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

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.

Northern Ohio disaster workers continue to deploy to several relief efforts

9 working virtually; 18 have physically deployed

By Eric Alves, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

September 14, 2020- With Hurricane Sally approaching the Gulf Coast and expected to make landfall on Tuesday, the American Red Cross continues to respond to the California and Oregon wildfires, as well as the Hurricane Laura relief efforts in Louisiana and Texas.

Currently from Northern Ohio, one disaster worker has deployed to California, while nine have deployed to help with the Oregon wildfires.

In addition, 17 workers are continuing to assist people affected by Hurricane Laura, including three responding in Texas and 14 in Louisiana.

Northern Ohio Region leadership members Mike Parks, CEO and Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer, are among the disaster workers assigned to assist with the disaster responses. Mike has deployed to the Hurricane Laura response, while Tim was assigned to respond to the wildfire in Oregon. Both are working virtually currently.

To date, as part of the Hurricane Laura and the west coast wildfires disaster relief efforts, the Red Cross has provided emergency lodging to more than 29,600 residents, and with the help of partners, the Red Cross has also served more than 769,000 meals and snacks and distributed more than 174,000 relief items.

September 13, 2020. Central Point, Oregon. Patty Albin of the American Red Cross checks on Travis Wagner as he rests at the Jackson County Expo and Fairgrounds shelter after fleeing the wildfires in Central Point, OR on Sunday, September 13, 2020. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Additional volunteers are needed to train for disaster responses, specifically to respond to home fires locally and to staff shelters during national disaster responses. Licensed health care professionals are also needed to help people in disaster shelters.

If you are in good health and you are willing and able to receive free Red Cross training and can deploy, you are invited to attend one of the upcoming virtual volunteer information session on Friday, September 18 or Saturday, September 19. Both sessions will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. For more information and to register, email Melanie Collins at melanie.collins4@redcross.org or call 330-204-6615.

August 31, 2020. Sulphur, Louisiana Pamela Harris of the American Red Cross looks out on damage caused by Hurricane Laura, in Sulphur, LA on Monday, August 31, 2020. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

If you are unable to deploy 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

Red Cross continues to provide comfort and support despite COVID-19

By Ben Bellucci, Disaster Program Manager, Greater Cleveland Chapter

March 27, 2020- A handshake, a comforting approach, and most of all, a relieving hug is what Red Cross disaster volunteers have ingrained in them from the moment they desire to give back to their communities. In an instant, that has all changed: COVID-19 has changed the way we interact with our community during their darkest hours – in a physical sense.

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Ben Bellucci

Disasters are taking place around our nation, as we are challenged with stopping the spread of COVID-19. Home fires are still taking place every day and are our number one disaster in Northeast Ohio. We as a team, with the direction of our leadership, have had to come up with new and inventive ways to deliver the much-needed assistance to those who have lost everything.

  • We have screening questions that we ask our clients before we respond, to protect our volunteers and our clients.
  • We can conduct interviews over the phone, to ensure that we have a timely response in order to meet their needs and get them assistance in the form of shelter, food, clothing, disaster health services or disaster mental health services.
  • We have the capability to conduct video interviews, so the client sees the smile, and the helping demeanor of our volunteers.
  • We have developed ways to deliver cards loaded with financial assistance to a location of the client’s choosing, always with the safety and health of our volunteer and clients at the forefront.
  • We also have volunteer caseworkers who will work with our clients on the phone to connect them with community partners.

We always talk about how we are honored to be in the position to facilitate a hug from members of our community, and volunteers play an integral part in our service delivery. We know that these are challenging times, and we know our community needs us to be there, now more than ever.

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Ben with his family at the Cleveland script sign at Edgewater Park

Because of social distancing, we can no longer give the physical hugs; however, we know you will feel the virtual hug from our community partners, our donors and, of course our volunteers.

We can’t wait for the days in which our physical hugs will return. Together, we will get through this!

If you are interested in volunteering and helping our community feel these virtual hugs, please click here.

If you are healthy and can donate blood, please visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-Red Cross (1-800-733-2767).

To learn more about the steps the Northeast Ohio Region is taking to protect disaster service team members and residents, listen to the latest episode of the Be A Hero podcast. Be A Hero can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and iHeartRadio Podcasts.

 

Red Cross assists residents in apartment fire as month comes to a close

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

February 4, 2020- As January was coming to a close, some in Northeast Ohio were completing end of the month paperwork at work, while others were preparing for the Super Bowl. However, for Red Cross disaster action team members, it was another day of assisting residents suffering from a disaster and helping them get through the worst days of their lives.

During the evening of January 31, an apartment building on Lake Ave. in Cleveland caught on fire, even requiring one residents to be rescued by ladder. As the Cleveland Fire Department was battling the fire, the American Red Cross assisted residents displaced from the four story building.

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The Red Cross assisted 14 residents from the Lake Ave. apartments and provided $1,750 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 in Northeast Ohio experiencing their darkest hours, please visit redcross.org/donate to provide a financial donation. Any amount donated truly helps with their recovery.

Lake Ave 2

If you are looking more for an opportunity to personally touch the lives of an individual suffering a local disaster and experiencing the worst day of their lives, you can become a disaster disaster services volunteer.

Volunteers are the face of the Red Cross. Without their tremendous and selfless dedication, we would not be able to serve the 22 counties and 4.5 million residents of Northeast Ohio.

Lake Ave 3

Visit redcross.org/volunteer  to submit a volunteer application.

To learn more about the role of a disaster action team member, attend one of our upcoming volunteer information sessions in Akron, Cleveland and East Liverpool.

Photo credit: WOIO Cleveland 19

 

Vermilion Volunteer is Happy to Help After Hurricane in Houston

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By Brad Galvan, American Red Cross Communications Volunteer

Paul Mueller is 83 years young. He helps when people need help. The people of Texas needed help. Helping makes him happy.

Paul got a call and packed his bags after Hurricane Harvey slammed into Houston, Texas. The call came from the American Red Cross, an organization that Paul has been volunteering for since 2001. Over the past 16 years, he has answered similar calls five times, supporting those affected on the west coast during wildfires, in the south for hurricanes and other natural disasters.

This one, the largest hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2005, created the need for Paul to help at a Red Cross food and supply distribution center on the outskirts of Houston. The former mechanical engineer and resident of Vermilion, Ohio, spent two weeks organizing and distributing food and water. He also served as a navigator from the passenger seat when trucking the supplies from the distribution center to residents in need.

 

 

Paul, a lifelong learner, took the opportunity to acquire a skill while in storm-ravaged Houston. He says he still needs a little work, but vows that he can handle maneuvering a forklift next time his phone rings, to assist in an American Red Cross supply distribution center!

Mr. Mueller reminds those who are on the fence about volunteering for the Red Cross that seeing the faces of those who are helped is worth it and then some. He said that the simple gesture of handing out bottles of water and donated non-perishable food items made him feel good inside.

Early September was a tough time for Texans, so Paul’s commitment to the Red Cross and his willingness to help strangers made a difference. He said he’ll be ready to serve again the next time the Red Cross calls on him following a disaster.

If you’d like to learn the skills necessary to help people affected by disasters, big and small, visit redcross.org/neo and click on the Volunteer tab.

 

Restoring Courage and Hope

Psychologist Volunteers to Help People During Their Darkest Hours

Kriss Wyant

By EILENE E. GUY
American Red Cross volunteer

CLEVELAND – “Volunteering with the American Red Cross in general, and for me in particular, represents a profound privilege.  It doesn’t take long to realize how close we all are to needing help,” says Kriss Wiant.

A psychologist by profession and a humanitarian by nature, Kriss finds valuable perspective and rich reward as a disaster mental health volunteer.

With more than 20 years of experience helping children, adults and families in conventional clinical settings, Kriss was looking for what he calls “innovative applications of psychology.” A chance encounter with a Red Cross Disaster Action Team member led him to join that group, responding to home fires, floods or tornadoes across the Greater Cleveland area.

“Connecting people with primary resources – food, shelter, essential medications – that goes a long way to helping people in their time of acute need,” he says.

Eventually, Kriss – who makes his home in Brecksville – decided to make himself available for deployment to larger-scale disasters beyond the Buckeye State.  Of the nine major relief operations he has traveled to, most have been related to tornadoes or hurricanes. Although working conditions can be challenging and stress levels high, Wiant knows how to make a difference.

“The unifying need among those traumatized by a disaster is the loss of courage, the loss of hope,” he says in the gentle, knowing tone of someone who understands trauma as both a doctor of psychology and a first-hand observer. “So what we do is restore courage, restore hope. Most of us can do that, even just by our presence.”

Kriss believes that even the untrained individual can offer psychological first aid. “You are standing on the shore for someone in the deep,” he says. “The only question is, how far can you wade in to reach that person.”

In the wake of a tragedy as dramatic as the May 2013 tornado that killed 24 people – including nine children – and caused an estimated $2 billion in property damage in Moore, Okla., Kriss was part of a large Red Cross mental health outreach to families of those who lost their lives or were seriously injured.

Some people, he found, had the emotional stamina to surround themselves with family, friends and faith; others he pointed toward local resources for longer-term professional support.

At the same time, he watches for signs of stress among the Red Cross responders who work long hours and interact with clients in often-devastating situations. He encourages workers to talk, to share their experiences. “That can be very therapeutic ,” he says.

Kriss is one of some 300 Red Cross disaster volunteers across the 22 counties of Northeast Ohio. Most respond to local disasters or participate in prevention activities such as Operation Save-a-Life, installing thousands of smoke alarms. Those with the time, training and experience can volunteer to respond farther from home.

In addition to his work helping people affected by disasters, Kriss provides Service to the Armed Forces.  In fact, he is one of 5 recipients of the Vega Award, given annually to individuals or groups that have performed outstanding service in a department/line of service for the Greater Cleveland Chapter.  Kriss was honored for his on-going support to the military community,  helping to develop Reconnection Workshop-type materials that have been used in two pilot projects with the Troop and Family Assistance Center, as well as with the Ohio Army National Guard Recruit Sustainment Program. The workshops aim to provide coping and reunification skills to family members of National Guard recruits who are preparing to leave for basic training or Advanced Individualized Training, as well as educate families on a board range of services within the military community and via the Red Cross.  In addition, Kriss makes follow up calls to those who have utilized the Red Cross Emergency Communication services, completes home visits to local veterans, and is a Reconnection Workshop Facilitator.

Other Vega Award winners, honored on Saturday, September 17, are Rita Szymczak, Mark Cline, Rhoda Seifert, and SAF Reconnetion Workshop Facilitators Tom Adams, Lynne Wiseman, Jackie Otte, and Kathy Parsons.

Visit the Greater Cleveland Chapter Facebook Page to see a photo gallery from the Volunteer Recognition Event.

To learn more about the wide variety of volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross – including Service to the Armed Forces, health and safety education, and blood services – visit www.redcross.org/neo and click on “volunteer.”

Remembering the Red Cross Role on 9/11

The attack on America 15 years ago, on 9/11, 2001 brought out the best in people.

“Within the first 48 hours, the Red Cross in Northeast Ohio had deployed emergency response vehicles and workers (most of them volunteers) to both New York and Pennsylvania,” according to Debbie Chitester, Disaster Program Manager for the Red Cross of Summit, Portage and Medina Counties.

Debbie went to New York with about two dozen other workers from Northeast Ohio. In this video, she recalls the role the Red Cross played in the days immediately after the attack at Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were brought down. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum now stands at the site.

“It’s still very emotional for me,” Debbie added, “especially at this time of year.”

Northeast Ohio Red Cross Workers were also deployed to Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after the passengers fought the terrorists who had hijacked the plane.  The role the Red Cross played is acknowledged at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, which is about a three and-a-half hour drive southeast of Cleveland.

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In 2009, Congress designated September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. In honor of the sacrifice so many made on that day, many people donate blood at one of the numerous Red Cross blood drives held across the country, not only on 9/11, but also on the days preceding and following the anniversary of the attack.

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If you feel so inclined to donate blood, in honor of those innocent Americans who lost their lives in the attacks 15 years ago,  you can find the blood drive nearest you at redcrossblood.org.

JOIN OUR TEAM: Red Cross Mobilizes Disaster Relief Efforts Coast-to-Coast

Did you realize that the Red Cross is supporting disasters from coast-to-coast? For nearly three weeks, thousands of Red Cross volunteers have been helping thousands of people affected by the devastating and historic flooding in Louisiana, meanwhile we prepared to respond to the multiple storms which threatened much of the East Coast and Hawaii.

 

Red Cross workers in Florida and Georgia opened 46 shelters where almost 550 people spent Thursday night. The Red Cross is helping officials with damage assessment in those states to determine what additional help is needed. Hundreds of thousands of people are without power and many schools closed due to heavy rain and downed trees.

Two Pacific hurricanes – Madeline and Lester – were expected to hit Hawaii over the last several days, bringing as much as 15 inches of rain and 75 mph winds to the Aloha State. The Red Cross had disaster workers and supplies on alert to respond, and as many as 14 Red Cross and community evacuation shelters were opened.

Red Cross workers are also responding to wildfires out west, flooding in Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and tornadoes in Indiana, along with numerous smaller emergencies that occur every day, such as home fires.

The last several weeks have kept Red Cross disaster volunteers busy. Red Cross Vice President of Disaster Operations and Logistics Brad Kieserman says, “To date, the Red Cross has deployed more than 6,300 volunteers in less than two months, two-and-half-times the number called upon by this point in 2015. Plus, last year saw 24,000 volunteers deployed, with 2015 requiring more than triple the number of volunteers to respond to disasters than in any of the past three years.” Read more here.

We will continue to do what we do – provide hope to those affected by disaster – but we can’t do it without the generosity of people like you. If you would like to join our team, get started at redcross.org/neo by clicking on volunteer. Or, you can contact our Volunteer Services Department directly at 216-431-3328 or NEOvolunteer@redcross.org.

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