Heartbreaking disaster, extraordinary response

The following account of a Red Cross response to a fatal home fire was written by Tom Revolinsky, disaster program manager for the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio.

Tom Revolinsky

The fire occurred on January 24, 2021 on West 47th Place in Cleveland. The fire affected the house next door as well.   The Red Cross provided assistance to both families affected by the fire. 

Here is news coverage from Fox 8 showing three law enforcement officers rescuing the client and his mother from the fire.  

A mother and her adult son were admitted to the MetroHealth Burn Unit.  Dave Huey (Red Cross volunteer) did a remarkable job being in contact with the nurses at the burn unit as the son underwent multiple surgeries and was not in suitable condition to be interviewed. 

We did the initial intake on February 12th.   During that time, his mother died because of the injuries during the fire.    

At the son’s request we contacted Busch Funeral Home and with the help of the MetroHealth Social Worker all the necessary paperwork was completed.   We also worked with a social worker from Holy Family to deliver the financial assistance and pay for the funeral.    The son is extremely grateful that the Red Cross lifted this burden from him (his words). 

During the intake process we determined that the son lost his glasses during the fire.    We were able to locate a Walmart where he had recently gotten a new pair of glasses and ordered the same replacement glasses, paid for by the Red Cross at no cost.  (Senior Regional Disaster Program Manager) Renee Palagyi’s son in-law, who works at MetroHealth, was able to pick up the glasses and deliver them to the son (note:  because of Covid it is difficult to get into hospitals).   He has been released from the hospital in currently in rehab.   He is extremely grateful that he can now watch TV and read as he tries to recover and resume a normal life.     

He is a remarkable man as he was always had a positive outlook. We had some great conversations each time we spoke. 

He is extremely grateful to the Red Cross and wants to visit the Chapter office and meet everyone once he is able.   I would like to thank the following team members for their assistance in this case:   Regional Disaster Officer Tim O’Toole, Senior Regional Disaster Program Manager Renee Palagyi, Regional Recovery Manager Barb Thomas,  Disaster Program Specialist Jessi Graber, and disaster action team members (volunteers) Deb Ziss and Dave Huey. 

The ‘hows’ of financial contributions: Your questions answered

Giving Day is Wednesday, March 24

By: Sam Pudelski, American Red Cross Volunteer

Donating when you are able to can be a wonderful way to give back to your community and help those who are in need. There are many ways you can support and give to the American Red Cross, including providing a financial gift.

You may be asking yourself: How is my donation used? How much of it is used? How can I donate? All of these are great questions, and ones you should ask before donating to any cause, charity or organization. For those who have questions about the Red Cross, we are providing the answers to some of these common questions about financial contributions.

How much of my donation goes to the Red Cross?

An average of 90 cents of every dollar we receive is invested in delivering care and comfort to those in need.

How is my donation used by the Red Cross?

With the generous support of our donors, we help millions of people each year. Financial donations help to support our programs like disaster relief, blood drives, our Home Fire Campaign, training classes, services to the armed forces and more. Learn more about the work we do here in Northern Ohio.

How can I donate?

If you are looking to give a financial donation to the Red Cross, there are many ways you can donate:

  • Make a donation online
  • Send a donation by mail
  • Donate over the phone
  • Text to donate $10
  • Alexa Donations with Amazon Pay
  • Donate stock, your car, hotel points or airline miles
  • Give in tribute to someone
  • Give monthly

If you want your donation to go even further, ask your employer if they would sponsor a matching program for employees. In a matching program, your donation is matched by the organization or individual that is sponsoring the program.

There are many ways you can give back and support the Red Cross’ mission. We encourage you to learn more about our mission and our work, and if you are able to do so, consider donating this coming Giving Day on March 24—or any day. For details on how to donate or to make a secure donation online, click here.

We thank you for your support!

Edited by: Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer

When the world stopped, the Red Cross didn’t

Reflections on the response to the pandemic on the one-year anniversary

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

March 2020 would prove to be one of my most memorable volunteer months with the American Red Cross. Within weeks, the world began to see signs like this everywhere.

Everywhere, except at the Red Cross.

Let’s go back to March 1, 2020. This was the day the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the United States, in New York. By then, we had heard about the 400 Americans trapped on a ship in Japan, but we didn’t really consider that the virus was a U.S. problem at the time.

Two days later, everyone forgot about that story when multiple tornadoes ripped through central Tennessee, killing at least 25 people. I recall getting the call that morning and leaving immediately for Nashville to cover the details of the cleanup effort, the sheltering and feeding of hundreds of now homeless people and the mobilization of hundreds of truckloads of supplies.

As I drove home on March 10, New York Governor Cuomo had called on the National Guard to stop traffic around New Rochelle, where 108 cases had been discovered. COVID-19 was now a United States problem.

Just one day later, March 11, the WHO (World Health Organization) would declare this to be an official pandemic with more than 120,000 cases worldwide. That started a landslide of events, and before day’s end:

  • The NBA suspended the 2019-20 season until further notice
  • The NHL paused its 2019-20 season
  • The Dow Jones Industrial 30-day average plunged 20%, ending an 11-year bull market

But what didn’t come crashing to a stop…the Red Cross. 

That same day, President of the American Red Cross Gail McGovern, issued a long memo to all Red Cross volunteers.

In it, she detailed how we would be making all sorts of changes to our day-to-day operations, but what would not change, was our mission to deliver services to those in need.

Blood drives needed to be rescheduled as many businesses closed down, but the need for blood didn’t slow down. By finding larger venues where people could be scheduled and kept socially distanced, the flow of blood continued.

Fires and disasters didn’t stop, but our Humanitarian Services division devised new ways to house people in motels instead of congregate shelters, and our Disaster Action Teams learned to respond virtually using electronic funds transfers to get money quickly into the hands of those left homeless from fires and floods. 

As the rest of the world came to a virtual standstill one year ago today, the Red Cross quickly pivoted to maintain our services to those most in need. If you’d like to help, consider becoming a volunteer or make a contribution to the Red Cross to support our ongoing mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. 

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross Volunteer

International Hugging Day has new meaning this year

By Renee Palagyi, senior program manager, Disaster Cycle Services

January 21, 2021- January 21 is International Hugging Day. Many times I have said, “Wow, there’s a day for EVERYTHING!” Some trite, some powerful but all get recognition. This year, a day devoted to a simple gesture has taken on a whole new meaning.

No words required, a hug is filled with compassion, caring and empathy. It expresses an understanding far beyond language.

September 17, 2020. Salem, Oregon. American Red Cross volunteer Leslie Sierra delivers a comfort kit to Juanita Ann Hamann who is staying in a Red Cross hotel shelter. Ms. Hamann says, “My time at the Red Cross shelter has been wonderful. It feels like being adopted by a guardian angel.” Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Are you a person who gives a hug or are you more comfortable with a handshake or maybe even just a nod and a smile? Did you know that a hug can actually boost the hormone oxytocin? Sounds mysterious but the release of that soothing chemical helps us feel safe, boosts our immune system and lowers our stress levels. Studies have shown that a 20-second hug reduced blood pressure and heart rate for a full day! Makes you want to give a hug, doesn’t it?

For nearly a year, the pandemic has placed a barrier on this healing act for all but our immediate “bubble.” Those of us who work in Disaster Cycle Services for the American Red Cross have seen firsthand the power of the hug for many years, and we have been missing it over these past many months.

September 18, 2020. Gates, Oregon. American Red Cross volunteer Eric Carmichael talks with Sabrina Kent whose home was totally consumed by the wildfires. Sabrina has come to look at the remains of her home after the Oregon wildfires. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Meeting those families after a devastating fire and standing six feet away has been painful. We want so badly to reach out to them, to let them “hold on” for a few precious moments, to allow them to know the comfort and care that only a hug can provide. At both sides of that invisible six-foot line are human beings who know and want the power of human touch.

We all look forward to the day when we can safely offer true comfort, a gentle hug, to people who’ve experienced a disaster and who need our help.  

September 21, 2020. Pensacola, Florida. J.R., a photographer from Alabama had just moved to Pensacola, Florida, so Hurricane Sally was his first hurricane experience. “The water was up to my knees.” He currently has a tree up against the side of his house that threatens to break through the window if he can’t get it removed. Photo by Jaka Vinek/American Red Cross

For more information about the Red Cross’ Disaster Relief and Recovery services, click here. If you are interested in helping families and offering support to individuals who have experienced a disaster, explore the volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross’ Northern Ohio Region. Check out the opportunities here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

FirstEnergy Foundation becomes Red Cross Disaster Responder partner

$250,000 donation to help prepare for, respond to future disasters

The American Red Cross is recognizing Akron-based FirstEnergy Foundation for supporting Red Cross Disaster Relief through the Disaster Responder Program with an annual pledge of $250,000. Thanks to contributions in advance of disasters, the Red Cross is prepared to help meet the needs of people affected by disasters big and small, anytime and anywhere across the U.S.

The gift was presented this week during a virtual check presentation.

Disaster Responder members—along with their employees and customers—pledge financial and in-kind donations in advance of disasters, powering the Red Cross with strong infrastructure, trained volunteers, innovative technology and critical resources necessary to provide relief and support to those in crisis. These annual contributions allow the Red Cross to respond whenever and wherever disasters occur, help families during the recovery process and prepare people for future emergencies.

Jill Patterson, Red Cross philanthropy officer (top), Ed Shuttleworth, regional president, Ohio Edison, Rachel Telegdy, executive director, American Red Cross of Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley, and Lorna Wisham, President, FirstEnergy Foundation

“Every day in the face of disasters, the generosity of Disaster Responder members like FirstEnergy Foundation ensures the Red Cross can provide comfort and care to people in their darkest hours,” said Michelle Polinko, regional chief development officer at the American Red Cross of Northern Ohio. “We are extremely grateful for these contributions before disasters strike because it enables us to respond to disasters immediately and compassionately, when help and hope are needed most.”

While large disasters like hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires typically draw national attention, each year, the Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 disasters across the country—the majority of which are home fires. Generous contributions from Disaster Responder members enable the Red Cross to provide services to people in need of assistance at no cost and regardless of income.

Generous contributions from Disaster Responder members enable the Red Cross to provide services to people in need of assistance at no cost and regardless of income.

And thanks to Disaster Responder members, Red Cross volunteers are also in their local communities every day, conducting disaster preparedness presentations virtually and giving people the reassurance and confidence to face crises of all kinds.

Other Northern Ohio members of the Disaster Responder program include the Marathon Petroleum Foundation, Inc. and the J. M. Smucker Company.

Individuals can help people affected by disasters big and small by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Donations to Disaster Relief enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-REDCROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Red Cross disaster workers ring in new year helping others

By Eric Alves, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

January 4, 2021- While many in Northern Ohio were celebrating the ushering in of 2021, and the Cleveland Browns returning to the NFL playoffs, disaster workers from the American Red Cross were active during the holiday weekend helping neighbors in need.

Despite the cold temperatures and the constant uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Disaster Action Team (DAT) members took time out of their New Year’s celebrations this weekend (December 31-January 3) to virtually and socially distant respond to 16 incidents in Cuyahoga, Erie, Lake, Lorain, Lucas, Mahoning, Medina, Summit and Trumbull counties and assisted 51 individuals. In addition, the Red Cross provided the residents with more than $11,000 in financial assistance for immediate needs such as lodging, clothing and food.

“If it was not for the dedication and selflessness of our DAT members, we would not be able to fulfill the Red Cross’ mission,” said Renee Palagyi, senior disaster program manager. “Despite the pandemic, they continue to put weekends and holiday celebrations on hold to help a neighbor in need. The Red Cross of Northern Ohio is constantly grateful for our DAT members and everything they do.”

To date this year, the Red Cross of Northern Ohio has assisted 1,410 adults, 807 children and has provided more than $455,000 in immediate financial assistance.

Additional volunteers are needed to train for disaster responses, specifically to respond to home fires locally. People in good health and who are willing and able to receive free Red Cross training can visit www.redcross.org/volunteertoday, or can call 1-800-RED CROSS.

The number one priority of the Red Cross is the health and safety of our employees, volunteers, blood donors and recipients, and the people we serve, and we have implemented several measures, in accordance with CDC guidelines, to protect our workers and those who need our assistance.

If you are unable to volunteer but you would like to support the Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts, donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

As the largest humanitarian organization in the world, the Red Cross has the ability to use your donation to reach more people in need, more quickly. Your donation to the Red Cross helps provide food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support, recovery planning and other assistance during disasters.

Any amount donated truly helps with their recovery.

Consider resolving to volunteer in the new year

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer 

January 1, 2021- I first stepped into the American Red Cross’ Cleveland office three years ago on a frigid, vibrant January morning. A few weeks earlier, I had resolved to do more to help others, to take part in making the world a bit better. Since then, I have taken on various volunteer roles, each of which has been challenging and exceptionally rewarding. I have gotten to see the relief and hope on people’s faces when assisting after a disaster, had the honor of sharing extraordinary life stories on this blog, assisted first responders during major events, and have seen communities pull together to donate blood or begin to move on after a disaster. I have also seen the incredible levels of dedication and caring from Red Cross staff and fellow volunteers. Through it all, I have learned a great deal about myself, our community and humanity.  

As you consider your New Year’s resolutions, please consider volunteering with the Red Cross. While there are several opportunities, depending on your skills and interest, below are brief overviews of needed roles in the Northern Ohio region: 

Disaster Response

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Disaster Action Team (DAT), several positions are available. To give a sense of DAT’s vital importance, in 2020, members responded to nearly 1,200 events in Northern Ohio, most of them home fires, and provided more than $1 million dollars in financial assistance. Several DAT members also deployed nationally following major disasters. Several safeguards are in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, including responding virtually when possible. For more information, click here

Biomedical Services

There are several roles for those interested in helping the Red Cross collect and transport blood. In fiscal year 2020, the Northern Ohio Red Cross created 506,000 life-supporting blood products to help patients in 80 hospitals across Northern Ohio, all with COVID-19 safety protocols in place. Open volunteer roles include:

  • Blood Donor Ambassadors (must be at least 16 years of age) to assist during blood drives
  •  Blood Transportation Specialists to deliver blood products to processing labs and hospitals
  •  Blood Donor Transporters in Holmes and Wayne counties to drive donors to appointments

For details on Biomedical Services, visit redcrossblood.org

Services to the Armed Forces (SAF)

If you would like to help support those in the U.S. military, veterans, and their families, there are several opportunities. These include facilitator roles for mental health professionals as well as caseworker and other roles. In 2020, the SAF group completed 5,500 case services for military families and delivered “Get to Know Us” briefings to nearly 5,400 military members and their families before deploying from Northern Ohio. Many positions are currently operating virtually during the pandemic but will return to in person when possible. More information on how the Red Cross serves the military community is available here

If you are interested in these or other volunteer positions, visit this web page. More information on assistance provided in 2020 is available here. To read the national Red Cross “Resolve to Volunteer” press release, click here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Stuff happens…but the Red Cross still responds

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer 

December 11, 2020- Despite coronavirus, despite masks, despite quarantines, despite lockdowns, despite political controversy, despite all these things; one thing remained constant for the American Red Cross through most of 2020; the need to help others – which has always been the overall humanitarian effort for employees and volunteers based here in Northern Ohio.  

Disasters don’t take time off for COVID-19, so while the Red Cross has had to change methods, we still need to complete our mission.  Reviewing the numbers, it appears we have done just that.

Luckily, Northern Ohio was spared from the huge disasters that plagued the West Coast and the Gulf Coast. However, due to the size of the disasters and the fact that they lasted so long, more than 100 Northern Ohio (NOH) volunteers left the comfort of their homes and headed west to battle the wildfires, while others provided shelter and comfort to those affected by hurricanes Laura, Sally, Beta and Zeta; all the while keeping everyone safe from COVID-19. They were among almost 2,800 volunteers who served in the region in FY 2020. 

Here at home, Disaster Action Team members responded to nearly 1,200 local events – most of them home and apartment fires. More than a million dollars of financial aid was made immediately available to those who were experiencing possibly the worst days of their lives.

To help Ohioans save lives, a big part of Red Cross activities is teaching children and adults through community preparedness education.  In 2020, more than 10,500 people took part community wide. Age-appropriate disaster preparedness classes were offered to 4,441 3rd, 4th, and 5th-grade students.  

Being proactive, nearly 61,500 individuals completed potentially lifesaving classes from babysitting to lifeguarding, as well as CPR, first aid and the use of an AED.  

Our Service to the Armed Forces group completed 5,500 case services for military families and delivered “Get to Know Us” briefings to nearly 5,400 military members and their families before deploying from Northern Ohio. 

And if those numbers weren’t enough to impress, how about our Biomedical Services group which collected more than 168,700 units of blood in FY 2020 during hundreds of blood drives, using the best COVID protocols available.  

And from those donations, we’ve been able to create 506,000 life-supporting blood products to help patients in 80 hospitals across Northern Ohio.  In addition, we’ve recently been able to collect and distribute 40,000 convalescent plasma products. 

Nationally, the need is greater than ever, as shown on the graph above, and by some totals of our national response below. 

All these accomplishments are possible through the generous donation of time from our volunteers and the financial contributions of our generous donors.  If you’d like to be a part of this great humanitarian effort, consider volunteering or making a contribution before year end. 

Thanksgiving weekend disasters drive dozens from their homes

Red Cross workers kept busy during the holiday weekend

By Eric Alves, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

November 30, 2020- In between second helpings and Thanksgiving leftovers, disaster workers from the Northern Ohio Region were active this holiday weekend assisting residents following several local disasters.

During the long holiday weekend, the Red Cross of Northern Ohio provided comfort and support, both virtually and socially distant, to 70 individuals who experienced a home fire, and provided more than $14,000 in financial assistance to aid those affected with immediate needs, such as food, lodging and clothing.

In addition to the weekend disasters, the Red Cross continued to assist 80 residents, and provided shelter at two hotels for more than 60 of the residents, following an apartment fire last Monday at the Oblate Residences apartment complex in west Toledo

Red Cross disaster workers helping to provide meals to residents affected by the Oblate Residences fire

The residents were unable to be home for Thanksgiving due to the fire damaging the apartment building’s electrical system, and it could be several days before repairs are completed.

Partners like Mobile Meals of Toledo helped the Red Cross provide meals to the displaced residents.

Hotel rooms are being used, instead of more traditional congregate shelter space, to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  In addition, Red Cross workers are wearing face coverings and sanitizing their hands frequently, as well as adhering to social distancing guidelines.

For the fiscal year to date, the Red Cross of Northern Ohio has assisted 1,157 adults, 643 children and has provided more than $369,000 in immediate financial assistance.

As the largest humanitarian organization in the world, the Red Cross has the ability to use your donation to reach more people in need, more quickly. Your donation to the Red Cross helps provide food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support, recovery planning and other assistance during disasters.

To help the Red Cross provide hope and comfort to individuals following a disaster, please visit redcross.org/donate to provide a financial donation. Any amount donated truly helps with their recovery.

Disaster volunteers thankful to be able to answer the call for help with support of friends, family

By Mark Cline, American Red Cross disaster volunteer, Disaster Action Team Leader, Regional DAT Team Leader, DAT Duty Officer,  and National Shelter System Regional Lead 

November 25, 2020- This being the season of Thanksgiving, I would like to express my thanks not only to the volunteers I work with in the American Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services but to their families and friends, too. Volunteers do what we do because we’re driven to help people in need affected by disasters. But what I think many people don’t understand is that our volunteers couldn’t do the work they do without the support of their families and friends.

Mark Cline

There have been many times volunteers are called upon at family functions like birthday parties, anniversaries, holiday celebrations and even that long-needed quiet evening at home. My family has gotten used to me parking my car out on the street for easy access at family events. Then the phone rings and it’s a disaster call. Whether a home fire, flood, windstorm or some other disaster, the look on our volunteer’s face tells the story, they have to leave to help somebody experiencing a disaster. But they can only leave with the support of their families and friends. Knowing that when they get back, their family and friends will be waiting for them and giving them the support, our volunteers need to be able to respond to the next call.

I hope the families of our volunteers know that their family members who are out working a disaster scene realize that without their family’s support, the work they are doing would be so much harder. Our volunteers know that when somebody is affected by disaster, they need to respond. They don’t look outside to see if it’s warm or cold, dry or wet, daylight or nighttime, they know somebody needs the help that we can give them.  

To my family and friends, thank you for your support! Being an American Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services volunteer, I’ve seen and experienced a lot—hopefully things you’ll never have to experience. And with the help of my volunteer partners, we’ll be able to continue to help people in need during a disaster.

Mark Cline with fellow volunteer Bill Conley

If you want to help those in your community affected by a local disaster, visit redcross.org/volunteer to apply today.

I’m sending out Happy Thanksgiving wishes to all!

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer