A New Year’s resolution to volunteer leads to a remarkable year of Red Cross action

By Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

When Lynn Marquardt, of Sturgeon Bay, applied to be an American Red Cross volunteer one year ago in January, she never expected that her New Year’s resolution would send her to two of the most devastating natural disasters of 2018.

Newly retired from her career as a family nurse practitioner, Marquardt was ready to join her husband, Dennis, as a Red Cross volunteer. After signing up and finding an area she found interesting – disaster response – she went through online and in-person trainings.

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Lynn Marquardt, right, and her husband Dennis, both of Sturgeon Bay, serve meals to two people staying at a shelter in Panama City, Fla. in October.

Then, in spring 2018, her first volunteer response: a trailer fire in the middle of the night, in the nearby town of Brussels. She arrived to find a large family, pets included, huddled in a vehicle after fleeing their burning trailer. Seeing the state they were in – barefoot, scared and in shock, but fortunately unharmed – the reality of the ordeal suddenly hit her.

“I realized what it meant to have to leave behind everything in order to escape – your identification, medications, meaningful personal belongings,” Marquardt said.

But the horror of the situation was replaced by the reward she felt in responding to the family’s immediate needs.

It was a privilege for her to explain to the family that the Red Cross would provide them with shelter and help them get funds for certain basic things.

“To see the relief on their faces meant so much,” she said. “I knew this was the start of their healing process.”


Click here to find your place as a volunteer with the American Red Cross this year.


For both Marquardt and her husband, this affirmed their decision to become Red Cross volunteers. A few months later, they had the opportunity to put their compassion and talents toward a disaster with national attention.

Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the residents of North Carolina when the Marquardts received the call in September. They arrived a few days after the storm hit and were assigned to a shelter in the town of Sanford, housing over 300 residents, many with medical needs such as hemodialysis. Once there, Marquardt was tasked with feeding, all from a single-burner stove in the shelter’s small kitchen.

She realized the first thing she needed to do was build trust in those she would be helping. The simple act of offering snacks and drinks to the residents made a difference.

“When they saw what we could offer, it changed the nature of our relationship,” she said. Marquardt also discovered the generosity of the local community as many restaurants donated food.

Over time the shelter’s residents opened up and shared their stories, which for Marquardt “was a beautiful experience, and a real lesson in humanity.” Despite the hard work, long days, and sharing a single shower with hundreds of others, she came away with a true understanding of the importance of cooperation.

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Sand replacement roads and snapped pine trees were typical sights for Lynn Marquardt during her deployment for Hurricane Michael. Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers from across the U.S. descended on the area to help those in need.

Only weeks later the call came to travel to Florida and help with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. The Marquardts flew into Tallahassee, received their orders, and then drove to Panama City.  This was essentially “ground zero” of the storm and one of the hardest hit cities.

“I remember driving in and seeing the destruction. There were still electrical wires dangling and trees blocking the roads,” recalled Marquardt. “We were in the midst of a disaster that was still going on.”

They were directed to a shelter set up in a school, one of the few schools not destroyed by the hurricane, housing hundreds of people. Assigned again to feeding, Marquardt worked alongside volunteers to provide the residents three meals each day. And again, most memorable for Marquardt was the outpouring of support the shelter received from local community members.

With her first year of volunteering now in the books, will 2019 be as busy for Marquardt? There’s no way to predict, but she does have one particular goal: should a disaster strike that involves the need for an emergency response vehicle (ERV), she’d like to put her recent driver training to the test and get behind the wheel.

newyearnewyouShe also plans to complete training to become a Red Cross supervisor/manager. The supervisors she worked under in her first year of volunteering recommended that she and her husband both pursue this training given the leadership skills they demonstrated.

Looking back on an action-packed year of volunteering, Marquardt remarked that “the mission of the Red Cross – to alleviate human suffering – is what drives and inspires me.” The Red Cross is fortunate that Marquardt made the decision to channel this drive into a new year’s resolution that ultimately helped hundreds of people.

It’s not too late for you to consider making a similar resolution at the start of 2019. Take the first step by filling out the volunteer form here.

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Thomas to join American Red Cross as Wisconsin Region CEO, SE Chapter Executive

The American Red Cross today welcomes Mark Thomas as its new Wisconsin Region CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive.

Mark Thomas - headshot Dec 2018Thomas has deep nonprofit and for-profit executive experience, with strengths in sales and operations management, and strategic leadership skills. Thomas has led or participated in fundraising efforts for The American Heart Association, United Performing Arts Fund and The United Way. Most recently, he served as Vice President and COO for the Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee.

Thomas said the people and mission of the American Red Cross provide an opportunity to extend his professional expertise and his dedication to Milwaukee and Wisconsin.

“The staff, volunteers, donors and advocates at the Red Cross provide our state with a powerful resource for positive change, from home fire recovery and military support, to safety training, responses to national disasters and ensuring a strong blood supply,” Thomas said. “I am grateful to help lead such a highly regarded organization with a commitment to Milwaukee and Wisconsin that spans more than 100 years.”

His professional background also includes leadership roles at The Milwaukee Business Journal, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

A Milwaukee native who lives in Mequon with his family, Thomas has and currently serves on numerous nonprofit boards, and has been recognized on numerous occasions for his contributions to the community.

Patty Flowers, the prior CEO and Chapter Executive, retired recently after eight-and-a-half years of remarkable growth and collaboration across the five chapters and two biomed territories in the state.

For more information on other Wisconsin Red Cross executives and locations, click here.

Thomas officially starts his leadership role effective Dec. 12, 2018.

Mosaic partnership brings “extra protection” to northwestern Wisconsin homes

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Rebecca Eliasen signed up for cable and phone service at her Barron, Wisconsin home. Her telecommunications installer also brought her peace of mind.

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Rebecca Eliasen, right, chatted with Nate Froehlich as he installed a new smoke alarm in her Barron home.

Nate Froehlich, a service technician with Mosaic Telecom, installed a smoke alarm at Eliasen’s home recently, as part of a trailblazing partnership with the American Red Cross of Wisconsin. Eliasen lives in the home with her boyfriend and her son, and she said she was relieved to be able to have the Mosaic technician check her existing smoke alarms and add one in the basement.

“It’s nice to have the extra protection, the extra safety,” said Eliasen. “You can never have too many, in case you can’t hear it or you’re a heavy sleeper.”

In the partnership, Mosaic technicians have been trained by the Red Cross to install free smoke alarms during scheduled service calls in and around Barron County. Mosaic is the first telco in the U.S. to perform these types of installs with the Red Cross. As of Nov. 15, one month into the partnership, Mosaic technicians had already installed 38 smoke alarms in homes across Barron County. The timing of the partnership is important, too, as winter weather brings with it an increase in home fires.

Barron ARC Mosaic install house

The Mosaic and Red Cross partnership brought more than 30 smoke alarms into northwestern Wisconsin homes in just the first month.

Across Wisconsin, the American Red Cross brings together volunteers, fire departments and corporate partners to install thousands of smoke alarms in homes. Some are done in single-day events, others in sporadic scheduling. It’s part of a nationwide campaign that, since 2014, has directly saved the lives of more than 470 people, including a family from Janesville.

Kyle Kriegl, Chapter Executive for the American Red Cross of Wisconsin – Northwestern Chapter, said the addition of Mosaic’s team “will make great strides toward improving home fire safety and awareness for residents in this part of the state.”

Shanna Roe, Marketing Specialist at Mosaic Telecom, said that it was easy to add the smoke alarms to their work flow when considering the wider aims for the community.

“The decision for Mosaic to partner with the Red Cross in the implementation of this program was simple – we are working together to save lives,” Roe said.

Along with the Mosaic partnership, free smoke alarms and home fire escape plans are available to anyone in need. To sign up, go to GetASmokeAlarm.org.

From Donut Dollie to the Milwaukee VA: Evans marks 50 years of military support

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

As Mary Evans leafed through a box labeled “Vietnam,” she verbally connected the dots along her American Red Cross volunteer contributions, from Memorial Day at the Milwaukee VA in 2018 to her stint as a “Donut Dollie” exactly 50 years ago.

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Mary Evans, SAF volunteer, holds a snapshot taken in Vietnam during her time as a Donut Dollie.

In the box, amid the color pictures: scenes of Evans with G.I.s in front of Christmas trees covered in tinsel during downtime; a trio of soldiers around Evans, two smiling and one solemn, posed in front of endless barracks. In black-and-white photos: a band rocking out, followed by a shot of Evans, in Red Cross stylized dress, in front of a lineup of military trucks. An illustrated “Pocket Guide to Vietnam” tour book. A laminated Red Cross “Emergency Identification” issued under Evans’s maiden name, de la Forest.

Evans, who lives in Milwaukee with her husband, John, shared the memories from five decades ago in part to keep alive the service of the Donut Dollies, but also in hopes to inspire others to volunteer for service members through the Red Cross.

“The role we had … I think it was incredible,” Evans said. “To all of them, you were like their sister, their mother, their girlfriend. I think we provided a tremendous service in taking their minds off things.”


Click here for a list of veterans and active duty resources from the American Red Cross, as well as to find out ways you can help.


Through a Red Cross program called Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas, American women volunteered to bring refreshments, entertainment and a flash of cheer to military servicemen during the Vietnam War. They were dubbed “Donut Dollies” by service members, a name that stuck, though their goodwill work amid the trauma of war is sometimes misremembered or lost.

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Mary Evans, center, poses with some of the soldiers she worked with in 1968 as an American Red Cross volunteer in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.

Evans said she “felt something was missing” in her life in spring 1968. Graduated from college and working at a bank in San Francisco, she wanted to get involved in a positive way in the war that served as a flashpoint for one of the most chaotic years in global history. Compelled to do something for those in military service, Evans called an American Red Cross office in northern California. And, “six weeks later, I was on my way” to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, off the South China Sea.

Evans and the other Dollies would put together 50 minutes of games, activities and entertainment, amid their namesake snacks and refreshments, at about six U.S. Army sites per day, five to six days a week. There was plenty of time for competition in the activities, and conversation throughout their visits. Evans said she felt the enlisted “lifers” were more lonely and appreciative of the lifeline to something outside of war when the Dollies came. They frequently ran into soldiers at a high or low, as she said they often presented their programs immediately before or after soldiers took leave.

In a warzone, Evans hesitated to call their volunteering dangerous. But it was clear they were far from home.

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A 1968 American Red Cross I.D. for Mary Evans (nee de la Forest). Evans remains active with Service to the Armed Forces volunteering in Wisconsin.

“Jeeps, trucks, choppers … MPs would pick us up and they would drive us back for several miles to our center. There were flares going up across the Bay, but I felt safe almost the whole time,” she said.

When Evans’s father passed away suddenly, her stint in Vietnam ended so that she could come home to help her mother and family. As free time cropped up, she returned to volunteering with the Red Cross at a medical hospital near her home in Santa Rosa, Calif. Although she couldn’t return to Vietnam with the Red Cross as she had hoped, while stateside she was able to stay in touch with fellow Donut Dollies and Army service members as they returned.

Years on and starting her own family, Evans moved to southeast Wisconsin. It wasn’t long before she dialed the local Red Cross to see how she could contribute, once again for those who served. This call brought her to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, where, during Red Cross volunteer activities, she’s been able to get to know Jaime, a former Tuskegee Airman, and Norm, a combat-wounded veteran with a penchant for polka music. In a different way than her Donut Dollies days, these Wednesday mornings at the Milwaukee VA gave her the sense of providing relief and escape for service members.

“It’s not so much looking back at what they did or what we did. We’re mainly thanking them for their service,” she said.

Mary Evans SAF Memorial Day 2018

Mary Evans and her husband, John, at left, shared lunch with veterans and fellow Red Cross volunteers at the Milwaukee VA on Memorial Day 2018.

Evans has slowed down with volunteering in the past year, with time focused on a few family matters. But she did participate with other Red Cross volunteers in the big Memorial Day barbecue at the Milwaukee V.A. in 2018, bringing meals to vets unable to make it outside. And her foundation in giving herself to service members and veterans hasn’t wavered since the ‘60s, said Richard Seymour, Service to the Armed Forces program director, Wisconsin Region.

“Support for veterans and service members are core to the Red Cross mission, and Mary has embodied that mission for five decades,” Seymour said. “Whether on the frontlines in Vietnam or at a community commemoration in Milwaukee, Mary puts her heart into the volunteer work she does with our service members.”

Find out how you can become a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer here.

Wisconsin Red Cross Volunteers Give a Firsthand Account to Devastation, Response to Hurricanes

Story by James Ziech, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

As two deadly hurricanes struck the southeastern United States in September and October, more than 130 Red Cross disaster volunteers and staff from Wisconsin joined the national response.

Brenda Haney DA Hurricane Florence

Brenda Haney, from the Madison area, tallies damage during her deployment to North Carolina. (Photo by June Shakhashiri / American Red Cross)

Below is a snapshot of varied experiences of Wisconsin volunteers – from riding in helicopters to devastated towns to talking with people at shelters who had nowhere else to turn. While some volunteers have been deployed and come back, many more remain in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas as the recovery from Hurricanes Florence and Michael carry on for what will likely be months. (Find out how you can help the Florence recovery here.)

Tena Quackenbush of Black River Falls
Sheltering in North Carolina

Tena has been volunteering with The American Red Cross for about a year now. She was deployed to Houston last year as part of the response to Hurricane Harvey. But this experience in North Carolina was definitely different.

After going to a processing station, Tena and 10 others were flown in by Black Hawk helicopter to a shelter in Cerro Gordo to make relief and serve primarily the residents of Fair Bluff, whose town had been flooded out. Tena said it was rewarding to be able to show compassion and remove fears for those who had lost so much.

“When they learned that the shelter was closing and will have to move to another shelter, I could see the fear welling up in their eyes. We all took them outside as a group and individually for a prayer circle. After we were done, a little girl tugged on my shirt with tears in her eyes and said, ‘That was amazing’. When we left, people kept hugging us and thanking the American Red Cross for what they had done,” Tena said.

(Click here to check out a video of Mimi Maki, of Kewaunee, sharing the spiritual and emotional resources she’s providing in Florida.)

Evelyn Carter in Garland NC for Hurricane Florence Sept 22 2018

Evelyn Carter, from the Eau Claire area, provided mobile food delivery in North Carolina after Florence made landfall. (Photo Daniel Cima / American Red Cross)

Evelyn Carter of Eau Claire
Meals and driving in North Carolina

Evelyn has been volunteering for the American Red Cross for the past year and a half, active in anything from casework with clients and shelter assistance to disaster assessment and driving emergency response vehicles.

When asked to deploy, she immediately agreed. Evelyn and fellow volunteer David McDonald drove an emergency response vehicle (ERV) from the Wausau Red Cross office to Macon, Georgia. From there, they received orders for mobile assistance, which brought Evelyn to Lexington, North Carolina. Evelyn joined a caravan of vehicles to deliver hot meals to remote and disconnected parts of the state.

“It was adventurous and a challenge working with the victims and making sure you met their needs,” she said. “Whether it was one meal or several for their group, it was nice knowing that they can come up to get something to eat for the day. I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, but on my last day I had people coming up to me and hugging me and thanking me for all that we have done.”

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Ana Perez, in red hat, reviews paperwork as she and fellow volunteers from southeast Wisconsin prepare for deployment with Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross)

Ana Perez of Sheboygan
Sheltering in North Carolina

Ana has been volunteering with the American Red Cross for past four years. Previously, she had been deployed to the hurricane response in St. Croix and to flooding damage in Kentucky. When she left for this deployment, she and five fellow Red Cross volunteers arrived at a school shelter in Edenton, North Carolina, where they were initially joined by a principal, a sheriff, two cooks and a school janitor to keep 40 people calm before the hurricane made landfall.

“My heart ached for everyone in the shelters, having their lives turned upside down,” she said.

Ana said she came to help but didn’t expect to be taught something in return. She knew one of the elderly clients from a previous shelter. The client did not have anyone else with her, but she did not complain. When Ana was working the registration desk three days in, she was approached by the lady carrying her belongings and told her she had a place to go.

“I will always remember her kindness … the patience and strength she had during this difficult time in her life,” Ana said. “[I] use it as a reminder to not let the circumstances around me control my emotions or peace.”

Terry Buchen of Madison
Logistics in Virginia and North Carolina

Terry has been volunteering with the American Red Cross for 10 years. He had been deployed in Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and Georgia. Like many who were deployed recently, he was also able to help during flooding and storms in his own backyard this summer in Wisconsin.

During his deployment this time around, Terry has been responsible for managing a warehouse, loading of trucks and delivering supplies where they are most needed. It appears there is no stopping him either. “To me, you’re helping people and it is a lot of fun,” he said.

“It’s been a rough year”: Compassion and help for residents besieged by storms

Stories and photo by Justin Kern, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

Rhonda Pfaff hadn’t finished cleaning out her home, garage and yard from the first flood when the nearby Baraboo River started to rise again.

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Rhonda Pfaff shares an embrace with Cindy Brown, Red Cross volunteer.

By the time a second August flood submerged her neighborhood in Elroy, Pfaff wondered if the deluge and damage weren’t “the last straw” for her home and others on the street, some already cordoned off with caution tape. Pfaff had moved to the home formerly owned by her great-aunt to care for her beloved father, Gaylord (“I was his shadow”). He passed away in March and much of the rehab work they did – wood work, flooring, landscaping – were left awash and stripped from their single-story, cream colored ranch-style home.

“It’s been a rough year,” Pfaff said, soon after a hug with Red Cross volunteer Cindy Brown. “All we have left from the basement are some dishes. You know what? We’re alive. We have our health.”

Pfaff reflected on the destruction in her small Wisconsin town and others across the state hit with record rainfalls, overburdened rivers and more than a dozen tornadoes from mid-August to early September. Red Cross volunteers Cindy Brown and Fayth Harrison went door to door on September 6th in Elroy, its small-town Americana now buttressed with entire living rooms, bedrooms, vehicles and basement possessions on the front curb for disposal.

Harrison and Brown brought Pfaff Red Cross assistance and information on various recovery resources. To Pfaff’s relief, they also brought open hearts.

“You have brightened my day. I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” Pfaff said.

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The scene on one Elroy, Wisconsin street in early September.

As grim as the scene in her neighborhood, Pfaff was appreciative that her family was unharmed and had a place to go, in her former home across town. Pfaff’s ex-husband and his family came by to clear out trash and debris. She teased her son, who had been living at her house along with his fiancée, that he was excused from yard maintenance after flood waters carried a metal yard roller hundreds of yards from their property into a marsh.

Pfaff held remarkable humor and warmth as she talked with Red Cross disaster workers, even while she pointed to the high-water mark on the outside of the home that lined up well into her living room.

“I have to laugh because if I cry I’ll fill up that river so damn fast,” Pfaff said.

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Reedsburg, another hard hit town, continues to deal with standing water from August storms.

Including their time with Pfaff, Brown and Harrison made the rounds with multiple families Thursday in Elroy. Days into a deployment in their own state, the two volunteers they were flagged down on this day by one person in a passing truck, alerted to another person in need of assistance who was working the lunch shift at her downtown diner. Hundreds of residents across the state have received assistance, clean-up supplies, meals and more from Red Cross during response and recovery, now at more than three weeks.

Red Cross continues to reach out to residents across the state in need after these devastating late summer storms, tornadoes and floods. To connect with Red Cross recovery resources, call 888-700-7051 and leave your information. A disaster recovery specialist will call you back as soon as possible.

From an ATV in a soybean field to a Red Cross shelter: one woman’s rescue story during record-breaking storms

by Justin Kern, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

At first, Janice Huizenga thought she was hunkering down for another summer evening thunderstorm. Janice said she would occasionally peek out of the window of her home in Alto, in Fond du Lac County, on Tuesday as the wind whipped up and the rain started to fall.

Then, a sense of chaos, as the 84-year old saw downed trees, followed by concern, as the power went out at her house and throughout the neighborhood. Janice needed power for medical supplies and to keep an emergency bracelet charged.

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Janice Huizenga, left, shares her rescue story with Red Cross volunteers, including MaryKay Bishop.

With the storm raging around her home – the same storm that dropped more than a dozen tornadoes and flooded numerous rivers across the state – Janice’s adult children, all without power for the night, located a Red Cross shelter with power and notified local fire officials about their mother’s situation and location. Meanwhile, Janice said tornado sirens blared for a third time that night, something she said she’s never heard.

Janice’s home was now surrounded by broken trees, live wires and rain-soaked earth, so firefighters drove an ATV through a soybean field to reach her backyard. Then, she was brought along a meandering path of barely passable roads to a Red Cross shelter at Brandon High School, one town over.

“I was shocked when the tree was down [in my yard] and the roots were out,” said Janice on Wednesday, next to her cot at the shelter. “Then I saw the power line in the tree and wires pulled out of my house. Then, telephone posts were down and you never see that. Down the street, there were more posts down.”

Janice was one of dozens of people to spend a night or more at eight shelters that have been set up since August 20 by the Red Cross as part of monumental storms that have overflowed rivers and damaged homes and property from Prairie du Chien and La Crosse eastward to Coon Valley, Madison, Waupun and Cedarburg. One fatality has been reported so far in association with the storms, which have included record rainfall, numerous tornadoes and emergency declarations.

Three Red Cross shelters remained open as of August 31 and recovery efforts like clean-up kit distribution and sandbagging were in place as the state braced for more rains in the forecast through Labor Day weekend. (For updates on shelters, dial 2-1-1 or follow the Wisconsin Red Cross Facebook and Twitter pages.)

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A cornfield ravaged by August storms outside of Waupun, Wisconsin.

Back in Brandon, Janice recounted her scary evening with Red Cross volunteers, included MaryKay Bishop. The two bonded during the morning with stories of the storm, but also of family. After one night at the shelter – one of the few places with power anywhere close to her home – Janice had connected with her daughter who had planned to navigate roads still under the aftermath of the storms to take in her mother until power and safety were restored in Alto.

Janice was grateful for the night at the shelter, in the basketball court of Brandon H.S. She had slept some and talked with volunteers about plans for a group lunch.

Pondering the power of the devastating storms across Wisconsin, and of the wide-ranging recovery to come for herself and thousands of other residents, Janice said she felt humbled by a higher power at play.

“Man thinks they can do a lot, but nobody can do what God did with this wind,” she said.

To offer your support to people like Janice impacted by the Wisconsin storms and floods, click here to find out how to volunteer, donate or give blood.

“I’ve Never Been So Scared”: Early Reflections on Dane County Flooding

Story by Michele Maki, American Red Cross; Photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

“Now I know what it’s like to be in a hurricane.”

Ashley Repp from Mazomanie, Wisconsin, recounted her harrowing rescue while visiting her neighbor in the local Red Cross shelter at Mazomanie Elementary School.

 

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A mother and daughter watch flood waters consume streets near their home on Tuesday in Mazomanie.

“I was absolutely terrified. The water was rushing in so fast!,” Repp shared.

Repp and her neighbors were rescued early Tuesday morning when heavy rains sent a flash flood crashing through her town of Mazomanie, and the surrounding communities of Cross Plains and parts of the Madison area.

“The rains started Monday, but by early Tuesday, I saw the streets starting to flood. I came outside about 5:30 in the morning and the waters were already rising. I looked across the street to the apartment building that sits a bit lower and saw the bottom floors under water.”

Ashley stopped momentarily to share the pictures she took. The sight showed a small town under a deluge. A record-breaking rainfall on Sunday and Monday swelled rivers, overran into backyards, submerged cars, basements, businesses.

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Red Cross volunteer Cindy Brown, right, assists a client at a shelter at Madison West H.S. on Friday morning. 

Red Cross opened shelters in Mazomanie (314 Anne St.) and Madison (at West H.S., 30 Ash St.), as well as Cross Plains (at Glacier Creek Middle School, since closed). Other resources include mobile and fixed distribution of clean-up kits across Dane County, and, with dozens of community partners and government agencies, multi-agency resource centers in Mazomanie (on Friday, 314 Anne St.) and Middleton (on Saturday at Blackhawk Church, 9620 Brader Way). (Additional updates are available here from Dane County Emergency Management.)

Back at the shelter in Mazomanie, Ashley continued her story. She said that within 20 mins, her stairwell was flooding. “Water came rushing in, and the fire department came by and told us to grab our stuff and get out. I don’t even remember much, except that the water was rushing in so fast-it was hard to stand and keep my balance. I’ve never been so scared in my life!”

The rescue workers assisted Ashley and her neighbors into rafts and then steadied it by walking it through the flood waters, and up to the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) building.

“Folks from all over our community were there to give us clothing and dry out what we had been wearing, which was soaked.”

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On Thursday, a family in Mazomanie cleans up from initial flooding and places sandbags outside their house for the possibility of more water.

When asked how long all this took, Ashley’s face become very somber: “You know … I have no idea. Time just ran into itself … I have no idea at all.  It was about 7 that night before we got settled in. I thought it must be later than that, but … I don’t know.”

Her voice trailed off, she paused and then turned and said, “I’m just so thankful we all got out. Everyone here, the community, the Red Cross, everyone helped us feel safe. Folks offered clothes, food … the whole community pulled together to help all of us.”

When asked whether she would be staying here, at the Red Cross shelter, Ashley replied, “No, I’m lucky. I have a place to stay, but my neighbor doesn’t, so I’m glad you’re here to help her, I was worried.”

Ashley had come by the shelter to check in on her neighbor: “She’s being well cared for, thank you. Thank you, Mazomanie and thank you, Red Cross!”

Follow American Red Cross of Wisconsin on Twitter and Facebook for breaking updates on shelters and other resources. For access to resources for this ongoing flooding situation, dial 2-1-1.

After “unfathomable” tragedy, Portage residents get back on their feet

by Justin Kern, communications officer, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

Before the fatal fire, before the downtown vigil and before the shelter, Paul Platt and dozens of other residents of an historic apartment building in Portage were having a typical Sunday morning.

For Paul, that meant a morning off from work spent watching YouTube videos in his pajamas.

Then – the smoke alarms.

“The alarms were cutting through the videos and I went out [into the hallway] to see what was going on. That’s when I could smell smoke,” Platt said.

Portage shelter Presbyterian church May 2018

An entrance to Portage Presbyterian Church, where a Red Cross shelter was established for the days following an apartment building fire.

He grabbed a handful of essentials from his nightstand and sprinted out of the building. He called the next few hours “chaotic.” The fire displaced in upwards of 75 people, from more than 50 units at the building known local as The Ram, a notable former hotel in downtown Portage. It also resulted in the fatality of a child who lived in the building, part of a family that many of the residents knew well.

Platt and dozens of other people were assisted by Red Cross with food, recovery resources, mental health services and shelter over the next few days.

While comfortable and fed, Paul said he had a “restless” first night at the shelter, located at nearby Portage Presbyterian Church. He mulled the previously “unfathomable” feelings and experiences that his neighbors were going through. Looking inward, he considered how he had made it through a tough year, one that he felt he had come through with a new steady job and a nice apartment downtown.

“Man, no, this can’t be happening. I just got back on my feet,” he said.

Diana and David Portage shelter May 2018

Red Cross volunteers Diana O’Neill, center, and Dave Sharpe share a light moment during a shelter shift.

Red Cross joined a community effort to help Platt and all the people impacted, including the family going through the “unfathomable” fatality. During the second afternoon at the shelter, a handful of Red Cross volunteers were helping with meals, connections to new clothes and just being there to listen to people. On the day shift, expert disaster volunteer Dave Sharpe sorted out registration and casework, while another disaster volunteer pro Diana O’Neill relayed resources and information to clients from other local agencies.

Carol Manolis, of Packwaukee, spent a portion of her volunteer afternoon Monday talking with Lisa McKee, and her three-month old granddaughter, Korra. In that conversation, Carol took the opportunity to hold sleeping Korra, clad in pink, giving a deserved break for grandma and mom, also at the shelter.

Carol Korra Lisa Portage fire shelter May 2018

Red Cross volunteer Carol Manolis takes a turn feeding and rocking three-month old Korra, the granddaughter of Lisa McKee, left.

Lisa asked Carol about tasks and time involved with volunteering to establish and run a shelter. Carol bounced as she responded, and, with a look down at placid Korra, said “this makes it worthwhile.”

The Red Cross shelter at the church closed on Wednesday, with most residents able to return to their apartments, and others put up in temporary lodging elsewhere in the city. Dozens of meals and snacks were served, and Red Cross will continue to connect residents with resources and needs as they continue their path to full recovery.

Along with Portage Presbyterian Church, other community partners included Riverhaven, Salvation Army, Goodwill, Divine Savior Healthcare Inc. medical staff, St. Vincent de Paul, and the Portage Fire and Police Departments. Many thoughtful residents have also expressed their generosity to these residents in need.

Click here for ways you can support those in need of disaster assistance in Portage and across Wisconsin.

“Are we homeless now?”: Milwaukee father shares heartache, hope after an apartment building fire

In home fires, the flames and headlines can sometimes overshadow the impact on the lives of the people affected. Jaime was displaced by a fire Saturday afternoon at an apartment building in Milwaukee, along with his wife, Araceli, and their 10-year-old daughter, Lizeth. The fire sent a handful of residents to the hospital. Red Cross volunteers and staff helped during the fire and afterward established a shelter at Ascension Lutheran Church.

Jaime de la mata 43rd St fire April 2018 _ TWOAt the shelter on Monday afternoon, Jaime (above) took a break from filling out a sticker activity book with Lizeth to share his thoughts on the incident – the speed of the fire; the heart-wrenching question his daughter asked afterward; and his appreciation of volunteers and emergency personnel.

Below are excerpts from what Jaime shared in a conversation with Justin Kern, communications officer at the American Red Cross of Wisconsin.

On the fire that started during a restful weekend afternoon:
“It happened before, but those alarms, they were false alarms. This time, it was serious. It took us by surprise.

43rd St fire April 2018 volunteers Ruth Michael

Red Cross volunteers Michael and Ruth call for assistance outside of the apartment building, off S. 43rd St., as impacted residents keep warm in an MCTS bus, at right.

“It was early Saturday, one of the few Saturdays that [my wife and I] don’t work. We just heard someone yelling and the alarm in the distance. I thought it was my phone. Then the alarm starts again, closer. And when I opened our door [to the apartment hallway], I noticed a cloud coming closer to us. I grabbed my daughter, told her to get her jacket, told my wife, I grabbed our keys and we were out.

“I came back to help people, but at that moment, it was incredible, all the smoke. I could see nothing, it was dark and I used my sweatshirt [to cover my mouth]. Since I’ve lived there, I knew everyone around. I was worried. I was yelling, knocking on doors … The whole thing was, 20 seconds, 30 seconds …”

On the uncertain first few hours:
“It was amazing, the help. The police, they were there to do their job. Firefighters, took care of their jobs. The police said to go to the bus, Red Cross will help you. … Before, when I was in the field, watching everything, the smoke, debris. I was cold. …

“I took a seat in the [MCTS] bus and Red Cross were very good to me. It’s an amazing job they all did for us. … The other people, some are sad, but others were treating [my daughter] so nice, talking to her on the bus … it was fine when I saw her.”

On sad questions and hope for what’s to come:
“That first day, it was hard for me. I tried to contain my tears, my feelings.
“Lizeth asked me, ‘Are we homeless now?’ I told her ‘No, no, it was just an accident. I’ve got a job, your mom has a job. You’re alive. Nobody died. We complain about things, all of the time, but maybe this is a message from god. … We’re in the same situation [everyone from the building]. But don’t worry, because something good is coming.’”

43rd St fire shelter Ascension Lutheran volunteer Jasmine

Lunch time at the shelter, served by our volunteers and set up at Ascension Lutheran Church, one of the many partners to help these families during a difficult time.

On his family’s gratitude:
“I’m glad for Red Cross. … They made it so we had a place to sleep, something to eat and help us with our future. No one else is going to do all that for us.
“Red Cross has given the help that we needed. … There were little things, like games to play and a Mickey Mouse [doll]. I didn’t notice, but when I opened her backpack, she brought three waters and three bananas. [laughs] She had the Mickey in there with the things she brought from home.”

Red Cross continues to work with Jaime and his family, as well as with about two-dozen others impacted by this fire. To join our campaign to help families with fire prevention and protection across the county, click here.