

*Just one block from the White House, Red Cross Square is between 17th and 18th streets, and D and E streets NW.  

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Camp Fire: Conflicting Emotions Are Normal After A Disaster

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 10:24

This originally appeared on the Red Cross Capital Crosswords blog. Photos by Carl Manning. 

After the Camp Fire swept through his hometown of Magalia, California, Ken Kupstas wasn’t sure what shape his home was in. He had been out running errands and couldn’t get back into the town.

Firefighters found his dog of 14 years, a Chihuahua named Precious at home, but she was beyond help, so Ken had to do the one thing he didn’t want to do.

“It was hard to give her up, but I didn’t want my little girl to suffer, I really didn’t,” the 82-year-old widower said. “She was my best friend, and I had to do what was best for her.”

Ken knew his home was there but didn’t how bad it might have been damaged until a friend showed him a video on a smartphone of his neighborhood. He stared intently until he finally saw his home, intact and still standing.

“There it is, there it is,” he said excitedly as he watched outside a Red Cross shelter in Chico where he’s staying. “Oh my, it’s still there.”

Nearby, Holly Cristofaro, a Red Cross mental health counselor at the shelter who had talked to Ken before, heard the news and rushed over to hug him.

“Oh, what a relief for you,” Holly said to Ken as he fought back the tears and smiled. “This is so nice to hear.”

As they parted, Holly said, “We still want to be here for you.”

Holly, a social worker in Boston, explained that often after people have been through an ordeal like waiting to hear about the fate of their home, the feelings of physical exhaustion start catching with them.

She said while Ken got some good news, he’s like so many others going through the ordeal of loss and not sure about the future.

“You support them and let them tell their story, let them share. It can mean a lot to them to have someone listen to what they’ve gone through,” Holly said.

Those who escaped the wildfire are faced with an array of feelings.

Holly said many are dealing with their initial fears of not surviving and recalling the heat as they fled. Others are feeling bad about having to leave their pets because they only had a few minutes to get to safety and many pets ran away in a panic.

Then there is the feeling of gratitude for being alive, tempered by not knowing what is going to happen next.

Holly said many of those she has talked with have shown so much resiliency and determination to overcome the adversity.

“It’s a good sign of being able to recover,” Holly said.

For Ken, all those feelings have become part of his life, and while the future may be uncertain, he’s ready to face it.

“I believe things will get better, I really do,” he said. “I’ve been a fighter all my life. I’m too ornery to give up.”

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Native American Heritage Month: Meet Lauren Snow

Fri, 11/30/2018 - 06:46

This Native American Heritage Month, we’re highlighting those who play a pivotal role in helping the American Red Cross accomplish its humanitarian mission every day. This week, we’d like to highlight Lauren Snow, an AmeriCorps Member with Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) and a proud member of the Chickasaw Nation. Here is a conversation we had with her around Native American Heritage Month and our work with tribal communities.

What is your tribal affiliation?

Chickasaw Nation. Just as a “fun fact,” the Chickasaw Nation resides in Oklahoma and is one of the “Five Civilized Tribes” along with the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek and Seminoles.

Where were you raised?

Due to my father’s occupation, my family moved around the United States quite a bit when I was growing up. I lived in a total of seven different locations before the age of 18, including states on the east coast, west coast and several in between!

As a Native American, what do you see as the Red Cross’s role with tribes?

As a Native American, I see the Red Cross fulfilling an important role of providing support for Native American communities by offering an outlet for services in times of need and opportunities for volunteers to give back to other tribal members.

The Red Cross works with the Chickasaw Nation to provide citizens with the training needed to assist with emergencies and disasters and enables volunteers to serve their community in times of need.

How do the tribes assist the Red Cross?

Tribes native to Washington State have assisted the Red Cross by providing volunteers as well as generous donations to assist in relief and emergency preparedness efforts across the state. Additionally, tribal members can sit on the Red Cross Boards. Currently, there is one individual of the Tulalip Tribes sitting as a member on the Red Cross Board in Snohomish County.

What would you like people to know about tribal nations?

It is always encouraging when others take the time and interest in learning about the history and culture of a Native American tribe or tribes located in their area. There are so many aspects of Native American culture and heritage that individuals outside of that culture do not realize and can easily overlook, as no two tribes are the same! As a Chickasaw citizen, I have been lucky to be immersed in my tribe’s culture through not only the learning of the native language and recipes, but through the passing on of ideals such as the importance of always treating your elders with respect, having a strong work ethic and self-determination and the value of community.

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Four Ways to Give Back on Giving Tuesday

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 11:43

Looking for ways to give back this Giving Tuesday? Here are four simple ways you can give with meaning to bring comfort and hope to those who need it most.

Give Hope Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross.

Nyasa has been a resident of her town for over a year. She evacuated with her three-month-old daughter Michelle to a Red Cross shelter during a disaster. A Red Cross volunteer ensured she has all the supplies she’d need for herself and her young infant.

You could provide supplies for an infant like Michelle in an emergency shelter with a gift of $50.

Give Warmth Photo by Chuck Haupt for the American Red Cross

Jecek, 4-years-old, and his sister, Charsidy, 7-years-old, shared a moment while staying at a Red Cross shelter last year. You can provide warm blankets to protect children and their families from the cold and help them sleep comfortably in emergency shelters.

With a $50 gift, you could provide blankets for 10 people, bringing them warmth and security.

Give Strength Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Jenna and her son Leo received hot chicken fajita meals, snacks, and water from a Red Cross feeding vehicle after a recent disaster. Leo was especially pleased with the snacks and shouted with delight when he saw his neighbor coming to receive the same.

With a $50 gift, you can ensure a family of five has hot food to eat when disaster strikes.

Give Comfort Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

The Murillo family talked with Red Cross volunteer, Vicki Eichstaedt at a shelter. The Murillos fled their home when the sheriff came to evacuate them. “We didn’t take advantage of Red Cross services last year,” said Josiah. “We moved around a lot, staying with different family and friends as we could. I didn’t want to do that again. We are comfortable, we are able to take care of each other and the Red Cross volunteers couldn’t be nicer.” Patrice, Josiah’s wife, agreed, “It’s hard on us and the kids, but it’s better. We have our own space, good food, and lots of attention from you all here at the shelter.”

Help provide a full day at an emergency shelter for two people with a gift of $100. This includes meals, snacks, blankets, cots and hygiene supplies.

About Our Corporate Holiday Supporters

During this holiday season, the American Red Cross is grateful for those corporate donors that generously contribute to our Holiday Giving Campaign. They include: AmazonSmile, Circle K and PayPal. Thanks to the generosity of these and other supporters, the Red Cross is able to bring help and hope to people across the country. To learn more about our corporate holiday supporters, visit

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Giving Thanks for Blood Donations

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 10:19

This Thanksgiving, we’re thankful for all of you who have donated blood or platelets to help save lives over the years. Here are a few former patients and their families who want to say thank you for your lifesaving contributions.

Sheri Van Bibber

Sheri Van Bibber is an American Red Cross staff member in Salt Lake City. She is a mother of three. After delivering her first two children via cesarean, scar tissue built up that required surgery during her third delivery. Complications caused Sheri to severely bleed, and she was given the choice to accept a blood transfusion or risk death. Sheri accepted the blood donation and she is forever grateful to blood donors. She brought this experience with her when she joined the Red Cross. She shared, the mission of blood services was “in my heart and veins.” Now, Sheri, her husband, children and grandchildren all donate blood.

“We have made this a tradition in our family — to pay it forward!” said Sheri.

Kathleen Dykman

Four years ago, Kathleen Dykman was pregnant with twins. At 38 weeks, her labor was induced, which is not uncommon for multiple birth pregnancies. However, after more than 30 hours of labor and concern for her babies’ health, Kathleen was quickly admitted for an emergency caesarian surgery. During the surgery, she developed a rare, life-threatening blood disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) causing severe hemorrhaging and requiring immediate blood transfusions. If not treated quickly, DIC can be fatal to the mother and the babies due to massive blood loss or organ failure. Kathleen needed approximately 24 units of blood and an additional six units in follow-up treatments. The blood products she received that day helped save her life. Today, Kathleen and her twins, Anna and Thomas, now age four, are healthy and grateful for volunteer blood donors.

“Thank you blood donors. Because of you, I get to be a mom,” said Kathleen.

Lily Dotson

Lily was just 5-years-old when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Doctors put her on an aggressive treatment plan which included multiple blood transfusions, chemotherapy sessions and other treatments. Though her diagnosis and treatment plan was initially frightening—Lily’s fight inspired her community to come together to help save her life and many other lives by rolling up their sleeves and donating blood. In 2014, Lily received the Red Cross Lifesaving Award for her efforts to help recruit new blood donors and collect much-needed blood donations for patients. Today, Lily is 12 yearsold and in middle school—she has been cancer free for four years.

Jonathan “Jack” Ashby

Jonathan “Jack” Ashby has been fighting for his life since before he was born. Jack suffers from specific immune deficiency, a condition that impacts his body’s ability to fight off infections, bacteria and viruses. Every 21 days, Jack receives an Intravenous Immunoglobulin Transfusion (IVIG), which allows him to attend school and participate in typical six-year-old activities like joining Cub Scouts, playing video games and cheering for his favorite sports teams. Jack’s IVIG treatment is made possible by the generosity of blood donors across the county, as it takes more than 1,000 blood donations to make just one transfusion.

Donate Blood Now to Help Save Lives

Right now, the Red Cross is experiencing a blood shortage.  Help make a difference for a patient in need and their family by scheduling a donation appointment today at To speed up the donation process, complete a RapidPass online health history questionnaire at, on mobile devices and through the Red Cross Blood Donor App.

Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.

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Native American Heritage Month: Meet Malinda Johnston

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 08:45

The various reasons people volunteer at the American Red Cross are as diverse and varied as they are. For Native American Service to the Armed Forces volunteer Malinda Johnston, it was the compassion, service to others and the support for the military that drew her to the Red Cross. “The Red Cross is about community and hope,” said Malinda.

A Military Spouse and Volunteer

As a military wife for 17 years, Malinda has a deep understanding of life’s changes and transitions.Malinda’s family, her husband Mike and their three daughters, lived in five different states before arriving at Fort Bliss in Texas. Mike is in the Army Sergeants Major Academy and has deployed six times over the years.

Malinda has volunteered with the Army’s Family Readiness Group (FRG) for the last 12 years.

“I had been an active volunteer with the FRG for the past 12 years,” Malinda shared. “However, the Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss doesn’t have an FRG so that’s how I ended up at the El Paso Red Cross.”

“Currently, I am volunteering for Operation Santa Claus, the USO and American Red Cross. I feel like it’s important to be involved in helping others, lending a hand when needed and it’s a rewarding experience knowing that you have had a positive impact on someone’s life.”

A Heart for Service

Volunteering and helping others runs deep in her family roots.

Originally from Nebraska, Malinda comes from a close-knit family and is a descendant of the Santee Sioux tribes.

“I remember going to the Indian Center and pow wows as a child. It’s a memory I’ve always carried with me. The sounds, the beat, the hum of our ancestors is alive at pow wows, I can close my eyes and feel like I’m there.”

Although Malinda’s grandparents grew up in hard times, they were respected members of the community and are still remembered every year. “My grandmother Pansy, was a woman who was always helping others. Her compassion has had a lasting impression on me,” said Malinda.

When asked what advice she has for new volunteers, she shared, “be open and be willing to do new things.”

It’s the diversity and passion of volunteers like Malinda that make up the heart and soul of the American Red Cross.

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Native American Heritage Month: Meet Abbra Firman

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 05:00

This Native American Heritage Month, we’re highlighting those who play a pivotal role in helping the American Red Cross accomplish its humanitarian mission every day in tribal communities across the country. This week, we’d like to highlight Abbra Firman, the Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for Eastern Montana. Here is a conversation we had with her around Native American Heritage Month and our work with tribal communities.

  What is your role at the Red Cross?

I am a Disaster Program Manager for Eastern Montana. In this role, I oversee the Disaster Program in 27 counties and five reservations serving seven tribal nations. My territory covers urban to frontier counties over roughly 74,000 sq. miles. To put that in perspective, the territory I oversee is larger than the whole state of Florida. I rely on strong partnerships with agencies and emergency managers as well as relationships with our tribal nations to help us serve those in need. I could not do my job if it were not for the dedicated volunteers and partners in Eastern Montana.

In your role, how do you work with the Native American Community?

I mostly work with the emergency managers on each of the reservations. In areas where there is a transition or no emergency manager, I try to find community contacts. Montana has 13 tribal nations, 12 of which are federally recognized and have land. It is my goal to make sure every Montanan knows of and has access to Red Cross services.

The most important part of my work involves introducing partner agencies to tribal nations. I sit on the Montana Indian Nations Working Group (MINWIG), a coalition of emergency managers and public health staff from each of the reservations. Through this organization I have had the honor of working with my peers and the tribal nations of Montana. This work has helped me learn so much about the cultural similarities and differences of the tribes.

Every nation is different and the more time, conversations and trainings we have together, the stronger our relationships become.

In your experience, what are some of the challenges that Native Americans face during disasters?

My experience has shown me that each nation has its own unique challenges, but one of the biggest challenges lies  in whether or not a tribe is recognized by the government. Montana has the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe, which the state recognizes, but it is not yet federally recognized. This tribe is also landless meaning they do not have a state recognized reservation, nor do they have the ability to work directly with a federal agency like FEMA on behalf of the tribe’s members in a disaster. The Little Shell Chippewa Tribe shares the status of many nations across the country where they exist but are not recognized.

Socioeconomic status is another challenge faced by many tribes in the wake of a disaster. The sad and harsh reality is that many of our tribal nations struggle with poverty and disasters only make those struggles more significant. In Montana, there might be one or two general stores on a reservation, and if these stores are under water because of a flood, the nearest town is a hundred miles away. That store being closed also means those who worked there don’t have jobs as they try to recover, and more gas money is needed to get groceries.

Also, economically fragile communities often lack diverse partner resources. There might not be a thrift store, a food bank, a Salvation Army office or another organization that the Red Cross can partner with to aid our clients. This doesn’t mean the partner agencies won’t help, but it does make it that much more vital for the Red Cross to have these relationships. We can share with our partners the needs that are unmet and connect that tribal community with resources it might not have on a daily basis, things that become essential in a post disaster situation.

What is one of your most memorable experiences from working with the tribes in your region?

I would say one of the most memorable experiences I have had was getting to participate in the signing of the  Memorandum of Understanding between the Crow Nation and the American Red Cross. It was the third in the country, and the first in Montana. Two months after the private signing, the Red Cross was asked to come to the Crow Fair. And in front of a bandstand full of people, Chairman Darrin Old Coyote and the Chief Executive Officer of the Montana Red Cross Chapter, Rodney Kopp, signed ceremonial copies. Red Cross also delivered a co-branded shelter trailer, which will help us with sheltering during disasters. I had the opportunity to spend the day with the emergency manager, the deputy emergency manager, a volunteer and a large group of the Crow people. The emergency manager learned it had been a solid five years since I had been on horseback and decided to change that. It was a day where I made friends for a lifetime, and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to go and participate in the signing and attend the Crow Fair that year.

What are a few things that you’ve learned while working with these tribes?

I learned no two nations are the same. I have been working with Montana tribal nations for five years, and I’m still learning the subtle nuances of each tribe. I enjoy learning from them and becoming more knowledgeable so that Red Cross can be a better partner with them in disasters.

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California Wildfires: Your Top Questions Answered

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 11:32

The Camp, Woolsey and Hill Fires have devastated thousands of acres in parts of northern and southern California, and they’re still raging. To date, they’ve forced tens of thousands of people from their homes. Red Cross volunteers are there, around the clock, providing help and support at evacuation centers to offer safe refuge for those impacted by these devastating fires. Below, we’ve compiled a list of common questions and concerns that we hope you’ll share far and wide to help those living in the impacted areas.

How can I prepare in case my family needs to evacuate?

We’re so glad you asked. Here are some tips that can help.

I’ve been told I need to evacuate. Where can I go?

To find a Red Cross and community evacuation center near you, visit or download the free Red Cross Emergency App. You can also check with your local officials and monitor your local media channels for information.

Can I bring my pet with me to the evacuation center?

For the well-being of our shelter residents who have pet allergies, asthma, and other health issues, there often needs to be physical space between animals and people. The only exception to this are service animals for people with disabilities because they aren’t considered pets.

BUT, we don’t expect you to leave your pets at home and we don’t want you to because like you, we view pets as family members. That’s why we work with partner organizations to make sure you have a safe place for your pets to stay during disasters. These organizations make every effort to provide pet accommodations that are close to our shelters so you can visit your furry friends frequently. Here are some pet friendly lodging resources.

Follow these tips to help you prepare your pets for an emergency evacuation and help them recover afterward.

I’m having trouble locating my loved ones who evacuated because of the wildfires. Can you help me find them?

We know how important it is to find your family and friends in an emergency. You can search for them on the Red Cross Safe and Well website. Watch this video to learn more.

I’m collecting food and items for those affected by the wildfires. Can I drop them off at an evacuation center?

We can’t thank you enough for your generosity, but honestly sometimes these items can do more harm than good.

This is the reality of what can happen…

A photo from Texas in 2017 by Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP.

Unfortunately, sometimes an outpouring of good intentions can become a literal mountain of stuff.

Please know that our first priority is the safety and well-being of those affected by disasters. The reality is that it takes time and money to store, sort, clean and distribute donated items. These things take time and resources away from the people who need them most. Unfortunately, some well-intentioned donations of clothing or other items may be inadvertently soiled or dirty, which can cause illness. However, we might accept large, bulk donations of new items if they fit the needs of those affected in a specific area.

The best way to help during a disaster like this is with financial donations because they allow us the flexibility to give those directly impacted by the California wildfires what they need most. Financial donations can be used right away to replace items like medicines or a pair of glasses.

How can I be sure the money that I donate will go directly to wildfire victims?

Your generosity makes an impact, and we can’t thank you enough for your support. Trust us when we say that we honor your donor intent. An average of 91 cents of each dollar spent will go toward providing shelter, food, relief items, health and emotional support and financial assistance for those impacted by the wildfires. You can designate your donation specifically to relief efforts by choosing that option when donating on, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word CAWILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Other than donating, what can I do to help wildfire victims?

We’d love to have you join us and we appreciate your willingness to help. If you live near areas affected by the Hill and Woolsey Fires in California, please visit to learn more about Red Cross volunteer opportunities and how to submit a volunteer application.

You can also find other volunteer opportunities at

The Camp, Woolsey and Hill Fires have devastated thousands of acres in parts of northern and southern California, and they’re still raging. To date, they’ve forced tens of thousands of people from their homes. Red Cross volunteers are there, around the clock, providing help and support at evacuation centers to offer safe refuge for those impacted by these devastating fires. Below, we’ve compiled a list of common questions and concerns that we hope you’ll share far and wide to help those living in the impacted areas.

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O Negative Blood Saves College Student after Horrific Accident

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 06:19

Today, the American Red Cross issued an urgent call for all eligible individuals to make an appointment to give blood or platelets now by using the free Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767). Blood products are currently being distributed to hospitals faster than donations are coming in. As we approach the holiday season, blood donation challenges will only increase. Unfortunately, blood needs don’t take a holiday. Blood is needed every two seconds, without lifesaving donations patients like Jacob Lewis would not have survived.

Jacob Lewis has been a loyal blood donor since he was 16 years old. In March 2016, just after his 19th birthday, he realized the importance of blood donations when he needed blood following a horrific car accident.

Lewis’ car was run over by a semi-trailer truck, leaving him with broken vertebrae, broken ribs, a broken elbow and wrist, and lacerations to his spleen, liver and kidney. He was flown by a life flight team to the local Glenwood hospital and then on to Nebraska Medicine in Omaha. By the time Lewis arrived in Omaha, he had received 10 blood transfusions. During his weeklong stay in the hospital, he underwent 24 hours of surgery and needed 14 blood transfusions in total.

Jacob is currently a senior in college applying to graduate physical therapy programs. He is also a student coach for his school basketball team. This wouldn’t have been possible without doctors, nurses and blood donors.

“We will forever be grateful to the donors who made the blood available to Jacob,” said Lewis’ mother, Jennifer Lewis. “If that O negative hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t have survived.”

Type O negative red blood cells can be transfused into any patient, regardless of blood type, making donors with these universal blood types an important part of the Red Cross trauma team. Less than 7 percent of the population has type O negative blood.

Donate Blood Now to Help Save Lives

The Red Cross encourages individuals to make a donation appointment and to complete a RapidPass online health history questionnaire to help speed up the donation process. RapidPass can now be completed online at, on mobile devices and through the Red Cross Blood Donor App.

Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.

Donors can help even more people by inviting a family member, friend or co-worker to donate too.

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From Army Correspondent to Red Cross Volunteer – A 48-Year journey

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 06:15

David Schoeneck uses skills he learned early in his career to continue serving – now through the American Red Cross. In September 1964, while a freshman in college, he began working as a reporter and photographer for his hometown newspaper – the New Ulm Daily Journal in southern Minnesota. Four and a half years later, after graduating from Minnesota State University in Mankato, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.

He served a tour of duty with the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, first as a combat correspondent and later as editor of the Division’s weekly newspaper, The Ivy Leaf. He returned to the U.S. and was discharged in July 1970.

Back in civilian life, Schoeneck worked in public relations and communications as a manager and director for a number of Minnesota-based corporations. Upon retirement in 2002, he was approached by a long-time friend, David Therkelsen, who was serving as executive director of the Red Cross St. Paul Chapter.

“David explained to me that the Red Cross had very important public affairs activity during disasters, as well as on-going public affairs needs,” Schoeneck said. “I had been actively involved in community affairs as part of my work, and working with the Red Cross very much appealed to me.”

Since joining the Red Cross nearly 17 years ago, Schoeneck has been involved in local public affairs responses, supporting countless home and apartment fires, floods in various parts of Minnesota, four tornado responses in the state and six national deployments. He has worked as a Red Cross public affairs service associate, supervisor or manager for Hurricanes Irene, Sandy, Mathew, Harvey and Florence, as well as during the eastern Washington state wildfires.

In 2015, Schoeneck was invited to join the Red Cross National Advanced Public Affairs Team (APAT). More recently, he was selected to join the Red Cross North Central Division’s Disaster Resource Management Team (DRMT), which provides qualified and experienced management teams to supplement local resources when larger scale disasters occur.

“The fundamental principles of the Red Cross – humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality – appealed to me,” Schoeneck said. “It fit very well with my belief that everyone needs to give back to the community and serve others. Working with the Red Cross also allows me to use the skills I have developed over many years in a very positive way.”

“The Red Cross is an amazing organization. It aids victims of home fires and other smaller disasters on a local level, but also comes together when needed to answer the call for large scale disasters such as Hurricanes Florence and Michael,” Schoeneck noted. “In addition to disaster services, the Red Cross has a long-standing role in providing service to our Armed Forces.”

“I have met and been privileged to work with wonderful people from all over the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Canada who, as part of the Red Cross, respond to disasters. Their spirit of service and dedication is very inspiring. Many of the Red Cross volunteers I have met are also veterans who continue to serve their country and community, long after their active military duty ended.”

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A Red Crosser Shares Her Experience After Super Typhoon Yutu

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 09:24

Hafa Adai (Hello) from Saipan.

It’s been 15 days since Super Typhoon Yutu sprung up out of the Pacific Ocean, and 12 days since the winds roared across the islands of Tinian and Saipan at speeds of up to 185 mph and gusts up to 235 mph. The residents of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) are working to develop their new normal in a place without running water, power and often without a solid roof over their heads.

The stories you hear from residents are harrowing. Homes were destroyed around them and cars were picked up and thrown. The storm was truly a monster. This is what typical roof damage on a house looks like here:

Many Homes Don’t Have Power

Electricity is starting to be restored, but many homes still don’t have power because of their condition. There are 900 power poles to replace on Saipan and 2,000 on Tinian. A difficult task when you realize that a lot of the poles are coming from Washington State.

Shelters Conditions Are Difficult

We have about 900 people who are still in shelters, but that is just a fraction of those affected. Sheltering here on the islands is different than what we normally see in the continental United States. We are 12 days in and the fire department water tankers are supplying water, but there are only three tankers and shelters are running out of water just hours after it’s provided. A lot of the shelters don’t have air conditioning and are running on generators. But even in these conditions, the Red Cross has been providing shelter residents with three meals a day and will continue to do as long as there is a need.

We’re Working with Partners Around the Clock

We are working to move to a better congregate sheltering system, but the success of these shelters depends on reliable water and power. We are working together with the Public School System (PSS) that is leading sheltering efforts, the Government of CNMI, the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, FEMA, and more. PSS has dedicated three schools to be congregate shelters. The school system also has conex containers that it is using to hold furniture and schools supplies in (with support from the Department of Corrections and the Department of Defense) to free up every classroom and common space for sheltering. The Red Cross is supporting the PSS in this effort with our subject matter expertise, workforce and supplies. This is going to require moving people from the south side of the island to the north. Thankfully, the Commonwealth Transit Authority has set up a bussing plan that travels to the villages every two hours.

Living Conditions Outside of Shelters

A big concern is the people living outside of shelters. Many are choosing to stay in severely damaged or destroyed homes. As I mentioned earlier, most homes do not have running water and even when electricity is restored to the poles, it will not be restored to homes. Some families are congregating in homes that don’t have as much damage and eating rations.

Delivering Water Where it is Needed

Water is also a big concern. Many people either lost their cars, are not able to carry five jugs of water or are afraid to leave their homes to go to a communal area to get water. Service members from Joint Region Marianas, a military installation here, have been moving water from Anderson Air Force Base to Saipan and Tinian. On Saturday, we partnered with the Department of Defense to deliver drinking water to the villages.

The federal government and CNMI government are also working to set up water bladders with water from wells and the USS Ashland, a ship that desalinates water while traveling from Guam to Saipan. The Red Cross ordered water purification buckets right after the storm that will be delivered to the islands and distributed.

The Red Cross Will Be There Every Step of the Way

Our own Red Cross chapter building here on Saipan is running out of water (we are also on water delivery). The building is an old WWII Bunker that suffered damage during the storm. Our generator is chugging along, but we often don’t have enough fuel for it.

Although there’s a long road ahead, I have hope. And I know that the Red Cross will be there every step of the way to help those affected by the storm.

The post A Red Crosser Shares Her Experience After Super Typhoon Yutu appeared first on red cross chat.

Native American History Month: Meet Chele Rider

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 05:58

This Native American History Month, we’re highlighting those who play a pivotal role in helping the American Red Cross accomplish its humanitarian mission every day in tribal communities across the country. This week, we’d like to highlight Chele Rider, Red Cross Division Disaster State Relations Director in the Southwest and Rocky Mountain division. Here is a conversation we had with her around Native American History Month and our work with tribal communities.

Chele (left) with Mark Ford (right), Director of Major Gifts and Partnerships for the Partnership with Native Americans.  What is your role at the Red Cross?

Currently, I am a Division Disaster State Relations Director (DDSRD) in the Southwest and Rocky Mountain Division. I’ve also acted as the Tribal Relations Lead for the Red Cross for the past four and a half years. As the Tribal lead, I manage National Tribal Emergency Management partnerships with groups such as FEMA Tribal Affairs, Partnership with Native Americans, Homeland Security and the Department of the Interior Tribal Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Congress of American Indians, among others. I am also a very proud member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

In your role, how do you work with the Native American community?

As a tribal subject matter expert, I brief tribes across the country on Red Cross services and train internal and external groups on cultural sensitivity and best practices. In the past three years, I have briefed and/or trained 2,000 volunteers, staff, partners and tribes.

Locally, in my jurisdiction, I have either led or been a part of long-term recovery efforts with tribes on projects such as the Home Fire Campaign where we sought to install 10,000 smoke alarms in tribal homes in Oklahoma (my home state). I’ve also worked with tribes on preparedness, response and recovery efforts across the state. Additionally, I’ve partnered with tribal organizations across the country during national events such as the 2017 and 2018 hurricane season and the California wildfires. My goal is always to connect tribes to the services they need, which is definitely a team effort.

In your experience, what are some of the challenges that Native Americans face during disasters?

Like other remote communities, the most common challenges are limited access and resources. What is different is the required planning and the sovereignty of the tribe or nation as an independent and self-sustaining government and culture. Planning takes a little longer just due to the cultural structure and hierarchy of tribes. The respect of land, life, culture and sovereignty weigh heavily in even the tiniest of decisions. Every tribe has a slightly different culture – some are matriarchal, some patriarchal, some are very traditional and self-contained and others are less contained. Some tribes have a contiguous land base and others are non-contiguous and woven into existing counties. All of these variables make partnering a little more challenging, but I can also say that it would be hard to find better partners anywhere else. In my experience, tribes are among the first to step up to offer assistance to others, hands down.

What is one of your most memorable experiences from working with the tribes in your region?

I have been blessed to have many unbelievable experiences. Some of these experiences include building out a Recovery Resource Mapping program, being welcomed into the homes of new friends, and making a connection with a response or local staff member who helps a family find the path to the new normal. But, I would have to say one of the most memorable was last December in the Bayou of Louisiana with the United Houma Nation. This Nation is not federally recognized and as such, is not eligible to receive any Federal funding for programs. So this Nation has to rely heavily on partnerships.

I spent a week in the Bayou collaborating with partner agencies and the tribe around hurricane and local evacuation planning. And over the course of the week, we laughed and planned as the Council recounted stories of Katrina. Somewhere along the way, we had all become friends, real-life friends.  We stayed over the weekend and joined Chief Dardar for Indian Santa where they handed out toys to kids all over the Bayou and attended a little Fais Do-Do, or a dance party in the Bayou. I even got to take home some homemade gumbo. Since then we have completed the second phase of planning, and I am returning this December to finish the third phase as a collaboration between local Red Cross staff and the tribe. I’m going to bring back some more gumbo.

What are a few things that you’ve learned while working with these tribes?

I have insight into not only my own culture but different cultures from across the country in different geographies. One thing I have witnessed in every tribe, and personally believe, is that as different as we all look or whatever our experience or background, we are all a part of the circle of life.

We are more alike than we are different and that ultimately, we are all one working toward the betterment of our home, community and world. You will not find more beautiful open hearts anywhere. This I know to be absolutely true.

How do you see our work with the tribes expanding in the future?

We hope to expand some grant funding asks in Oklahoma to include more tribes from the Central U.S. in a Tribal Emergency Management Summit next summer. I would like to find a way to expand our reach in partnership with tribes and open more doors for the partnerships I have been privileged to be a part of over the past years.

Chele visiting the Hoopa Valley Tribe in California to learn about the Tribal AmeriCorps Program to bring back to other tribes.

Chele visiting the Hoopa Valley Tribe in California to learn about the Tribal AmeriCorps Program to bring back to other tribes.

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Red Cross Volunteers Helping Pets After Hurricane Michael

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 08:04
Two Cats Find a New Home

American Red Cross disaster responders are humanitarians, but their compassion isn’t limited to humans. Volunteer Shanda Scott was assessing the damage to homes in the North Springfield neighborhood of Panama City Beach, FL, when she heard what sounded like animals crying. As she investigated, she spotted two cats leaning out of the broken window of a home.

A neighbor told Scott the residents had evacuated 10 days earlier, before Hurricane Michael hit, and had not returned. Scott reached in and pulled the cats to safety.

“Whether it’s people or animals, I feel I just had to do something to help,” she said. “You could tell they were hungry – they were meowing so loudly.”

When she was unable to reach an animal shelter, Scott decided to take the cats to a local resident she knew who was caring for abandoned dogs and cats.

Scott drove the furry storm victims to Jessica Manson’s house; the two met the previous day when Scott was doing damage assessment on nearby Powell Avenue. When she recounted the cats’ sad tale, Manson replied, “Sure, I’ll take them in. We’re animal lovers. If we see an animal that’s hurt or struggling, we take care of them.”

A Lost Pup is Reunited with His Family

Judy Correnti and Rebecca Cohn, two members of the Red Cross Reunification Team, found a lost dog in the parking lot of a restaurant in Panama City Beach, FL, around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21. The dog was clearly lost, wearing only a red harness and a partial black leash.

The team called the dog over to him and they quickly became friends. Together with an officer they flagged down from the Panama City Police Department, the team found him a safe place to stay for the night with the officer’s mother. They decided to call him “Michael.”

The next morning, they found a post on social media from a family looking for their puppy. The family had moved from Pennsylvania to Panama City only eight weeks ago and had lost hope that the dog would ever find his way home. The team then reached out to the family and arranged to meet with them.

Today the team is elated to report that “Rocco” is now at home with his family, safe and sound.

“Thank you so much, you guys are truly amazing. Finding our Baby Rocco, my kids are so overwhelmed with joy for bringing their brother pup back home.”

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Cartoonists Draw Blood: A Treat for Patients in Need

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 06:56

This October the Cartoonists Draw Blood have partnered with the American Red Cross again to host a blood drive in Washington, D.C. The organization, founded in 2013, has found a novel way to combine its desire to serve the community with its members’ creative abilities. Since their first drive, the Cartoonists have expanded their activities to include publishing two comic books titled “Trick or Treat” and “Monsters,” exhibiting their work and encouraging blood donation. Ten percent of the proceeds are donated to the Red Cross.

Carolyn Belefski, who started Cartoonists Draw Blood says hosting blood drives is their way of giving back to the community. “We are cartoonists, not doctors, we can find a way to make someone laugh and have good time,” said Belefski. “This is our way of contributing our talents to a good cause and connecting with an audience.”

This year the National Cartoonists Society Manhattan chapter will be hosting their first “Cartoonist Draw Blood” event.

Become a blood drive sponsor

Every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood. Over the past two months severe weather disasters have led to the cancellation of many blood drives, causing hundreds of thousands of units of blood to go uncollected.

The Red Cross is urging organizations, companies and individuals to host a blood drive in December, January or February to help rebuild the national blood inventory and prevent shortages this winter. Groups of all sizes are needed. Learn more & sign up at

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Red Cross Helps Family of Seven in Georgia after Hurricane Michael

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 06:54

In early October 2018, the Summers Family packed up their life in Lancaster, OH, and moved to Georgia—to make a fresh start. Lloyd Summers had landed a job near Thomasville, GA, and the five children were set to begin school in their brand new state. What they didn’t plan for was already looming in the Gulf of Mexico—a strong Category 4 hurricane.

“We are just happy to have our lives and each other,” said Trista Summers, after Hurricane Michael sliced through Southwest and Central Georgia. Trista and her family survived the third strongest hurricane to make landfall in U.S. history. But sadly, the only home they had ever known in Georgia, an RV, did not.

Thankfully, Red Cross disaster workers were able to step in to help.

Trista Summers pictured with her five children and Red Cross volunteer Romanita Santiago at the New Covenant Church in Thomasville, GA.

After a tree toppled over during Hurricane Michael and all but crushed their RV, the New Covenant Church in Thomasville became the Summers’ new home. And while government organizations began the process of assessing damage – the first step toward helping the Summers Family get back on their feet – the Red Cross ensured each family member had a safe place to stay, warm meals to eat, emergency comfort items and perhaps most importantly, the sturdy shoulders, kind hearts and patient ears of Red Cross volunteers.

One of these Red Cross disaster workers was South Georgia Disaster Program Manager, Jack Looney, who recently received a text from Trista on behalf of her entire family. It stated, “Thank you guys so much for everything. We are eternally grateful, and you’ll forever be in our hearts. To Jack: “I’ve never had anyone help me like [you did]. I was in shock. You guys helped us above and beyond!”

Within days of the storm passing through, the Summers children began attending school in Thomasville. But, their ability to stay enrolled, long-term, was up in the air—especially because almost two weeks after the storm a more permanent residence for the family of seven had yet to be secured.

That is until the Red Cross, FEMA and the Salvation Army teamed up to help. Now, with emergency assistance from the Red Cross, the Summers Family is out of the New Covenant Church shelter and in temporary lodging until additional funding comes through from FEMA to help cover the damage to their RV. Then, combined with resources provided by the Salvation Army, the Summers Family will be able to lease a home in Thomasville—and all five children will continue to attend their new schools, in Georgia.

“With the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael, no one organization can meet the huge number of disaster-caused needs alone,” says Virginia Mewborn, director of the Red Cross relief operation in Georgia. “We’re grateful for the support of the faith-based community and our emergency and government partners in helping the Summers family and so many others get back on their feet.”

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‘We’re Still on Our Honeymoon’: Follow this Couple’s Volunteer Journey to Hurricane Florence

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 07:37

After Hurricane Florence made landfall in the Carolinas on September 14, thousands of Red Cross disaster workers and volunteers left their family and friends to help those affected. Two of these disaster workers were Brenda and Peter Simmons, a married couple from Lynchburg, VA. Together they were volunteering at a Red Cross warehouse in Wilmington, NC, where they were responsible for helping move supplies such as comfort and cleanup kits and for driving these supplies to affected areas.

Hurricane Florence was the fourth disaster they’d deployed to this year. They first deployed together during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, a year after they got married.

“We got married and then we signed up. We say we’re still on our honeymoon,” said Brenda.

And since then, they’ve deployed to disasters such as the Louisiana floods, Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma to help those in need. Although deploying for multiple disasters a year can take a toll, Brenda and Peter’s mutual passion for helping others and making a difference is what always gets them through.

“I enjoy being here. I don’t know what it is, but it just feels like you’re doing something,” said Peter.

Through the Red Cross, Brenda and Peter have been certified to work in Red Cross shelters, help feed communities and visit affected areas to see how much assistance is needed after a disaster. During Hurricane Florence they got the opportunity to work in a warehouse for the first time.

“I think what I like the most about the warehouse, that we’ve done for the past week, is the teamwork. The people that work together. As a team, you’re pushing a hand jack and somebody else jumps in front of you to help you, to guide you, to protect you and to be your safety man. And everybody’s looking out for each other. The teamwork is what I really, really enjoy,” said Brenda.

The couple’s background in service also contributes to their passion and work ethic. Brenda and Peter are both CPR instructors and Peter has been an EMT for his local rescue squad in Goode, VA for the last 15 years. Brenda also taught swimming lessons for the Red Cross for 25 years and has worked for a number of nonprofit organizations.

They wanted to volunteer with the Red Cross because it’s something they could do together as a couple to help people. It’s work that they can be proud of and they want to encourage others who may be interested in volunteering with the Red Cross to take that leap.

If you’d like to volunteer and feel good about volunteering, the Red Cross has a space for you,” said Peter.

Become a Volunteer

Volunteers like Brenda and Peter constitute about 90 percent of the American Red Cross workforce. They make it possible to respond to nearly 64,000 disasters every year, most of them being home and apartment fires. Become a volunteer to make a difference in your community and across the country. Find out how here.

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Hosting Blood Drives to Help Hospital Patients

Mon, 10/22/2018 - 07:36

The season of giving is just around the corner, but for patients who depend on lifesaving blood donations, it is vital that people roll up a sleeve and give blood all year-round. By hosting blood drives, the St. John Neuman Church of Canton Township, Mich., has helped patients in need for the last 25 years. And their dedication is truly an inspiration to us all.

Faith in Action

This summer the church participated in the American Red Cross Community of Giving Program, which provides a unique opportunity for faith-based groups to serve those in need by hosting Red Cross blood drives. During the program, St. John Neuman Church topped the nationwide leaderboard, collecting 143 pints of blood during a Community of Giving blood drive on July 29.

“I encourage others to consider organizing blood drives,” said Ginny Springer, coordinator of the St. John Neumann blood drive. “By providing the opportunity for donors, you can make the day of complete strangers who will be forever grateful for your efforts.”

Become a blood drive sponsor

The Red Cross encourages community organizations, businesses and other groups to host a blood drive with the Red Cross in December, January or February to help prevent blood shortages this winter. Groups of all sizes are needed. You can learn more and sign up to host a blood drive at

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How Disasters Affect the Blood Supply for Patients in Need

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 08:29

When people hear there is a need for blood following a disaster, many think of disaster victims and serious injuries. Yet, hurricanes like that we recently experienced with Hurricane Michael and Florence have relatively few people injured by the storm, causing some to wonder why there is an increased need for blood donations.

Why Hurricanes Hurt Blood Donations

Disasters like hurricanes often force the cancellation of many blood drives across a large geographic area, causing hundreds to thousands of units of blood to go uncollected. In fact, this fall, Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence have forced the cancellation of about 250 blood drives, causing nearly 7,500 units of blood and platelets to go uncollected in the Southeast.

Low donor turnout also occurs in these affected areas as communities recover from storm damage. Power outages, residual floodwaters and other infrastructure challenges can hamper the ability of community organizations to host blood drives and individuals to attend blood drives.

Despite severe weather, the need for blood is constant. Blood can take up to three days to be tested, processed and made available for patients, so even a few days of disruption can affect patient care. Blood donations also cannot be stockpiled; red blood cells must be transfused within 42 days of donation and platelets within just five days.

Each blood donor and every blood drive matters for patients who are depending on these lifesaving donations.

When Blood Supplies Dwindle

This past summer, the Red Cross shared the story of a remarkable young girl named Tymia McCullough who relies on blood donations to help battle sickle cell disease and stay healthy.

Unfortunately, as Hurricane Florence barreled toward the coast, Tymia and her family needed to evacuate their home in South Carolina. At a nearby shelter, Tymia experienced a painful sickle cell crisis and was transported by ambulance to a local hospital. She was then transported to another hospital where she waited ten, long hours for that hospital to locate the blood Tymia needed for her treatment.

Thankfully, Tymia is doing better today. Yet her experience illustrates the ongoing need for blood, and at times, the frightening reality patients face during disasters when needed blood supplies become critically low.

How to Help Patients

Right now, the Red Cross is asking eligible individuals to make an appointment today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

With the ability to move blood across the country, Red Cross blood donations will become part of our national blood inventory, helping to ensure we can help meet patient needs that arise wherever and whenever blood is needed most. Accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease all count on blood donations to battle illness and injury.

Who Can Donate Blood

Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in.

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Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Celena Roldan

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 11:50

This Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re highlighting Hispanic men and women who play a pivotal role in helping the American Red Cross accomplish its humanitarian mission every day. This week, we’d like to highlight Celena Roldan, CEO of the Red Cross Chicago and Northern Illinois Region. Here is a conversation we had with her around Hispanic Heritage Month and the importance of giving back.

Celena speaking at a Red Cross Sound the Alarm press event. Why is your Hispanic heritage important to you?

My grandparents on both my mother’s and father’s side were born in Puerto Rico. They came to the United States with limited education but had an incredible work ethic and a love for family and community. It was not always easy for them, but I am incredibly proud of the life my family has built here and how much they have contributed. To me, my heritage is about being together as a family, eating the food and dancing salsa, learning our history and knowing what it means to be Puerto Rican. Everyone’s unique heritage is what diversity is built upon. Understanding the traditions and culture that shape you is very important to me and is, in part, what makes me unique.

Why do you believe Hispanic Heritage Month is important?

I appreciate that Hispanic Heritage Month is a time when the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans are recognized. When we are able to celebrate Hispanic heritage and the accomplishments of Latinos, other Latinos have something to celebrate within themselves. Still today, I hear from Latina women that they did not know a Latina could be a CEO and that they have not seen a Latina in a position of influence. The next generation needs to see Latinas and know about their accomplishments so they know they can accomplish anything. Everyone benefits from learning and celebrating what makes each of us different.

How does your background influence your work with the Red Cross?

Every day, my work at the Red Cross is influenced by those around me – the clients we serve, the volunteers and the staff that supports me. During my first year at the Red Cross I started the Latino Engagement Outreach team with my colleague from Los Angeles, Jarett Barrios. This team was vital during the floods in Louisiana and then later during Hurricane Harvey when there was a great need to communicate with vulnerable communities. It was important to reach these communities and speak their language where they live. Sometimes in these communities, people think the Red Cross is a government organization. It was our goal to break down these barriers and misconceptions to reach people with humanitarian assistance.

What special point of view has your Hispanic heritage given you?

Last year, I deployed to Puerto Rico with my mother, who is a bilingual psychotherapist, after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Together, we went out into the community to offer assistance. She offered disaster mental health counseling to many on the island, and I worked in community partnerships to provide linkages to critical services. I also had the opportunity to go out with one of the outreach teams distributing water filters to help the community get clean, drinking water. I never thought I would be in Puerto Rico on a megaphone offering clean water. This experience deeply impacted me and reinforced the love I have for my culture and my people. It was tragic to see the impact of Hurricane Maria on my Puerto Rico. Seeing the island that I loved and grew up visiting, devastated, was very difficult.

Celena with her mother – Ida Roldan as they deployed to Puerto Rico together post Hurricane Maria. How and why did you get involved with the Red Cross?

I have spent 20 years working at nonprofit organizations focused on serving the most vulnerable populations. When I read the mission of the Red Cross, to “alleviate human suffering,” I was inspired.  Then when I learned that the Red Cross is comprised of 90% volunteers, I knew I had to be part of an organization that could mobilize and execute its mission simply because of its massive volunteer base. These two things made me want to join the Chicago & Northern Illinois team.

Who are your role models?

While I know this is the case for many other people, for me it was certainly my parents. I grew up seeing my parents, who both came from very humble beginnings, live their lives with servant hearts. My father was the first employee of what became one of the largest organizations in the Midwest providing affordable housing to families in need of a home. My mother is a bilingual psychotherapist who has been a champion providing critical mental health support in diverse communities. Both encouraged me to go my own path and find my way to serve. They told me the road would often be challenging and that seeing the vulnerability and suffering in human kind can be heartbreaking. But when you are able to join with others to help support a person, a child, or a community, you are doing what we were put on this earth to do.

What does it mean for you to give back?

I grew up seeing and hearing my parents not only work with communities but work in communities.  I am so grateful to have had incredible access to many things individuals in vulnerable communities do not have and for this reason I want to do what I can to help change access to services, education, and opportunities. We also need to remember that the individuals and communities we work with have great strengths. They have educators, organizers and businesses that know what their communities need. Giving back means working with and in these communities, partnering together to create change.

Celena in Chicago with one of our Disaster response teams. What is one thing you’d tell your 20-year old self?

Helping others is my life’s work. It’s the old adage that applies – “when you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” When I was 20, I was not imminently sure of my path, but I found it. I tell young women, very much like me, who are trying to find their path or their career to talk to others in various careers and determine what lights them up. What makes them happy. I learned early on that social work and helping others was my life’s calling. I speak with many young people regularly, and I am so excited because this next generation is going to do wonders for the world! They want to help, they want to serve, they want “to be the change they want to see in the world,” as Mahatma Ghandi so eloquently said.

How would you encourage others to get involved with the Red Cross or in their communities?

We live in a complicated society. Every day there are children going to school hungry, veterans who have served our country living on the streets, women who are bruised and battered on the inside and out. Many see them and walk by. I believe true empowerment is helping every person to be seen and heard. This is what motivates me and my desire for dignity and respect for every person. My goal at the Chicago and Northern Illinois Red Cross is to inspire that next generation of leaders to join me on this journey that is simultaneously difficult and empowering. I want them to know that there are so many ways you can help, through supporting our veterans, setting up a blood drive, or going out to a home fire. Our mission to prevent and alleviate suffering in the face of emergencies is what makes the Red Cross special. And I continuously tell people that if you want to really understand the Red Cross, then join us in putting on a Red vest to support people when they need us most.

What is your proudest life achievement?

I have a 14-year-old son, Joseph, and he has made me a very proud single mom. He is an incredible soccer player and a great student. Last year, I spent 20 days away from my son during two different deployments, first to Houston and then Puerto Rico. It was very difficult to be away from him, as is the case for so many of our volunteers who have to be away from their families. But I am so proud of the fact that he knows now what it means to be a Red Crosser. He sent me an email recently that said, “I’m so proud to be your son and to see you doing all this great work for many people, trying to help out as much as possible, and it is the best thing to show your son.” He knows, just like the families of so many of our volunteers, that he is helping by letting me go and help. I could not be prouder to know that he is becoming a citizen of the world with a servant’s heart and that he will go on to help others.

Celena and volunteers and city, community and civic speakers at our Sound the Alarm launch event in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.

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