The 8-year-old veteran and other tales

Lighthearted anecdotes for National Tell a Joke Day

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

“M-O-U-S-E!” An 8-year-old sang, making the toy I had given him dance on the table. His grandmother, whose apartment was one of several impacted by a fire the previous night, stood next to me. Two other American Red Cross members and I had spent the day in the building, assisting those affected by the disaster.

American Red Cross volunteer Tim Poe at the annual toy giveaway for families that experienced a home fire

As part of our assistance, I asked the grandmother questions that help us find resources for those impacted by a disaster. With each question, the child paused the doll’s dance to tell me how to spell names and something about the person.

“Are you or any member of your family a veteran?” I asked the grandmother. As she shook her head no, the child looked up, wide eyed, and shouted, “I’m a veteran!”

“No, you’re not, dear,” the grandmother said, patting his shoulder.

“Am too!” he shouted. “I don’t even like meat!”

The moment was a delight and much needed by all of us in the room.

In my various roles volunteering with the Red Cross, there have been many such lighthearted, fun moments. Today is National Tell a Joke Day, and while the Red Cross and its services are no joke, fun moments do happen. Here are a few.

American Red Cross volunteer Tim Poe at the annual toy giveaway for families that experienced a home fire

Before the pandemic, I took part in distributing toys for the holiday season for children whose families had been affected by disasters. Several tables were filled with toys, and we would help families pick something out. One child excitedly ran to all the tables, looking, but not selecting anything. He turned to me and asked, “Where are the drones?” The parents, alarmed, standing behind, subtly shook their heads but appeared relieved when I explained we didn’t have anything quite so fancy. After his initial disappointment, he seemed thrilled with a toy truck and crayon set.

One of the many benefits of being a Red Cross volunteer is working alongside unique, caring people with differing perspectives. Stories such as Christy Peters’ grandparents and tattoos emerge from our communications meetings.

This makes it a continuous learning experience, even about communicating. After a particularly strange sequence of events, and a fellow volunteer and I finished up and returned to a Red Cross vehicle. As I searched for words to begin processing the roller-coaster ride we had taken, she summed it up.

“Dude!” she said.

I can be verbose, but sometimes a single word is all that’s needed.

On another call, to an apartment where the fire was fortunately contained to a single unit and no one was hurt, an elderly lady emerged from her apartment, saw us, and stopped. “Mm hmm,” she said, pointing to a door. “That’s the one you want. And tell them never leave a candle burning and go out for a sandwich! Could’ve killed us all!” While to my knowledge the Red Cross has not offered this specific fire prevention tip, it’s good advice.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer
Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross volunteer

Red Cross disaster response teams active in early April

One-hundred residents of Northern Ohio received Red Cross assistance during the past week, April 4-10, as volunteers responded to two-dozen home fires.

Five of the fires affected multiple-family homes.

Cleveland Fire

“Our volunteer disaster responders have been very busy, and we are grateful that they answer the call, no matter when or where it happens,” said Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer. “They are true humanitarians. We could not respond to the needs of people in crisis without our volunteers.”

Immediate financial assistance totaling more than $22,700 was given to the affected residents. The money can be used for a hotel room, to replace clothing or other lost items, for meals or for whatever each resident prioritizes as a need.

In addition, Red Cross volunteer caseworkers reach out to the affected families to connect residents with additional community resources, as they try to move forward with their lives following the loss of their homes and possessions.

And if needed, Red Cross health and mental health volunteers are available to provide assistance as well.

The Red Cross never requires payment for the services provided to people who have experienced a disaster like a home fire. Such assistance is made possible through the generous donations of supporters. To help the next family that is forced by fire to flee their home, visit redcross.org/donate. You can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) to make a donation on the phone.

Dedicated volunteers spend Thanksgiving week assisting home fire victims

While many of us enjoyed time relaxing with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday, American Red Cross disaster volunteers were busy responding to multiple incidents across the Northern Ohio Region. During the week of Thanksgiving, November 22-28, the Red Cross of Northern Ohio responded to 34 home fires, affecting 110 adults and children. We distributed more than $22,000 in immediate assistance to help these families begin the recovery process.


Of the many responses that happened in the past week, three occurred on Thanksgiving Day. Dedicated volunteers in the Northern Ohio Region left their own families and celebrations to assist families facing one of the worst days imaginable. Without the continued commitment of volunteers who are available 24/7 to respond to disasters, the Red Cross could not meet the needs of the many communities we serve.

The Red Cross normally sees an increase in local disasters, especially home fires, during the holiday season and this year is no exception. Cooking accidents and home heating mistakes often lead to fires that leave families stranded during the winter months. The Red Cross encourages the community to celebrate safely in the coming weeks and to read up on our tips to cook and decorate safely.


It’s also important that families are prepared for a home fire that could happen at any time. In most cases, families have less than two minutes to escape a home fire, although many believe they have much longer. The Red Cross encourages you to protect your family by taking two simple steps.

  1. Practice your two-minute escape drill
  2. Test your smoke alarms monthly

In an effort to #EndHomeFires, the Red Cross continues to provide home fire safety information to residents and to install smoke alarms for those who need them. On Monday Nov. 29, volunteers visited 22 homes and installed 67 smoke alarms in Cleveland and East Cleveland. View our photo album here.

For more information on the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, fire safety tips, or to request a smoke alarm, please visit this site. The Red Cross also has an urgent need for volunteers to respond to local disasters and help in other ways as we carry out our lifesaving mission. Learn more about our volunteer positions and sign up today.

Meet me at the corner! Plan for your family’s safety

By Beth Bracale, American Red Cross volunteer

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Beth Bracale

If I close my eyes, I can still see the flames shooting out from the windows of the house across the street. I can hear the agonized screams that drew us to our own windows that night to see what had happened. I was five years old, and that was my first experience of sheer terror – both someone else’s and my own.

Believe it or not, no one got hurt that night. Both of the senior sisters who shared the home had escaped the fire, one out the front door, one out the back. Their screams were the agony of each believing the other to still be trapped in the inferno. When neighbors reunited them, they fell sobbing into each other’s arms.

No one is ever fully prepared for disaster, but families can plan together to minimize the suffering. What if the sisters had had a plan? Would that night have gone differently had they designated a meeting spot in case they got separated in an emergency?

As foster parents, it’s required that we have a clear escape plan in case of disaster, one that everyone in the family can understand and remember. Even young children can learn what to do. All the students in the school where I taught, ages four through 14, practiced how to exit the school if there was a fire, how to exit a bus in an emergency, and what to do if a tornado was headed toward our neighborhood.

So I wasn’t prepared for the day my class of four-year-olds sat on the story carpet, listening to my assistant talk about emergencies. They raised their hands eagerly to share what they knew about fire drills. Stay in line. Walk, don’t run. Remain silent. Wait in our class’ spot on the corner until we got the “all clear” to return to our room. They had it all right.

Eilene Guy photo

Photo credit: Eilene Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

“But what if an emergency happened at home?” my assistant asked.

“If a bad man comes in the house, you hide in the closet,” one child announced. Others nodded in agreement.

“What if a tornado is coming?” she asked.

“You run outside,” another child responded. More nods. I made a mental note to teach about tornado safety in the near future.

“What if you smelled smoke in your house or saw that something was on fire?” she quizzed.

“You call 911,” a student said confidently. “Yes, but what do you do before that?” she asked.

“Hide in the closet,” he said. The other children agreed.

Hide in the closet. Images of that house fire from years ago leaped into my head. And I imagined children inside, hiding in the closet.

We did a lot of learning and practicing that day. We sent the students home with information for their parents to use in creating family safety plans.

You can find information about keeping children safe on the American Red Cross website at https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/fire/fire-safety-for-kids.html.

Don’t put it off. Create your own plan today!