New home for the holidays

Story & Photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

With less than an hour to safely evacuate their home of fourteen years, Beth and Scott Hastreiter piled what they could into bins and boxes.

It being December, they already had their Christmas tree up, ornaments and lights dangling in the glow of the holiday season. Faced with evacuation of a building under threat of “imminent collapse,” there was a premium on the time allotted to pack the tree and everything else.

So, Beth’s sister swaddled the tree in industrial packing wrap, ornaments, treetopper and all, to move it quickly to their new place in a nearby village.

Beth and Scott Hastreiter pose with their Christmas tree, one of the items they were able to gather from their former home was evacuated under threat of collapse. The Hastreiters credit support from community agencies like the American Red Cross for their quick recovery.

That Christmas tree was standing and twinkling in a living room still in the process of unpacking – the new and welcome anchor after an 18-day journey for the Hastreiters, going from a familiar apartment to emergency evacuation, from two days at a hotel to a week at an American Red Cross shelter.

“Homelessness really can happen to anybody, at any time, for any reason. We are anybody,” said Beth Hastreiter. “It really can happen to anybody. And thank God there are agencies like yours that step in when something like that happens. One day you think things are stable and then literally the ground beneath you is not there any more.”

On Dec. 2, the city called for an evacuation to the four-story residential building near downtown Waukesha. While the building had faced issues in recent months, no one expected to have to leave, especially so suddenly. Many stayed at a hotel for a day or two supported by the local Salvation Army. Then, the American Red Cross opened a shelter at Elmbrook Church, for those who were without places to stay with friends, family or backed by insurance coverage. Along with a shelter occupied by a handful of residents, Red Cross volunteers provided nearly 300 meals and snacks, 31 contacts for health, mental health or spiritual care services.  

Crews work to stabilize a 40-plus-unit building in Waukesha after an evacuation in early December.

Scott Hastreiter, who works days at a local screen-printing shop, said it was a relief to know essentials like meals and a roof over their heads were taken care of at the shelter. He recalled their shared giddiness over finding toothpaste in a Red Cross hygiene kit.

“It was a comfort to be able to go back and … just knowing that we were secure, somewhere for the meantime where we could be OK,” he said.

Coincidentally, the church that opened its doors was the same attended by the Hastreiters, a sign of sorts, Beth felt. While staying at the shelter, the couple walked across the Brookfield church campus to attend services and to lead their weekly Sunday school duties with toddlers.

While recovery from an evacuation or disaster often receives less outside attention than the initial shock of the incident, it can often take up much more of the physical and mental bandwidth. At first, Beth felt overwhelmed by all the recovery steps and costs jotted down in front of her on tablet paper. Red Cross volunteers talked through achievable daily steps in their recovery plan, what they could handle today, tomorrow and further down the road. Later, the Red Cross and Waukesha County partner agencies opened a multi-agency resource center for a one-stop shop with assistance and guidance.

“Every day [Red Cross volunteers] were helping me with what I needed to do to make forward progress. I could have never accomplished the amount of stuff that had to get done any other way,” she said.

The Hastreiters share their experiences and get advice from Red Cross volunteers Hillary Wanecke, left, and John Hughes at a shelter established at Elmbrook Church following a building evacuation in Waukesha.

Less than three weeks later, the Hastreiters have shifted from uncertainty to their own new place in Mukwonago. The recovery remains a daily process for the couple, together since 2000, as with many others no longer allowed to return to the Waukesha condo building. At the Hastreiter’s new apartment, a doormat calls this their “happy place” as candles waft a coziness through the air. The Christmas tree is beaming; the rest of the furniture will find its place in due time.

Beth summarized the last few weeks with perspective and gratitude befitting of the holiday season: “This feels more like home every day and it feels like our life is improving every day. At least going forward, we have stability and that started with being at the shelter and having people to walk us through a plan. We couldn’t have done that on our own.”

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Stanley community response after tornado “restores your faith in humanity”

Days after a tornado hit Stanley, Wisconsin, the clean up and power restoration efforts continued.

Story & Photos by Dan Schillinger, American Red Cross

“This is what neighbors do.” 

That was Jeff Sauer’s reaction to the outpouring of help that flooded into his hometown of Stanley, Wisconsin, population 3,608, in the aftermath of a very rare December tornado. Hundreds of people from all over western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota came to the town to help clean up, feed displaced residents and restore some sense of normalcy.

The American Red Cross was part of those efforts, supporting a shelter for residents displaced or dealing with power outages, one of a handful of disaster relief operations around Wisconsin this week following a round of powerful winds and sporadic tornadoes. Sauer came from nearby Thorp and spent two days driving around Stanley, stopping to help residents clear downed trees and pick up debris.

One of the homes walloped by an EF2 tornado that touched down in Stanley, among a handful that touched down in Wisconsin in mid-December.

Red Cross volunteers Mike and Cathy Stevens came from New Richmond to help. Mike spent part of Friday doing assessments of the approximately 10 homes heavily damaged from the storms. Meanwhile Cathy, worked at a local shelter, helping to feed people. 

“It restores your faith in humanity,” said Cathy Stevens, a retired nurse, as she looked out on a roomful of volunteers. 

Mike and Cathy joined the Red Cross as volunteers four years ago, after Mike retired from a construction business he owned for over 40 years. He described the response to the disaster as “unbelievable.” Like many others, Mike says he joined the Red Cross as a way of giving back to his community. He says it’s been a rewarding experience.

Edit Krueger, left, a resident of Stanley, was grateful for the outpouring of support for her and her hometown by people like Red Cross volunteer Cathy Stevens.

Edie Krueger has worked as a teacher in Stanley for over 40 years. She says the damage to her town “shook me to my core.” She saw people coming to the shelter with tears in their eyes. But she’s also seen the strength of her neighbors, as they work to clean up the damage and put the town back on its feet in time for Christmas. 

The city of Stanley set up a shelter for residents late Wednesday night at a community center in Chapman Park and Red Cross volunteers helped operate the shelter in the subsequent days. Outside of the handful of residents who stayed at the shelter, meals were served – including 300 for residents on Thursday alone – and on Saturday numerous service and government agencies gathered to provide assistance, resources and referrals to residents affected by this freak storm. 

Red Cross volunteer Mike Stevens serves meals at a community center-turned-shelter after the December storm.

Red Cross volunteer Dave Nelson said he and his colleagues will remain as long as it takes to help residents in Stanley get back up on their feet. Like the others, Nelson has been struck by the willingness of complete strangers to come together to help each other in the wake of the disaster.

You can join our Disaster Action Team volunteers in community relief responses just like this one. Find out more and sign up at

In a time for traditions, De Pere teacher gives blood

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Natalie Buhl is a frequent blood donor approaching her 57th blood donation. When she was young, she vividly recalls attending her father’s blood donation appointments and the pride she felt knowing he was helping to save lives.

When Buhl became old enough to donate blood, she made for her first blood donation appointment and has been donating blood regularly ever since.

She is also a teacher at West De Pere High School and wants to be an inspiration to her students the way her father inspired her to give blood so many years ago.

“I’ve been blessed with good health all my life,” said Buhl. “I donate blood for those who have not been so fortunate. It’s a little thing I can do that means a lot to someone in need. We are role models for the next generation of blood donors.”

More than 160 community members typically roll up their sleeve to give at the annual Green Bay Winter Holiday Blood Drive. The Red Cross is thanking those who come to give Dec. 23 at St. John the Baptist School and Dec. 27 at the Ashwaubenon Community Center with an exclusive Red Cross long-sleeved T-shirt, while supplies last.

Appointments are encouraged; visit to make your appointment at one of these or other festive drives over the holidays.

“We would never be able to host such a successful drive without the incredible support of the community,” said Steve Hansen, Executive Director for the Northeast Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross. “Year after year, the community steps up to the call for blood donations which go toward helping to save lives. We are grateful for those who respond to the constant need for blood donations at such a critical time of the year.”

2021 in Review: International Symbols of Care During a Year that Defied Expectations

By Mark Thomas, Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive Director

As I pulled off the interstate and onto a two-lane road lined with the cedar trees and bogs of “Cranberry Country,” I was quickly shifted out of agricultural Wisconsin and into the major global issues that had brought me here.

In front of my American Red Cross vehicle were charter buses filled with evacuees from Afghanistan temporarily calling Fort McCoy home. An historical response, in a year already packed with them. With all the planning calls, news stories and more swirling around, I saw that first of what would be many buses of people escaping a war zone and I thought, “We’re here. This is real.”

Allie Kress, a Red Cross volunteer from Milwaukee, made paper airplanes with children from Afghanistan during her deployment at Fort McCoy. Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross

For thousands of people fleeing Afghanistan under dire and uncertain circumstances, our Red Cross teams from Wisconsin and across the country provided an invaluable welcome alongside our military partners at Fort McCoy.

Two anecdotes on international symbols are among those I find myself returning to and sharing with others. The first came shortly into my initial visit. It was a rainy day but at one point the sun peaked through the clouds. No sooner than that, two kids, about six- or seven-years old, came running out into the green space between many of the residential buildings housing evacuees. With big smiles on their faces, you’d be forgiven for briefly forgetting all that they had been through to get to the U.S. When they saw me and a few other Red Crossers, we shared recognition through waving and fist bumps. Simply two children expressing that fundamental joy carried by children all around the world.

The second anecdote comes from my second visit, a few weeks on with the entire operation running like a fine-tuned watch to meet the needs of more than 13,000 people as of late-September. At one of our Client Care Centers, a teenage boy began talking about his harrowing experiences. Then, he pointed at our logo, and said that he had heard about the Red Cross while living in Afghanistan, though he hadn’t been involved in their services. However, he said that after his experiences with the Red Cross in Wisconsin, he “promised” he would join us as a volunteer – and he went on to repeat that promise. In this teenager’s time of extreme need, he was already focused on how he could give back. Our impact in a few weeks had made him want to share with others, which made me all the more proud that we could one day do so wearing the same emblem of the Red Cross. 

These moments at Fort McCoy were among many that defied our expectations, and also affirmed the capabilities and compassion that have established the Red Cross as a fundamental presence in American life over the past 140 years. With your support and volunteerism, we’ve had plenty of those signature moments in 2021. As recognition of your belief in the Red Cross, I wanted to spend a little time as the year wraps up reflecting on our action and achievements, as has become of a bit of a tradition during my now-three full years leading the Wisconsin Region.

But before I get into my list, please know that I want to hear from you – on volunteer possibilities, blood drive host sites, heart-warming stories of community support. Share your passion and story. Let me know how we can work together to make our communities stronger, healthier and more collaborative. Email me at


Crystal Irvine, left, and Leslie Luther deployed to Wisconsin to help with a surge in apartment fires in early January 2021.

Home fire highs: every winter we see an increase in home fires. But the number and severity of fires to start this year – and the ample response from our disaster teams – was extraordinary. In one, 24-hour period at the end of January, more than 500 people were displaced by apartments fires, in Janesville, Beaver Dam and two in Milwaukee. We led the nation in sheltering operations from these fires, part of a three-year high in fire responses in Wisconsin. With our disaster teams and support from great leaders like Chief Aaron Lipski, whom I’m also proud to call one of our board members, we were able to help get neighbors like James Fair back up on their feet.

Touchdown on blood collections: through an ever-shifting pandemic, our blood collections teams worked with donors to meet the constant need for blood. Plus, an ongoing partnership with the NFL enabled us to offer giveaways like Super Bowl tickets to those generous donors during National Blood Donor Month. 


Ice storms down South: Wisconsin Red Crossers went to one of the last places you’d expect an ice storm – the State of Texas. No matter the challenge, these disaster volunteers raced to the front lines for hundreds of deployments to meet the needs, which in 2021 also meant flooding in Washington, wildfires in California, tornadoes in Kentucky and the effects of a hurricane felt as far north as New Jersey.


2021 Heroes Breakfast: our annual community hero and fundraiser event recognized the finest acts of courage and humanitarianism in northwest Wisconsin. You can get inspired by those honorees with video stories posted here and you can nominate someone for our 2022 event through this link. It’ll also be a great chance to get to know our newest Executive Director, Mary Jane “MJ” Thomsen.


Volunteer appreciation, front (yard) and center: With social interactions greatly reduced during COVID, our Volunteer Services team brought engagement and recruitment “to the streets.” Red Cross volunteers planted yard signs pronouncing their dedication and inviting others to join throughout Wisconsin and the U.P., beginning during Volunteer Appreciation Month. (P.S. Did you know that more than 90% of what the Red Cross does is led by volunteers? Click here to join us.)


2021 Brave Hearts: our signature community recognition and support event was held virtually for a second year, though without missing any of the inspiration and pizzazz. I’m eager to return to an in-person gala in 2022, as well as other great events in our Southwest and Northeast Chapters. As for Brave Hearts this coming year, I’m inviting you to nominate your community heroes from southeast Wisconsin here.

Rita Thompson, left, talks through an escape plan for her and her pets from her La Crosse home during a preparedness visit with volunteers Peter Knapik, center, and Jay Tucker. Photo by Riley Neper / American Red Cross

Sound the Alarm returns: our preparedness teams collaborated with the La Crosse Fire Department for the return of the “Sound the Alarm. Save a Life” home fire safety program. Dozens of residents received new smoke alarms and talked through home fire escape plans, for the first time since 2019. Who knew that chirp from working smoke alarms could sound so sweet?! It all has us even more excited for more community home fire safety programs in the coming year.


Making waves: with careful steps, our swim courses returned to many pools, and we worked with partners to address lifeguard shortages seen across the country. As this Wisconsin Dells life-saving lifeguard can attest, the need for swim safety is ever present.

Rebecca Neumann stands in front of the damage to her home from a tornado in Oconomowoc. Photo by Laura McGuire / American Red Cross


Stormy weather: it seemed thunderstorms, tornadoes and destructive winds hit the Midwest about every week through the summer. Wisconsin disaster teams set up shelters and met residents at the scene in so many of these instances, like with the Zastrow family in Oconomowoc.

Milwaukee Bucks are world champs: I know it’s not exactly in our service area, but wasn’t it a nice jolt of positivity for so many of us to be able to root on the hometown team as they took the title? Bucks in six!


Repatriation of Afghanistan evacuees: from Kabul and Germany to Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey and Texas, tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan were supported by the Red Cross in the early months of their evacuation. While our commitment has wrapped up in Wisconsin, Red Cross teams continue help behind the scenes to support service members and veterans, and to connect evacuees with agencies taking on the next steps of this migration.


Demarus Torrence and his family held a drive at his high school to raise awareness on the importance of blood donations on those afflicted with sickle cell disease. Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross

Blood supply diversity and tackling sickle cell: it was exciting to hear new steps by the Red Cross in strengthening the blood supply with more donor diversity. Demarus, a teen from Milwaukee, knows the pain of sickle cell, and the value in having better matches when he receives blood transfusions. It’s encouraging to act on something that we can directly improve in Wisconsin and across the country. Join me as a blood donor and become part of a positive solution.

Help after Hurricane Ida: not only did numerous volunteers head to Louisiana and the East Coast after Hurricane Ida, but hundreds of you shared your generosity with people affected by this ravaging storm. WISN in Milwaukee generously partnered with the Red Cross for a multi-day telethon that brought your support directly to so many people who lost their homes and livelihoods. On behalf of those in need – thank you once again for your support.


Tiffany Circle accolades: our women leaders community at the Red Cross, Tiffany Circle, includes so many esteemed members from Wisconsin. And one of those members, Sara Horein, is now the national group’s Co-Chair – during their October conference, you may have heard her presenting, or flashing her Clara Barton-on-a-stick – joining fellow Wisconsinite Marti Ziegelbauer on the National Council. Thank you to all our Tiffany Circle members!


Service to the Armed Forces volunteer Wayne McDonald shares resources with a veteran and their spouse on Veteran’s Day at an event in Wausau. Photo by Beckie Gaskill / American Red Cross

Supporting our veterans: our Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteers and staff were able to mark Veteran’s Day in a special way, by sharing resources and programming with former service members and their families at an event in Wausau. In addition, our SAF program leader, Michelle Matuszak, gave a first-person account of how important it was to participate in another veteran recognition that included her father, who served in the Vietnam War.


Hurt and healing in Waukesha: our volunteers opened a shelter after the evacuation of a 45-unit residential building. The building is three blocks away from the site of an absolutely tragic and deadly incident during a holiday parade about a week beforehand. Our teams were deeply saddened that one of our own dedicated volunteers, Tammy Durand, was among those who lost their lives. Between the parade and this evacuation, we stand with Waukesha through the healing ahead. 

No two years are the same. But over the past 140 years, the American Red Cross has consistently been here for people in need in our country, after everything from a return from the frontlines of war or a sudden choking incident, to recovery support after a home fire or the ample availability of blood during cancer treatments. I’m proud to partner with all of you to keep moving forward in 2022 on this legacy of humanitarianism in our communities.