First person: volunteer connects with shelter client facing “new beginning” after apartment fire

By Diana Higgenbottom, American Red Cross

As I walked into the American Red Cross emergency shelter on Feb. 23, it was clear to me that everything the residents had in their possession in this moment was all that they had left to call “belongings.” But as I learned from one shelter resident, there was much more to see in a person’s response and recovery than physical belongings.

A few of Lisa White’s belongings after a fire at her apartment building. She’s spent the past week at a shelter run by the American Red Cross.

Two days earlier, an early morning fire had caused widespread damage, displacing all 30 residents. For the foreseeable future, there’s no going back to what once home was now destroyed and uninhabitable.

As I looked around the shelter at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, one woman seemed to generate a light, which caught my eye. I walked over to her cot and smattering of belongings in the shelter just as if I were walking into her home. Lisa White or “Miss Lisa” welcomed me and agreed enthusiastically to share a little bit of her story.

Almost everything she owned had perished in the fire. Still, she had a smile on her face. With so much uncertain in the aftermath of this disaster, she had a sense of security. In part, it came from the volunteers around her and the other shelter residents. Miss Lisa said several times during our conversation that she “knew this moment was rough but knew everything happening was only temporary … the Red Cross doesn’t leave anyone behind.” 

Lisa told me that she has proudly lived in Milwaukee her whole life, where she ultimately graduated from Washington High School. In addition, Miss Lisa had lived in that apartment building for 32-and-a-half years, making her the longest running tenant. She explained to me that the very first year she was living at the building, there was also a fire that caused substantial damage. However, at that time it remained inhabitable.

Fast forward more than three decades and this recent fire took so much – but not her spirit. I could see her inner joy amid devastation. To get a few basic priorities together and more like her normal life, she said she took a few days off from her local cleaning job. The many things people don’t think about after a disaster like a home fire.

A Milwaukee County Transit System bus transports residents from their uninhabitable apartment building to a shelter a few blocks away.

Miss Lisa went on to tell me that as she got on the bus after the fire to go to the shelter, she realized she didn’t know a lot of the people in the building. These strangers in their own building, strangers on the bus, were now becoming neighbors through the bonds they were making at this disaster shelter and over meals after the fire.

Honestly, I was in awe of her – a sense of peace and security through this disruptive situation. She was quick to tell me that she had hope and trust in the Red Cross, and that she had her needs in this moment taken care of. Through the first week of the disaster, Red Cross teams had provided these residents with 65 overnight stays at the shelter, more than 300 meals and snacks, and dozens of health, mental health and spiritual care resources.

With those things in place, Miss Lisa said she could put back together the pieces of her life from before the fire. She said that this is the beginning of the rest of her life, not the end. Miss Lisa called it a “new beginning.” Where Miss Lisa sees the Red Cross as a symbol of hope, I can clearly see her as a reflection of hope and determination. 

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A diet of perseverance pays off for Brown Deer blood donor

By Tom Ruse, American Red Cross

Susan Blaske from Brown Deer has served up plates of perseverance to become a life-saving blood donor.  

Growing up in the Philippines, Susan was inspired early in life by a friend who was a regular blood donor and encouraged others to do the same. Susan’s first attempt to donate was unsuccessful, however, due to low iron. Subsequent attempts resulted in the same rejection, one that can be common among people unable to donate blood at various times, though no less disheartening.

Fifteen years ago, Susan moved to Wisconsin where, along with numerous other significant changes to her lifestyle that such a move entails, she modified her diet. Growing up in the Philippines, Susan’s diet was primarily plant and seafood-based. Once state-side, she began to incorporate red meat. Last year, amid this dietary shift, she decided to try again to donate blood. This time – success!

Susan recalls the success: “When I realized that I started eating meat, I thought possibly that I would be able to donate blood, so last year I tried again and was accepted. I was incredibly happy. I recently donated for a second time and am hoping to donate every three months.”

No two people are the same with diet or outcomes. There are many factors that impact each individual’s hemoglobin. (Click here for tips on diet and preparation that you can take ahead of your blood appointment.)

Issues with iron at blood donations? Here are six, iron-rich foods that may make good additions to your menu before an appointment to donate:

  1. Meat such as beef, poultry, pork, lamb, liver
  2. Bread
  3. Pasta
  4. Dried fruits like raisins
  5. Eggs
  6. Tofu

As she says, it’s easy, costs nothing more than a bit of time, and makes you feel great that you’re helping people in need.

“After donating blood, I felt healthier. Maybe because I also felt really good knowing that I helped others with my donation. I feel humbled,” she said. “I am grateful for the good health that I am enjoying in my life.”

Make an appointment to donate at an upcoming drive near you at

American Red Cross honors local heroes March 9 at annual Heroes Breakfast

American Red Cross Honors Local Heroes March 9 at annual Heroes Breakfast

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Feb. 9, 2022) – Every day at the American Red Cross, we see firsthand the remarkable deeds of everyday heroes. Their stories inspire and remind us to never doubt the impact an individual can make in the lives of others.

The Red Cross of Northwest Wisconsin will honor individuals who have shown courage, dedication and unselfish character by their acts of heroism in our community at the Northwest Wisconsin Heroes Breakfast, hosted by Katie Phernetton, WQOW News 18. This year’s award recipients will be honored Wednesday, March 9, 2022, at 8 The Florian Gardens Conference Center, 2340 Lorch Ave., Eau Claire.  

The Northwest Wisconsin Heroes Breakfast honors people making an impact through their bravery, dedication, and humanitarian service. This event grew out of a desire to celebrate local members of our communities living our mission – to prevent and alleviate human suffering. The award breakfast also serves as a fundraising event for programs and services provided by the Red Cross of Northwest Wisconsin.

Chosen across a handful of categories, honorees at the Northwest Wisconsin Heroes Breakfast represent those among us who reflect what is best in our communities. For over 20 years, more than 130 local heroes have been recognized and we are thrilled to add to that number.

The 2022 Heroes are:

Adult Good Samaritan Heroes

  • Kevin Dague, Eau Claire County
  • Todd Dague, Eau Claire County

Community Heroes

  • Deputy Joel Eder, Price County 
  • Deputy Sean Peterson, Price County
  • Sergeant Robert Zoubek, Price County

From the Heart Hero

  • Isaac Grover, St. Croix County

Health Care Heroes

  • DeWayne Hanson, Chippewa County
  • Christie Naberhaus, Chippewa County
  • Chief Rick Sommerfeld, Chippewa County
  • Joel Sternitzky, Eau Claire County
  • Brittany Walters, Chippewa County       
  • Tim Walters, Chippewa County 

Lifetime Hero

  • Dave Nelson, Eau Claire County

Military Hero

  • Tim Nelson, Dunn County

Youth Good Samaritan Heroes

  • Alena Otto, Chippewa County
  • Briar Omar, Burnett County

Heroes are nominated by the public and are chosen by an awards selection committee comprised of local community leaders. Honorees are selected based on the degree to which their actions uphold the values of the Red Cross humanitarian mission and leave a lasting and positive impact on the community.

Mayo Clinic Health System is the presenting sponsor of this very special event. Additional event sponsors include HSHS Sacred Heart and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospitals, Xcel Energy, Ayres Associates and WQOW TV-18. This year’s individual Heroes sponsors include Royal Credit Union, Global Finishing Solutions, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, Marshfield Clinic, Scheels Sporting Goods, Security Financial Bank and WESTconsin Credit Union. Additional support sponsors include Associated Bank, Charter Bank, Group Health Cooperative of Eau Claire, Kaze Studios, M3 Insurance, Market and Johnson, OakLeaf Medical Network, TTM Technologies and Wipfli.

To reserve your seat for this event, visit Reservations for this event are $45 and all proceeds go toward the Red Cross of Northwest Wisconsin.

For more information, email Mary Jane Thomsen at