Wisconsin Region spotlight: Q&A with Jenny Legaspi

Every few months, we’re highlighting the incredible work toward the mission of the American Red Cross by one of our colleagues in the Wisconsin Region. Hopefully these short profiles provide a little light of positivity and inspiration across all lines of service in our humanitarian mission.

This latest profile is on Jenny Legaspi, a Disaster Program Manager based in Altoona with a drive that has brought her to humanitarian missions across the U.S. during the past 15 years. Questions were asked by members of the Region communications team, and edited for style and space.

American Red Cross: Tell us a little about your professional background and your role at the Red Cross, including some roles you’ve held during disasters.

Jenny Legaspi: I was introduced to the American Red Cross when a local disaster volunteer came and spoke to my class when I was a student at UW-Oshkosh. I decided to apply for an internship with the Red Cross and was fortunate to get connected to the Red Cross Outagamie Chapter in Appleton. I learned so much about the Red Cross and became very interested in pursuing a career in Disaster Services. After completing my 250-hour internship, my next Red Cross journey was an AmeriCorps member with the Red Cross West Bend Chapter in West Bend for one-and-a-half years. I supported the disaster preparedness program and became a DAT (Disaster Action Team) and national disaster responder. 

Jenny Legaspi dons a throwback Red Cross nursing outfit during a staff event.

My first opportunity to serve in a national Disaster Relief Operations (DRO) came in September 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. I spent three weeks in Lafayette, La. helping in a shelter that housed over 10,000 evacuees doing sheltering, feeding and casework. But just a couple of days before my deployment, I was interviewed for the Disaster Services Director position in the Red Cross Marathon County Chapter in Wausau. Sometime around the second week of my deployment, the Executive Director from Marathon County Chapter called and offered me the position! I still joke that I accepted the job because I was so tired and did realize what I was committing to. I also thought to myself that there had to be a reason that the call came through my cell phone when we were having so many difficulties with cell service in the area. So, in October 2005 after I came back from my deployment, I relocated to Wausau and spent three years with the Marathon County Chapter. In September 2008, I was offered a Disaster Services Director position at the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter office in Altoona. Since then, Eau Claire has been my home.

Since joining the Red Cross, I have been involved in several disaster relief operations (DRO) in Wisconsin, including some of the most devastating floods that affect the state in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Barron and Rusk Counties … were hit by a tornado May 2017 that is recorded to be the longest tornado that stayed on the ground in the state.

Some of the Relief Operations I’ve supported outside of Wisconsin include 2014 spring flooding in Illinois, California 2017 wildfires, Iowa tornadoes in 2018, Hurricane Lane & wildfires in Hawaii in 2018, Hurricane Florence in 2018 & Hurricane Dorian 2029 in North Carolina, and, last year, the major dam break in Michigan and wildfires in Oregon.

Positions I get assigned to during DROs are DRO Director, District Director, Government or Community Partner Liaison, or a Staff Advocate. I’ve also worked as a shelter worker, caseworker and disaster assessment team member during past operations. 

Each disaster response and deployment are unique. You learn and grow from each experience and from the people we work with. 

The mission of the Red Cross connects us to so many people. Can you share an anecdote about someone whose life was affected by your role or work at the Red Cross?

When I was in Lafayette during Hurricane Katrina working as a Red Cross caseworker, I assisted a mother with her Red Cross case. She told me that her and her son were separated when they had to evacuate their home in New Orleans. Her son left to help his girlfriend’s mom who was home-bound. She did not expect that their home was going to be impacted and that he was not going be able to return home. She had not been able to reach her son since the day she left home. Unfortunately, her cell phone along with all her belongs she had with her got wet when she had to evacuate so her phone was no longer working.

The day I was leaving, she came and looked for me to tell me she just picked-up her Red Cross client assistance card … and was on her way to get that new cell phone. We helped her during that time of need, but I never got the chance to find out what happened next. I left shortly after we spoke since those of us who are able to go back home were told we had to fly home since Hurricane Rita is making landfall. To this day, I still get a little emotional when I tell their story. I think about her and her son and wonder what happened next. 

Legaspi, middle, brainstorms service needs with colleagues during the recent Red Cross humanitarian response to thousands of evacuees with Afghanistan temporarily housed at Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin.

How do you explain what you do to people outside the Red Cross?

The Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services is like a giant puzzle. It has many pieces, but we need each one complete the picture. We have disaster workforce who provide essential services to disaster victims (food, safe place to stay, comfort, care, recovery support), Red Cross liaisons who work with community partners during planning, response, and recovery, we train and prepare disaster volunteers to be ready to mobilize, we provide information to the public of Red Cross response and donation needs, and we also work internally with other team members within Red Cross. Each piece is different but they all fit together. When the puzzle if complete, you see the full picture of Red Cross Disaster Relief Operations.

What is your hidden talent? Or a hobby you have that people may not know about?

I enjoy cooking. I learned my Filipino cooking skills from my grandma and aunts. I picked-up American cooking skills from when I worked at a senior living apartment kitchen as a waitstaff and cook for six years. When we moved to the US in 1992, I did not know how to cook American food. Even when we made spaghetti, it was Filipino style. [Laughs]

Has anyone in your immediately circle (family or friends) been helped by the Red Cross? If so, how?

Before I started with the Red Cross, my aunt and uncle had a house fire and I remember seeing Red Cross volunteers arriving at their house to offer assistance. The fire department had called them to offer assistance. Luckily, the fire was contained in the laundry room and was put out very quickly. My aunt and uncle had lots of family in the area who were able to assist them, so they decided to decline Red Cross assistance. But it was very nice to see that if they did need help, Red Cross was there.

What does the Red Cross mean to you?  

Working in Disaster Cycle Services is unpredictable at times and could be stressful. But when a disaster client thanks you or give you a hug for helping them … a volunteer tells you they appreciate being part of our team and thanks you for calling them to help … and when you hear a partner praise the Red Cross … you get that combination of happy/satisfying/excited/fulfilling feeling that picks you up and motivates you to keep going and keep trying to do your best because you are making a difference. 

What would you say to inspire someone to join the Red Cross as a blood donor, volunteer or supporter?

My Red Cross journey started with one person, the disaster volunteer who came and spoke to my class. What she talked about sparked enough interested in me to check on the Red Cross. I started as an intern, became a disaster volunteer and now I’m a 15-year employee. 

I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to talk to someone from the Red Cross when they have the opportunity and get a glimpse of what it means to be a volunteer, blood donor or a financial donor – and the hundreds of thousands of lives touched by the Red Cross each day. The reports, statistics, posts, articles about the Red Cross work will bring it to a personal level when you hear from someone who has received assistance from Red Cross and from those who made it happen. You will realize that if you want to help, you can do that in many ways in the Red Cross.

Lifesaving skills at Columbus school contribute to extraordinary outcome, national recognition

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Karin Westlake, Janet Pacala and Kelly Towne helped save a life by using their American Red Cross training in First Aid, CPR and AED. For their heroic and lifesaving actions, on Sept. 16 they received the American Red Cross Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action.  

Kyle Kriegl, Executive Director, Southwest Wisconsin Chapter of the Red Cross, presented the certificates during a recent virtual board meeting.

“The Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action is given to individuals, like Karin, Janet and Kelly who step up in an emergency situation and help save or sustain a life,” said Kriegl. “These individuals exemplify the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies and are to be commended for their willingness to help another in distress.”

Kelly Towne, Janet Pacala and Karin Westlake pose with their national life-saving recognitions from the American Red Cross.

On March 1, 2020, Westlake, and Pacala, members of the Building Emergency Response Team at Columbus Elementary School, heard a colleague call for help. When they arrived on site, they found the victim unconscious and unresponsive. That’s when their training and instincts set in.

You can be trained in CPR, First Aid, lifeguarding and other life-saving skills. Sign up here for virtual and in-person lessons from the American Red Cross.

Pacala called 911 and requested the school’s automated external defibrillator (AED). Westlake began cardiopulmonary compressions and they both continued to perform compressions and rescue breaths on their colleague until Towne, a Columbus Police Officer, arrived on the scene. Towne immediately accessed the situation and performed cardiopulmonary compressions. EMT’s arrived shortly thereafter and took the lead on care. 

Thanks to the efforts and skills of three courageous women, the survivor has recovered and is doing well. This was the first save for all three women.

Columbus School District Superintendent, Annette Deuman, nominated the women for the award. She is proud of their efforts and encourages all staff to have lifesaving skills. “I couldn’t be prouder of these ladies,” said Deuman. “They did everything beautifully and performed their lifesaving skills correctly and accurately leading to a fantastic outcome.” Deuman, too, has a connection with the Red Cross as a frequent blood donor and has nominated others in her career for Red Cross Lifesaving Awards. 

Westlake resides in Columbus and works in the Columbus school district, where she holds the position of Dean of Students/Assistant Principal at Columbus Elementary School. Her position requires her to be First Aid, CPR and AED certified and she encourages everyone to get certified. “You never know when you’ll need to use these skills,” said Westlake. “I never thought I’d have to use the skills I learned, but I am so proud that I had them, and I was able to help save a life.”

Pacala resides in Beaver Dam and for the last 16 years has worked at Columbus Elementary School as an Educational Support Professional. Even though her position does not require her to be First Aid, CPR and AED certified, she holds the credentials. “You never know when a friend, family member or stranger will be in an emergency situation,” said Pacala. “If you see someone in need, you need to be prepared to jump in and help.” Janet has seen the mission of the Red Cross in action throughout her life – as a blood recipient she is grateful for blood donors and when flooding hit the Columbus community years back, her parents were aided in evacuation efforts by the Red Cross. 

Towne resides in Columbus and for the last 17 years, has worked at the Columbus Police Department as an officer. Her position required her to be First Aid, CPR and AED certified. She believes that Westlake and Pacala’s immediate actions with starting CPR compressions contributed to a successful outcome. “As a police officer, I am trained and know it’s always good to have a plan and be prepared,” said Towne. “I wish more people would be CPR certified and not be scared to use the skills.”

The survivor, who asked to remain anonymous, is coincidentally First Aid, CPR and AED certified. “I would have never thought I would have been the one receiving CPR, I think it is so important for everyone to know CPR skills as you never know when you will need to help another person. I am so grateful for Karin, Janet and Kelly for knowing what to do and for saving my life. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.”

Red Cross training gives people the knowledge and skills to act in an emergency and save a life. A variety of online, blended (online and in-person skills session) and classroom courses are available at redcross.org/takeaclass.

Janesville native makes ‘time to give back’ for those suffering amid wildfires

By Kay Elmsley Weeden, American Red Cross

Jamie Stahl has seen his share of disasters, but he was still ready to deploy this July the moment the call came as part of the American Red Cross response to the western wildfires. When a second call came in August, he was ready to help people then, too.  

As an American Red Cross disaster cycle services volunteer for four years, Stahl is familiar with the need to quickly travel to places where a natural disaster strikes and help to address the immediate and long-term needs of the affected families. In July, he was one of many volunteers sent to the western United States to assist families who had lost so much to the fires. He was deployed to Lakeview, Ore., originally for two weeks, to set up shelters for families displaced by the recent summer wildfires.  

Jamie Stahl, of Janesville, stands in front of a disaster relief trailer parked outside a shelter set up during wildfires in Oregon in July 2021. Submitted photo

“Our goal is to be there for people during a really hard time. We try to make sure they have what they need and we are there to listen and help address their concerns,” said Stahl.  

For a collection of individuals, the new shelter is now their temporary place of respite, supported by red-vested Red Cross responders. Each person is welcomed into their short-term home with a safe place to sleep, food, drinking water most of all, compassion. Here is a place where volunteers strive to reduce the stress and fear for families who may not have had much notice to leave their homes and who may have lost everything. Medical professionals are also available to address any health concerns, including replacing medication left from a hasty exit. The Red Cross collaborates with local agencies to provide assistance for pets to ensure a safe place for them as well.

As a Red Cross shelter supervisor, Jamie’s job duties include establishing the shelter is set up properly with sleeping areas with cots, certify that it is ADA accessible, make certain toilets and showers are functioning as needed, ensure there are feeding and snack areas, and help create separate areas for people to just hang out and decompress. Beyond that, his main task is to engage with everybody staying there – every day. 

Working shifts are typically 12 hours daily, although that can vary depending on factors such as shelter population and the ability for people to safely return home. On this initial deployment, Stahl and some other Red Crossers were able to return ahead of their two-week commitment. But just a few weeks later, wildfires kicked up again, and this time Stahl was deployed to northern California to help during a time when nearly two-dozen shelters or evacuation points were opened for hundreds of people in crisis.

Stahl started as a blood donor ambassador for drives in Janesville four years ago. While he still serves in that role monthly, he has filled much-needed roles as a sheltering supervisor, shelter associate, logistics warehousing. He is also qualified in delivering meals and driving Red Cross emergency response vehicle (ERV). Reflecting on the humanitarian work in high-pressure environments, Stahl he feels grateful for the chance to offer his time and compassion.  

“Life has been good to me and it’s time for me to give back,” he said. “I have the luxury of locking my apartment door and taking off to help where I am needed most.”

With a rise in disasters across the country and in our own backyard, the Red Cross is looking for more humanitarians to join our disaster action teams. Sign up and find details at redcross.org/DAT.

Spiderman, Giannis and you: join the heroes in a 17-year-old Milwaukee boy’s life

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Spiderman is 17-year-old Demarus Torrence’s favorite superhero. Like so many Milwaukee sports fans, he’s also crazy about Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

His mother, Passion Terrell’s, favorite larger-than-life hero? Anyone who donates blood.

Demarus Torrence poses with a Star Wars storm trooper, part of a dream-come-true trip to ComiCon a few years ago with the Make A Wish Foundation. Demarus has sickle cell disease and his family is encouraging people to donate blood to help him and others battling the painful illness.

That’s because Demarus suffers from the pains and plight of sickle cell disease. The ravages of the disease cause “pain crises” that at times require monthly blood transfusions and regular hospital stays. The fan of comics and sci-fi flicks showed his own bravery in merely battling through this affliction.

“Just imagine someone hitting your back with a hammer, constantly, and it just won’t stop. [Demarus] describes it and you can picture it, but you really can’t,” his mother said.

About 100,000 people in the U.S., most of whom are of African or Latino descent, are living with sickle cell disease. Regular blood transfusions are often a critical treatment for sickle cell patients. In fact, a single sickle cell patient can require multiple blood transfusions per year throughout their lifetime to treat complications from sickle cell disease. 

Demarus is the only person in his immediate family with the disease, though later testing revealed other family members who carry the sickle cell trait that can cause the disease. As a mother, Terrell has made it her mission to care for her beloved son and to inspire others to give blood – especially African Americans and people who have never donated. A sickle cell patient in need is more likely to find a compatible blood match from a donor of the same race or a similar ethnicity.

“I think I’ve gotten better over the years. I was a nervous wreck when he was smaller; I was probably overprotective,” she said, later adding, “You kind of feel hopeless.”

On Sept. 3, from noon until 5 p.m., the American Red Cross is teaming up with Passion and Demarus for a blood drive at his high school, MacDowell Montessori School, 6415 W. Mt. Vernon Ave., Milwaukee, 53213. All blood donors are welcome. To make an appointment at this drive, use the ZIP code 53213 in the search at RedCrossBlood.org or enter the promo code SCstrong.

Passion Terrell smiles with her son, Demarus. She said she’s felt “hopeless” at times watching her son in pain from sickle cell disease, which is why she’s teaming up with the American Red Cross to inspire blood donors at an upcoming drive.

The Red Cross and Passion’s new sickle cell awareness organization, The Strongest Warriors: Sickle Cell Strong, are encouraging African American blood donors to participate in this life-saving collection. About 30 donors are anticipated for this drive though numerous other drives are happening across Wisconsin during September, which is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month.

Terrell knows firsthand the “superpower” that blood donors share when making donations that help people like Demarus.

“It’s amazing, once he gets that blood in him, it’s like a different person. His breathing improves, his blood levels improve … it’s like his body wakes up,” Terrell said.

At a time when health information has never been more important, the Red Cross in April added sickle cell trait screening for self-identified African American blood donors. Tens of thousands of donors have taken advantage of this new feature over the past four months. This information is shared with donors as part of the update process in the weeks after having donated blood.

To make an appointment at a drive during Sickle Cell Awareness Month, visit RedCrossBlood.org, download the free Red Cross Blood Donor app from your app store or call (800) RED CROSS (733-2767).

Heroes, golf and goodies, all for a good cause at Northeast Wisconsin Heroes Classic

By American Red Cross staff

The American Red Cross will once again shine a light on heroes in northeast Wisconsin this September at an event that mixes inspiring stories, cool auction items, one-of-a-kind golf and support in the community.

The 2021 Northeast Wisconsin Heroes Classic will be held Sept. 1-19, through a mix of in-person golf and online engagement that benefits the mission of the American Red Cross in Wisconsin. The highlight of the event is the introduction of local heroes, from a variety of backgrounds and good deeds.

“These heroes give such a positive reminder of the good in our communities and it’s our privilege to honor each and every person,” said Steve Hansen, Executive Director, Northeast Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross. “It’s just that much better to recognize these local heroes in a way that includes the fun of golf and a silent auction, and spirit of generosity that backs the mission of the Red Cross where we live and work.”

The 2021 Heroes are:

Adult Hero – Sgt. Andrew Miles (Outagamie County)

Animal Hero – Geller with handler Jeff Jorgenson (Winnebago County)

Emergency Responders – Sgt. Christopher Tappen & Deputy Cooper Walker (Brown County)

From the Heart – Percy VanLanen-Knaub, granddaughter Tara Bailey is accepting the award posthumously (Oconto County)

Youth – Parker Wilson (Outagamie County)

Military – Jason Ortscheid, Sam Skiff, Karsen Sherrick & Chris Rosene (Brown County)

Hero of the Year – Carson Molle (Outagamie County)

Golfing for the event can tee off anytime from Sept. 1-19, with in-person golf foursomes at North Shore Golf Club in Menasha. For golf sign-ups/details, contact Steve Hansen at steve.hansen@redcross.org.

The silent auction kicks off at 8 a.m., Sept. 7 and closes at 6 p.m., Sept. 17. To join the silent auction that supports the Red Cross mission as well as see the inspiring hero videos, click here. (Golf is not required for involvement and support; a separate registration for the auction and more are available here: https://e.givesmart.com/events/m1a/)

The Mission Moment sponsor is Northeast Chapter board member Sarah Ann Dressel, with a $15,000 match to double the generosity of event donors. Additional sponsors include: Presenting Sponsor – Schneider; Award Sponsors – Menasha Corporation, Jon & Wendy Suprise, Miller Electric, Paper Transport; Golf Cart Sponsor – Festival Foods; Lunch Sponsor – The Village Companies; and Golf Reception Sponsor – Green Bay Packers Give Back.

Mary Jane Thomsen brings excitement, ownership to new Red Cross leadership role in NW Wisconsin

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Last week, Mary Jane “MJ” Thomsen began her new role as Executive Director for the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross. But Thomsen is no stranger to the Red Cross, nor the Midwest.

Thomsen has been Executive Director for the Red Cross’ Greater St. Louis Chapter since April 2018, and she spent the prior nine years leading blood collection efforts for the Red Cross in Missouri and Illinois. Success in those roles meant collaboration with Air Force bases and NHL teams, as well as United Ways and Red Cross Community Volunteer Leaders. Her career began after a triple-major B.A. degree from the University of Minnesota – Duluth, and immersed herself in professional and community affiliations such as Rotary Clubs in St. Louis and Duluth, Association of Donor Recruitment Professionals, and English Springer Rescue America.

As Thomsen settles into this new role, she shared a few key thoughts on her background and the people she “can’t wait to get to know” in her new environs. 

What are you looking forward to most at the start of your time as a leader with the Red Cross in northwest Wisconsin?

Thomsen: “I am very excited to meet the volunteers in the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter. From board members and community volunteer leaders, to all those who work to respond to disaster, support our military members and veterans and coordinate blood drives, I can’t wait to get to know them and the community we serve.”

“Coming out of COVID – and into a new community – I am really looking forward to meeting local Red Crossers in person and spending time learning more about what makes our Chapter unique in the Wisconsin Region.”

What are one or two things you’ve been most proud of with your work so far at the Red Cross?

Thomsen: “In St. Louis, as District Manager of donor recruitment, we were responsible for collecting over 70,000 units of blood annually in our Chapter. Being able to get to know our sponsors and their organizations was a pleasure, and the working relationships and friendships our team created helped us to develop blood programs which were considered signature partnerships for Red Cross.”

“Also in St. Louis, as Executive Director, I was a part of one of the first three regions in the country to begin the One Red Cross Community Engagement Initiative (Beta) models. In this initiative, Humanitarian and Biomedical Services worked closely together to ensure partner relationships were aligned to optimize blood collections and development opportunities.”

Why do you feel the mission of the American Red Cross continues to resonate so strongly in our communities?

“The Red Cross mission is to alleviate human suffering by mobilizing the generosity of volunteers, and our entire workforce is 90% volunteer led. Because we are made up of individuals who are committed to ensuring that our mission and service delivery occur down the street and across the country, each community has a very real ownership of supporting those in the most critical need – when that support is needed most.”

For more on the Northwest Chapter, including Board Directors, click here.

Arrowhead Union H.S. student wins Red Cross scholarship   

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Jesus “Junny” Hernandez of Delafield helped save lives by hosting an American Red Cross blood drive at his church and earned a $1,000 scholarship as a result of his lifesaving efforts. 

As part of the Red Cross Leaders Save Lives program, the student at Arrowhead Union High School hosted a blood drive at First Congregational Church in Hartland on May 28, which collected 44 blood donations. As a result, Hernandez was eligible to be entered into a drawing for a scholarship and was chosen as a winner. He was also awarded a gift card.  

Hernandez intends to study medicine after graduating high school in 2023. He said organizing this blood drive gave him the chance to “feel empowered” in his community and with his passion for healthcare.

“Please host a blood drive. It is a great way to interact with your community and school while still helping people in need,” he said.

Blood donors from high school and college blood drives account for about 20% of donations given through the Red Cross during the school year. The Leaders Save Lives program encourages community-minded high school and college students to host blood drives to help maintain the blood supply for patients in need of lifesaving transfusions.  

Students can sign up to host Leaders Save Lives blood drives during several seasonal timeframes throughout the year. For more information, visit RedCrossBlood.org/LeadersSaveLives

To make an appointment for a blood donation, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call (800) RED CROSS (733-2767) or download the free American Red Cross Blood Donor app from your app store.

Wisconsin Region spotlight: Q&A with Bradley Phillips

Every few months, we’re highlighting the incredible work toward the mission of the American Red Cross by one of our colleagues in the Wisconsin Region. Hopefully these short profiles provide a little light of positivity and inspiration across all lines of service in our humanitarian mission.

This first profile is on 40-year biomedical services Collections Material Coordinator (CMC) Bradley Phillips, who has personal connections with the need for blood products and also knows his way around a dartboard. Questions were asked by members of the Region communications team, and edited for style and space.

American Red Cross: Tell us a little about your professional background and your role at the Red Cross.

Bradley Phillips: I started my career with the Red Cross back in 1981 in Green Bay as a hospital services courier, working part-time, on-call every other day and weekend. I then transferred to Madison to take a full-time Mobile Unit Assistant (MUA, as the role was known as then) position for about a year-and-a-half until a position back in my hometown of Green Bay opened in the hospital services department.

Upon my return to Green Bay, I filled in for various positions including milk runner (nowadays referred to as courier or blood runner), activity (hospital calls) and periodic MUA work. I performed this miscellaneous work for approximately two years until the one and only Green Bay driver (at that time) unexpectedly went out for medical reasons, their unexpected situation led me to be able to step into my full-time role as an MUA.

While working as an MUA for many years I became an active member of the Local 1558 Union as a Steward until 2012 when I became Vice President. I remained in the role of an MUA until September 2019 when a Collections Material Coordinator (CMC) position opened. During my career, I thoroughly enjoyed being in the MUA position out on the road, I am also very happy in my current role as a CMC.

To people outside the Red Cross, how do you explain your job?

I tell people I prepare and load trucks for blood drives, keep the warehouse fully stocked by ordering and tracking inventory of all supplies as well as equipment, and monitor every blood drive to ensure each vital detail is in place for all mobile operations to run smoothly. I do so much more but one of my biggest roles is being that moral support for the drivers before they leave for their shifts.

What is your hidden talent? Or a hobby you have that people may not know about?

I am pretty good at throwing darts and enjoy playing darts with friends. By far one of my favorite pastimes is visiting northern Wisconsin, camping [there] with family and friends during the warm months of the year.

Has anyone in your immediate circle (family or friends) been helped by the Red Cross? If so, how?

Yes, my sister-in-law received blood during her pregnancy, and I received convalescent plasma while I was in the hospital fighting COVID-19 related complications.

Another way the American Red Cross has helped my family was when my 4-year-old granddaughter was in the hospital recovering from an accident. My American Red Cross family (co-workers) showed my granddaughter love and support by getting her fun activities like coloring books, toys and stuffed animals to help lift her spirits during her recovery.

What does the Red Cross mean to you?

It means everything! The American Red Cross has been such a huge part of my life for so many years. The American Red Cross gave me a chance to see so many little towns and meet so many people. I might not have ever had the chance to experience these things if it was not for my job traveling on the road throughout the years. You never really work in the same place and everywhere you go you see a new face.

What would you say to inspire someone to join the Red Cross as a blood donor, volunteer, or supporter?

The American Red Cross is an interesting, unique, and exciting place to work. The atmosphere, and the people, make the job fun all the while touching so many lives.

“All that matters”: Red Cross supports people across Wisconsin after late-night, widespread tornados and storms

By Justin Kern and Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Jim Zastrow stands in front of the storm and tornado damage at and around his family’s home in Oconomowoc. Photo by Laura McGuire / American Red Cross

Jim Zastrow didn’t need an official tornado declaration to know the seriousness of the overnight storms. He could make it out in the wood shards from the destroyed barn across the street that were stuck into his own Oconomowoc home’s exterior walls.

For Zastrow, like many people across Wisconsin, daylight on Thursday revealed a bewildering spread of destruction, at homes from Black River Falls and Merrill, to Ripon and Concord. As disaster volunteers Debbie Urbanek and Steve Buck from the American Red Cross brought emergency assistance and clean-up materials to Zastrow and others in western Waukesha County, Zastrow thought about what was most important after a night of hunkering down with his wife and daughter.

“My house is devastated but my family is fine and that’s all that matters,” said Zastrow.

From the evening of July 28 to the early hours of July 29, a line of thunderstorms and now-confirmed tornados raked across Wisconsin, starting with alerts, watches and warnings, then leaving behind a spotty stretch of residential ruin. As of Friday morning, the National Weather Service had confirmed at least five tornados and power was just returning for parts of north-central and northeast Wisconsin. One person was reported killed in a car crash caused by storm debris.

American Red Cross disaster volunteers Steve Buck, left, and Debbie Urbanek brought emergency assistance and clean-up supplies to residents in Waukesha County. Photo by Laura McGuire / American Red Cross

The Red Cross helped those affected during and afterward in a number of ways, including emergency assistance to residents affected by tornados in New Richmond and Oconomowoc, as well as other storm damage in La Valle, Wisconsin Dells and Omro, plus support with power charging stations and water distribution in Ripon and Pine River. Between people who were displaced temporarily or for a potentially longer timeframe, the Red Cross provided direct assistance to more than 40 people in various parts of the state. At the same time, disaster teams were still supporting families displaced by unrelated home fires in Oshkosh, Milwaukee, Peshtigo and Sheboygan.

Uniquely, more than 15,000 people were in town for a popular aircraft show in Oshkosh, many of them camping and in RVs. So, the Red Cross and partners established an evacuation center before and during the storm at the Menominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh. From arena seats and in view of the historic Mecca basketball court, families from North Dakota, Minnesota, Tennessee, Missouri and just up the street rode out a roaring, lightning-packed storm cutting across Winnebago County.

Gary Garske, left, and Kelly Moore, attendees of an aircraft event in Oshkosh, rode out a threatening storm at an evacuation center run by the American Red Cross. Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross

Gary Garske, from Devils Lake, N.D., said he had been attending the E.A.A. AirVenture show since the 1990s, though luckily had never experienced inclement weather beyond rain and wind gusts. His visit this year, accompanied by Kelly Moore, her daughter and the daughter’s friend, included a layover at a Red Cross evacuation center. Garske and Moore had Red Cross blankets draped over their legs to get cozy in the arena seating as the storm howled outside for more than 40 minutes. Moore checked out weather updates on her computer; Olympic swimming on arena TVs served as a welcome distraction for others at the evacuation center.

“This is perfect. I wouldn’t want to be out there in a camper,” said Garske.

You can help people during their darkest hour. Join our disaster volunteers. More than 90 percent of our humanitarian mission happens because of the compassion and dedication of people just like you. Find out more and sign up at redcross.org/DAT.

Red Cross believer shows “good things come in threes”

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Cindy Stiffler has been on both sides of the table when it comes to receiving and giving blood products.

But it’s her passion as an American Red Cross volunteer that brings to mind the quote, “all good things come in threes”.

In 2018, Stiffler was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through her journey with cancer she endured chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries and she required blood and platelets. Once during her recovery, she needed to wait for blood. Thanks to the Red Cross’ advance inventory management system, blood was located in another state and was transported to the hospital for her transfusion.

Cindy Stiffler at a blood drive in Madison. Photo by Laura McGuire / American Red Cross

Stiffler started giving blood in college and has been a loyal blood donor ever since. Her journey with cancer paused her donations, but now she is donating again. She will reach her 20th donation milestone later this month.

“Donating is a good thing to do,” Stiffler said. “You never know when you’ll be on the other side needing blood. I have O-negative blood and I know how important that is to share with others.”

In 2013, Stiffler started volunteering at Red Cross blood drives and has been volunteering in the Madison area for the last six years. When asked about what drives her passion, she said she respects the mission of the Red Cross and enjoys how easy and meaningful it is to help. She likes volunteering at blood drives because she knows she has a direct impact on someone’s life. 

Stiffler’s passion for the Red Cross started early in life. She remembers seeing the Red Cross at work when a friend’s house caught on fire.

“The Red Cross’ disaster team was on the ground instantly providing my friend’s family with comfort, care and essential needs,” said Stiffler. “It’s a comfort knowing that the Red Cross is always there. It’s good people doing good work.”

The Red Cross is grateful for Cindy Stiffler as she continues to fulfil her passion as a loyal blood donor and volunteer.

Every cancer survivor’s ability to donate blood will be determined on a case by case basis. Eligibility is ultimately determined by the type of cancer you had and the treatment you received. For eligibility requirements please visit redcrossblood.org.