260 People Received Red Cross Assistance After Home Fires, Other Disasters in March

MILWAUKEE, Wisc. (April 2, 2020) — Even during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, emergencies don’t stop and neither does the work of the American Red Cross. Every day, local volunteers are still providing care and comfort after disasters, such as home fires.

In the month of March, Red Cross disaster workers in Wisconsin responded to 81 incidents, providing assistance to 260 people all across Wisconsin (see map). Volunteers primarily helped families after home fires (79 incidents), with the addition of health measures and virtual work to keep this important support moving ahead for people in crisis.March 2020 fires WI ARC

“Our responses remained higher than average in March. As the realities of COVID-19 hit our state and nation, our disaster teams worked with public health officials, took on new training and added health and distancing measures to keep this work moving ahead, safely,” said Justin Kern, Communications Officer for the Wisconsin Region of the Red Cross. “We’re urging everyone to take steps while you’re observing stay-at-home measures to minimize the risk of fires in your own home.”

Along with the 79 fires in March – more than two per day, which is above our typical state average – Red Cross disaster teams also responded to help people at a building collapse in Racine and a transportation incident in Milwaukee.


You can support this ongoing mission for our neighbors in need by joining as a volunteer or by making a donation at redcross.org.


Our top priority is protecting the people we serve and our volunteers, so we have adopted new guidelines and tactics as we continue to support our communities. All volunteer responders and clients are asked health screening questions prior to meeting at a disaster scene. We also have the technology in place to issue immediate disaster assistance on a virtual basis. We have implemented steps to keep clients and volunteers safe from close contact, while at the same time providing financial assistance for items such as food, clothing, shelter and medications. The Red Cross also offers mental health support in beginning the long-term recovery process.

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American Red Cross disaster volunteers Dave Flowers, left, and Kevin Connell don protective face shields and gloves as they deliver hygiene supplies to a shelter run by the National Guard in Milwaukee. (Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross)

We continue to work closely with public health officials to deliver our mission where and when it’s safe to do so. This work includes additional support and partnerships through the state Emergency Operations Center to address the needs of people during this evolving emergency.

Stay Safe and Help #EndHomeFires

The Red Cross is asking everyone to take simple steps to reduce the risk of a fire in your home and to help save lives. While many are home from work and school with their families, now is the perfect time to talk about home fire safety and practice your home fire escape plan.

  • Make sure everyone in the family knows how to get out of every room and how to get out of the home in two minutes or less.
  • Teach children the sound of a smoke alarm when you practice your home fire escape plan.
  • Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as a neighbor’s home or a tree in the front yard, so everyone knows where to meet.
  • Visit org/homefires for additional free resources and safety tips.

For additional COVID-19 (a.k.a. Coronavirus) safety tips and resources, click here.

‘People will get it done’: Q&A with Dave Nelson, government operations volunteer working on Coronavirus response

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

With any large-scale disaster, there is a significant amount of work behind the scenes to set up food, shelter, assistance and more on the ground. Rarely has that “behind-the-scenes” effort been more vital than during the present COVID-19 pandemic. By its nature, this health emergency has resulted in isolation, social distancing and other remote efforts. This is where the strategy, networking and smarts of American Red Cross volunteers like Dave Nelson make a huge impact. From a post at the State Emergency Operations Center in Madison, as well as virtually, Nelson has led the Red Cross response to the Coronavirus emergency.

Nelson started at the Red Cross about eight years ago, including stints as a disaster action team volunteer and board president with the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter. Nelson, a retired finance officer for hospital systems who lives in Eau Claire with his wife, shares details on this unique Red Cross volunteer role – and one-of-a-kind disaster response.

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Dave Nelson

For starters, how do you kind of describe your volunteer role to friends or people on the street?

“I say that, ‘If we do our job here [in the Emergency Operations Center], that’s how we coordinate where to set up shelters, where our partners could use our assistance, and where people are most in need.”

What are some of the duties as a Government Operations volunteer?

“Where we usually work is in the E.O.C. [Emergency Operations Center]. That could be with the state, county or municipality. We coordinate the emergency response with all of the local authorities, including, like here with the state Department of Health Services, the National Guard, FEMA … all those types of agencies so there is a coordinated effort by all entities to provide the response needs in the places that it is most needed. … For Red Crossers, this role used to be called ‘Government Liaison.’”


Volunteers make the mission of the American Red Cross come to life. Find volunteer opportunities that fit your interests at redcross.org/volunteer.


Had you done this role before the Coronavirus response?

“First time I did this was during the Bad River Floods in 2016. For Hurricane Florence, I was the government operations [lead] in South Carolina for 15 counties in that response. I was at the Camp Fire in Paradise, California and last summer I was with the state of Oklahoma for flooding.”

Compare and contrast for us, the differences and similarities with a natural disaster like a hurricane in your role, and what’s happening with your role during this COVID-19 response.

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Dave Nelson, at right in hat, on the first day at the State Emergency Operations Center in Madison.

“What is similar: I’m working with the federal, state and local authorities in the E.O.C. We also coordinate a lot with V.O.A.D. [Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters] groups, too, to help find other resources where we all have a gap to fill. The players from the agency standpoint are pretty much the same. In hurricanes, for instance, the majority of our work is … supplies, feeding and sheltering of people. What makes this one very different is that we’re not doing any sheltering. We have special rules because we’re dealing with a pandemic, which is something not many of us have worked with before. The coordination becomes different. The state and counties are working on isolation shelters, more of a medical shelter and different from congregate shelters … Using Red Cross and FEMA resources, we helped put together a shelter operating manual with DHS so that they can operate and better understand the processes involved in operating shelters. DHS is taking the lead and we’re assisting, providing guidance, supplies and resources. They’re the health experts. It may seem small to anyone outside but it’s really under a whole different set of rules to ensure infection does not spread and medical needs are met.”

I’ve been at E.O.C.s in the past in Madison and this one was definitely different from day one. Can you share the differences from the perspective of where and how you’re working?

“We walk through medical screenings before we can even get into the [E.O.C.] building. We’ve been working, spaced apart somewhat … and we are now dispersing into what we call ‘Virtual E.O.C.’, using web access, phones, email. That is important [based on gathering guidelines], but we’ll be doing a lot more calling, relying on technology much more. People will get it done. These people in the E.O.C., they work hard and they take tasks seriously. Whatever needs to get done, gets done. And that’s the fun part, really, solving problems and executing the plan.”

A couple of weeks into this pandemic, what have been some of the early successes?

“Some of the blood drive need and safety information, getting that language passed along to help the state and governor’s office to support the need for blood drives and collection. The other big one for me was, on day two, getting involved with the isolation sheltering task force. I was able to find policy and standards manuals and intake forms as a start, based on Red Cross, FEMA things I know about sheltering, and contacts I had from other states already going these response issues in heavily impacted areas in California, where they’re a little ahead of Wisconsin in dealing with the COVID-19 response. Our team was able to then bring in a shelter expert, Barbara Gugel, to work full-time with the Isolation Task Force to develop and put that isolation sheltering process into place. It’s where your networking and working well with new people, treating each other well, really comes into play.”

This is a pretty unique role with the Red Cross. What qualities would you say help to have for someone who may want to get involved like you in government operations?

“You have to be even tempered. Don’t take anything personally, there is so much going on and people can get stressed, people are tired. If you can handle the pressure of working 12-to-15 hours a day and coordinate with numerous types of people, [those are] the skills you really need. Even if it’s a role that comes up once or twice a year, don’t get frustrated with that. At the end of the day, we’re here to help people the best we can. We play a very important role, and our government partners, our nonprofit partners, they all know that.”

You can make an impact in your community as a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Find volunteer opportunities that fit your passion at redcross.org/volunteer

Volunteer profile: wanderlust fuels Wood County resident’s Red Cross service

By Stephanie Burton, American Red Cross

When Diane Scheunemann retired from her 41-year career as a parts inventory specialist for a large heavy truck dealership in Marshfield, she didn’t know what she would do with her time. Pickle ball, curling and softball were a start. But she knew she needed something more.

That’s when she turned to the American Red Cross.

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Diane Scheunemann waits in a convoy of Red Cross emergency response vehicles ready to bring food and other items to families in need after Hurricane Michael. (Submitted photo)

“I asked myself what I like to do,” the long-time Wood County resident said. “I like to volunteer and travel. And, the Red offers both of those opportunities.”

Scheunemann contacted her local chapter and began taking in-person and online courses. Soon, she was preparing for her first deployment working as a pre-disaster mega shelter volunteer in anticipation of Hurricane Irma in 2017. Scheunemann and other Red Cross volunteers staffed a school-based shelter that was locked down while one of the worst hurricanes to hit Miami in decades stalled over the area.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” she admitted. “I was in awe of what had to be done.”


You can join our disaster volunteers in a number of ways. Click here for info and to sign up.


What had to be done, Scheunemann soon learned, ranged from driving an emergency response vehicle to sorting through thousands of donations the Red Cross receives after disaster strikes.

A self-described introvert, Scheunemann quickly learned how to best use her skills to make a maximum impact. Her wanderlust led her next to provide aid during and after the 2017 Sonoma County Wildfires. This time, her efforts were focused on canteening, preparing food at mealtimes, loading trucks and cleaning.

“It’s a devastating thing to see these houses and vineyards burned to the ground,” she said. But, she takes comfort in knowing that she can provide so much help during times of such life-altering devastation.

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Scheunemann, center, poses during a break from work helping families impacted by wildfires in California in 2019. (Submitted photo)

Scheunemann also traveled to serve those impacted by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., and to the widespread Paradise Fire in Butte County, Calif.

Scheunemann credits her husband for making her deployments possible. He maintains the home and takes care of their dog while she’s away for each two-week deployment.

Her volunteer experience isn’t limited to deployments. In fact, her Red Cross colleagues describe Scheunemann as a jack-of-all trades. She has also responded to a number of local fires that have displaced families.

When asked about what’s touched her most about her time as a Red Cross volunteer, Scheunemann pointed to the generosity she saw in others, not herself. She recalled a local fire she responded to where, among those affected, were three young children, including a colicky baby. A fire chief also at the scene joined their work to help the family find shelter plus medicine for the baby.

You can put your compassion and talents to use as a volunteer with our disaster action teams. We are always looking for people to join our teams, starting with local homes fires and floods, and, with training and interest, deployed out to national catastrophes. Click here to start your volunteer journey.

 

In retirement, SAF volunteer Holsinger is proud to be ‘somebody who cares’ for veterans and service members

By Kelsey ShaSha McCarthy, American Red Cross

Volunteers may not always have a background in the area where they dedicate their time and talent. But they’ve all got the passion.

Rich Holsinger is a retired professional who has spent his career honing his managerial skills in regional management positions at a national retail giant and a popular coffee roaster. After his retirement, Rich began working with the American Red Cross two years ago as a lead volunteer at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison with the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Department.

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Rich Holsinger preps SAF materials for his activities with veterans and service members in the Madison area.

On the surface, Rich’s volunteer work with SAF is quite a bit different than his professional background. SAF at the Red Cross proudly serves veterans, service members and their families. All the same, since taking up his volunteer leadership role, Rich has made a remarkable impact on the lives of numerous veterans and their families and caregivers.

“The volunteers don’t do a lot of talking, but we do a lot of listening. It’s interesting to hear their stories and just show them that there’s somebody who cares,” Rich said in regards to why he enjoys serving and working with his team.

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.

Rich has created exciting weekly programming for patients including activities such as dinners with game nights, BINGO with prizes, tailgate parties, nightly performances from local music groups and sing-a-longs.

“With the different programs we’re running now, whether you’re working with a veteran or you’re working with a caregiver of a veteran, to see them relax, to see them talk about something else rather than medical … I usually get more out of it than I put into it. I find it very rewarding,” Rich said.

In two weeks, Rich is looking forward to hosting the Madison V.A.’s first picnic.

“We’re working with the V.A. to ensure that we have the right kind of food for them… the Red Cross will supply all of the food and the hospital will prepare it,” he said.

He also spoke about how some hotels in the area including Stay Bridge Suites Middleton/Madison-West have provided spaces for veterans during their time at the Madison V.A. as well as resources for events for veterans and their caregivers.

While Rich is truly enjoying his role and continuing to help the Red Cross team at the Madison V.A. grow, he didn’t have plans to volunteer for the Red Cross before his retirement and explained more about why he chose to apply as a volunteer for the Red Cross and got his start as the new lead volunteer at the Madison V.A. Medical Center.

Rich had been retired for about five months when he realized that he didn’t want to just retire and focus on himself and play golf all day, one of his favorite pastimes. With the extra time on his hands, he wanted to make a difference in his community where he could and help people in need.

He began researching volunteer organizations and found a volunteer position that was seeking “somebody to take charge and start building some programs for the veterans at the hospital in the area.”

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SAF volunteers set up a refreshments table at a recent service member send-off event in Franklin.

He knew that his vast experience of managing people in project and program development would be a great fit. He saw it as an exciting opportunity to do what he enjoyed and was familiar with and put his passion and talent to the test, starting with new entertainment and program development for veterans and their families and caregivers.

Rich said that two people who have been monumentally helpful and amazing to work with on projects are Richard Seymour, SAF Program Director, and Michelle Matuszak, SAF Manager. Rich said Matuszak and Seymour have been instrumental in helping Rich on his volunteer journey, and he’s thankful that they gave him the freedom to “do his own thing.” The praise goes both ways.

“We had issues with getting leadership in the Madison V.A.,” Seymour said. “Within a year Rich has started and established programs, built a volunteer team and … controls the budget we have established for the Madison V.A. I wish I could clone him 10 times!”

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

How a home fire client became an all-star volunteer

By James Ziech, American Red Cross

Kimberly Brockman’s decision to join the American Red Cross as a volunteer four years ago began with a cry for help – her house was on fire.

It was three in the morning. Cries from her daughter aroused Kimberly from her sleep. Then, she heard the smoke alarms. She sprang into action. She evacuated her family and her pets from their burning trailer. Her daughter was taken to the hospital. One of their dogs didn’t make it.

“We have nowhere to go, nothing but the clothes on our backs,” she remembered thinking at the time.

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Kimberly Brockman shares a selfie while wearing her Red Cross volunteer duds.

Kimberly reached out for help the best she knew how. Within the hour, a representative of the American Red Cross came to help. Volunteers from the Red Cross brought comfort, then provided some money for a safe place to stay for a few days. When it came time to leave the hotel and find a new apartment, her Red Cross caseworker led her to the information and agencies that could get her started again in a new place for her and her family.

“I was so touched by what the organization does, that I wanted to help people the way they do,” she said.

Coming in with many years of experience working as a Medical Assistant, her choice of being a volunteer as a blood donor ambassador was an easy one. She would greet and welcome donors who come to the blood drives and ensure that they have a pleasant experience with the organization.

“Everybody is so thankful and we are thanked so much for what we do to help people,” she said. “I think we get the most thanks by talking to someone and asking people what you do for a living, and they’re like, ‘You guys are awesome! Thank you for being there.’”

After some time, Kimberly took up a leadership role and started to do community outreach. Sometimes, she would spend time in public talking with people. Other times, she would get to know the businesses in the area and getting them involved in hosting blood drives. There will even be a blood drive at Lincoln Park Zoo in Manitowoc on July 17. (Click here to find that and other drives to share your generous donation of life-saving blood.)

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Brockman, holding the check at left, joins fellow Northeast Chapter volunteers to accept the generous donation from a rock concert that included Cheap Trick.

Kimberly wanted to also get involved in disaster response, though health issues prevented her from doing on-scene responses to incidents like home fires. Turned out, there was a need for volunteer disaster dispatchers. It was a perfect fit. From the comfort of her home, she could put volunteers in touch with people who need our help.

“It’s not that you want to feel good about yourself, but about making others feel better. Knowing how you help your fellow man in the worst times of their life. Just being a shoulder, just giving support. It’s about helping other people. Some people just want to know other people care,” she said.

Volunteers like Kimberly Brockman continue to reach out to assist all in need: from local house fires to regional flooding and hurricanes, from donating blood to running blood drives, from community outreach to building partnerships with businesses and government, volunteers from the American Red Cross are available 24/7 to serve and assist. For more information on how you can help your community and state, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

‘Gwen T. Jackson Day’ sights and proclamation

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

May 28 was proclaimed “Gwen T. Jackson Day” in Milwaukee County, a recognition of her tireless decades of volunteerism and community service. That included more than 60 years with the American Red Cross, in roles that ranged from famine relief for Africa, support of U.S. service members and expansion of diversity in volunteerism, to the highest ranks for a volunteer in the organization, as National Volunteer Chairman in Washington, D.C.

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Mark Thomas shares reflections on Gwen Jackon’s impact on Milwaukee and the nation as a volunteer leader with the American Red Cross.

To honor Gwen T. Jackson Day on what would have been her 91st birthday, organizations close to Gwen’s legacy of work gathered on Tuesday to share stories, food and her spirit of community service. Our hope is to build upon Gwen’s legacy to create an annual day that acknowledges volunteerism and community action across Milwaukee.

“As someone who grew up in this community and spent much of my professional career here, I know I’m able to be the CEO of the Red Cross because [of] someone like Gwen Jackson,” said Mark Thomas, CEO and Southeast Chapter Executive.


There are numerous ways you can use your talents toward good in the Milwaukee area. Click here to find out more.


In this blog are a few pictures from the event, which included Red Cross and United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, which was held at one of her favorite art galleries and community spaces, King Drive Commons Gallery and Studio. In addition, we’ve included the full proclamation from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

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During an event held in her honor, Gwen Jackson pictures and momentos were on display at one of her favorite spaces, King Drive Commons Gallery and Studios.

Executive Proclamation

Whereas, on May 28, 1928, Gwen T. Jackson was entered this earth and on March 24, 2019, at the age of 90, Gwen T. Jackson was born into eternal life; and

Whereas, we now take time to recognize the loss of an important member of not only our community but also a loving mother, daughter, wife, sister and friend; and

Whereas, we will never forget Gwen’s civic leadership and commitments to our community. Gwen retired as a Human Resources Vice President from Brills Colony Men’s Clothing Store. Her volunteer service includes time with the United Way, Urban League, YMCA, and more than 60 years of volunteering with the American Red Cross. Gwen held the National Chairman Volunteer position for four years with the American Red Cross, the highest volunteer position available; and

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Milwaukee disaster action team volunteers serve food and listen in during drumming played at a Gwen T. Jackson Day event in Milwaukee.

Whereas, in addition to volunteering for disaster relief, Gwen dedicated service to our most vulnerable populations – senior citizens and children. Gwen served as Commissioner Emeritus of the Milwaukee County Commission on Aging, and worked to improve the educational outcomes of young people in Milwaukee, having 21st Street School renamed the Gwen T. Jackson Early Childhood Elementary School; and

Whereas, Gwen’s effervescent spirit, perpetual optimism, unending loyalty and constant cheer were a blessing to everyone around her,

I, Chris Abele, do hereby proclaim May 28, 2019 as Gwen T. Jackson Day throughout Milwaukee County, and I offer my support to the family and friends of Gwen as well as appreciation for her positive contributions to Milwaukee County.

A Hand Up for Veterans at Milwaukee Stand Down Rally

By Justin Kern – American Red Cross

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Walter Donaldson joined 172 veterans Saturday at the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down.

With icy rain and whipping winds outside of the Richards Street Armory in Milwaukee, Walter Donaldson was perfectly content to reminisce on warmer and brighter days, during the 1990s, when he lived in Florida.

Donaldson lived there during and after his service in the Army. He taught high school students and even volunteered for the American Red Cross after a tropical storm. The years since then haven’t always been easy or kind to Donaldson, he said, with a wizened smile and a follow up declaration that he’s doing better now, with a place to stay on the southwest side of Milwaukee and a chance to teach again. On this day, he attributed an upbeat attitude partly to thoughts of Florida during a Midwestern winter, and partly from the clothing, personal items and resources he received at the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down.

“This helps. I’m grateful, all of this helps,” Donaldson said, pointing to clothing and Red Cross bags.

Donaldson joined more than 170 area veterans at the Stand Down rally at The Armory, a bi-annual event that focuses on homeless or at-risk veterans. At Saturday’s Stand Down, veterans had the opportunity to meet with dozens of organizations, including the Red Cross, veterans’ groups and food providers, health professionals and hair stylists, as well as various state and federal agencies. Service to the Armed Forces volunteers and staff from the Red Cross once again provided hygiene items and informational/communication resources for veterans.

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A veteran in prayer during Saturday’s event at The Richards Street Armory.

The event is billed as a “hand up, not a handout” for veterans. Between meals, check-ins and conversation, the rally included call-and-response shout outs to the five branches of the military, patriotic songs and a plea from organizer Stan Kogutkiewicz for vets in the crowd to use the resources in the room.

“Do not leave here until you get going on your problems,” echoed George Martin, one of the event emcees.

For Marvin Britton, that meant taking a stroll through the booths that packed The Armory. Britton’s gold Army ring caught the light as he talked and clutched onto a smooth wooden cane, as he shared straightforward stories of service, of addiction, of sweethearts long gone. Since his service in Vietnam, from 1974-78, life took him to San Diego and La Crosse, with time on and off in Milwaukee. These days, he’s staying in Union Grove at the Wisconsin Veterans Home, from where a group of veterans bused in for the rally.

“I’m fine, now … just trying to stay healthy. Got my backpack, going to the booths after I get some of [those] clothes” from the clothing donation line, he said.

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Veterans received information on ways they can connect with resources and family from the American Red Cross.

Ready to meet Britton, Donaldson and all the veterans were volunteers like Bob Nelson. Nelson joined the small team handing out American Red Cross bags with hygiene items and veterans resources information at the west end of the stout military hall. Nelson’s son is in the Marine Corps, connecting him to a lineage of men who have served in their family. For Bob Nelson – also on the Red Cross disaster action team – meeting and sharing with veterans at the Stand Down rally is a small gesture of gratitude.

“This is something I can do, I can be here,” Nelson said.

For more information on the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down event, click here.

To get involved or find out more on the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces mission for veterans and military service members and their families, click here.