Partnering in a Disaster Blooms Forth a New Friendship

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

Volunteers from Wisconsin’s Northeast Chapter of the American Red Cross and members from Community Church, out of Fond du Lac, recently came together in gratitude to share in a backyard picnic.

While visiting they began to recount how they had come together to form a very special partnership, both professionally and personally – it had been over five months since they all first met during one of the worst floods in 10 years in Fond du Lac.

Sharon and Lange Community Church Red Cross

Sharon Holt, right, a volunteer with the Red Cross, shares a light moment with Jody Lange, a friend made during their joint response to flooding in Fond du Lac during spring 2019.

“I knew about the Red Cross, I mean … everyone has heard of the Red Cross, but actually seeing them in action opened my eyes. It opened my eyes to the need and importance of volunteers,” shared Jody Lange, a member of the church.

“Our church was one of two shelters the Red Cross operated during that flood [in Fond du Lac]. It was a privilege to serve side by side with their volunteers.”

Responding quickly and effectively to the needs of those affected in a disaster takes planning and work. Few organizations have the depth of experience and knowledge the Red Cross has when it comes to disaster relief efforts.

“The Red Cross maintains a database with appropriate shelter locations, so in the event of a disaster, we can quickly identify those locations that can best serve our needs and those we are assisting,” explained Becky Tiles, Red Cross volunteer and casework lead who was also at the picnic.

“In this case, the Community Church on Steblow Drive in Fond du Lac was perfect. Building these partnerships in the community is important. Everyone benefits, especially when a disaster hits. We can all respond quickly and more efficiently.”


You can be an invaluable resource in your community as a disaster shelter partner. For more information, call and leave a message at (800) 236-8680.


For more than a week, the Red Cross volunteers worked closely with this church community in meeting the needs of dozens of people affected by the flooding. That meant setting up cots for sleeping areas in what was typically an open meeting room, and putting the church’s modern kitchen into action for multiple meals each day for displaced residents. Working together – as disaster volunteers and shelter hosts – the Red Cross and church built deep relationships, as seen in the August afternoon picnic at Red Cross volunteer Sharon Holt’s home in Combined Locks.

Mark Thomas brings turkey gift FDL shelter

Community Church members and Red Cross disaster workers prep a turkey dinner for people displaced by spring 2019 floods. 

“When I saw how they cared for these folks in the shelter, you know … strangers – people they didn’t even know – I knew I wanted to become a Red Cross volunteer,” Lange praised.

Holt, a Red Cross volunteer since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, shared during the picnic: “The volunteers from the church were just wonderful! They each took a personal interest in every one of our shelter residents. They took the time to get to know each person and to listen to their story. They went out of their way to make them feel welcomed and valued. The church volunteers would take them to the showers, to work, to whatever these folks needed. Some of the church members are still helping a few families with long term housing needs.”

Holt then turned to Lange and added, “Jody is amazing!  We call her the ‘Food Queen!’ She kept us all fed with good, home-style cooking, and made us feel like family.” She then looked over at Lange and hugged her, adding, “It was a privilege to work with the church members like Jody, and in the process, I made a new friend!”

Lange’s eyes lit up as she hugged back, “Now that I see what the Red Cross does and how their volunteers are willing to leave their own families and travel here to help others. I want to help in that same way. They care so much and that really touched me. Now I want to become a Red Cross Volunteer!”

Fond du Lac flooding victims reflect on a memorable Red Cross experience

By Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

As Red Cross staff and volunteers, we often report on how we help those in need at the time disaster strikes. There is a lot of outside attention “in the moment” of a disaster, even though the work continues for days and weeks after. To provide a more in-depth look at what relief and recovery means to those we’ve served, we had a conversation recently with one Wisconsin family impacted by sudden ice jam flooding in mid-March.

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Lisa Frank, right, and her daughter Amanda pose with a Donald Driver bobblehead, among the handful of keepsakes they were able to grab when evacuating their flooded apartment complex. (Photo: Wendy Rociles, American Red Cross)

Lisa Frank and her adult daughter Amanda were in the bullseye of the spring flooding in Fond du Lac. With their apartment building in danger of rapidly rising water, they reacted to the call of local firefighters to evacuate immediately. Given 10 minutes to grab whatever belongings they most needed, Lisa scrambled around her third floor apartment while Amanda attended to her apartment one floor below.

Within the time allotted they each emerged with a few necessities, including critical medications, a change of clothing, and some items of sentimental value. They made the difficult decision to leave their cats behind, but only after the firefighters assisting with the evacuation made a solemn promise that the cats would remain safe.

Once helped across the flooding parking lot and onto the buses waiting for them, Lisa was able to finally breathe. As her bus pulled out she had a view of the nearby football field and realized it had become a “giant swimming pool.”

“I had never seen anything like this,” she recounted. “ I really thought the world was ending.”

The buses took Lisa, Amanda and others from their apartment building to the nearby community church where Red Cross volunteers had set up shelter. There, the Franks were offered cots for sleeping, snacks, and meals throughout their stay – including a delicious homemade breakfast cooked the next morning by congregants of the church.

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Ice jams were the main culprit in March 2019 flooding that hit homes and families in towns including Waubeka, above, as well as Green Bay, Fond du Lac, Arcadia. (Photo: Justin Kern, American Red Cross)

Lisa admits that she didn’t expect to get much sleep given the overwhelming morning as well as medical conditions that caused her discomfort. But by evening, she “curled up on the cot and slept like a million bucks.”

In describing their experience while at the shelter, Lisa remarked that from the moment they arrived, “everything was handled perfectly; so perfectly, it felt like it was a drill.” She believes the quality of support and compassion extended by everyone she met is what helped she and Amanda get through the experience.


The Red Cross works with families in the days and weeks after a disaster to make sure they’ve connected with any resources available to them during the intensive recovery process. If you’d like to get involved in the response or recovery efforts with your neighbors in need, please consider joining the Red Cross as a volunteer. Take that first step by clicking here.


 

Of biggest concern to Lisa were the medications she needed to control her chronic conditions. She suffers from congestive heart failure, as well as painful rheumatoid arthritis requiring the aid of a walker. While she grabbed her medications from her apartment before evacuating, she had additional prescriptions that were due for a refill. She explained this to the Red Cross volunteers who greeted her upon arrival at the shelter and immediately set about assessing her needs.

“One of the volunteers went out to the pharmacy and picked up a prescription I needed that very day; without it I wouldn’t have been able to function,” said Lisa. “Yet next thing I knew she showed up and handed me the bag with my medication. I don’t know who she is, but I’m still so grateful for what she did.”

Zyler and Michelle GB shelter Saturday D&M Productions

Volunteer Dennis Hildebrand, right, chats with Michele Whittington and her son, Zyler, during their stay at a shelter in Green Bay during March floods. (Photo: Justin Kern, American Red Cross)

Lisa shared that her daughter, Amanda, is autistic and suffers from epilepsy and ADHD, which can make traumatic experiences especially challenging. Yet the kindness with which she was treated while in shelter again had a profound effect on Lisa. Thanks to the volunteers’ way of talking to and engaging with Amanda, Lisa felt a sense of pride in how well Amanda acclimated to the situation.

“The amount of kindness the Red Cross showed us is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced,” says Lisa. “It was my first time working with the Red Cross, and everyone was simply incredible.”

In total during March flooding, 106 Red Cross volunteers worked with partners to open four shelters, one reception center and one multi-agency resource center; provided comfort and respite for more than 140 people; served more than 1,200 meals and distributed approximately 720 clean-up kits.

The day after the flooding in Fond du Lac, the Franks were cleared to return to their apartments – which included their grateful cats. Their apartments were spared any water damage, although their car, which was parked outside, was deemed a total loss due to water damage. Lisa is currently working to save up enough money to purchase a replacement car. Aside from that inconvenience, life has essentially returned to normal for the Frank family.

When asked to sum up her flooding experience, Lisa says that without the help and support of the Red Cross, she and her daughter could never have handled it as well as they did. She pointed out, with a laugh, that between the bus ride to and from the shelter, the lodging, the meals, and the opportunity to meet others, the experience felt almost like a “vacation” – although a “weird, surreal and unplanned vacation!”

Amanda has a slightly different take on the experience: “It was like a vacation you did not want to take!” Yet both mother and daughter are grateful for all the ways in which the Red Cross helped them navigate a difficult situation.

Sudden spring thaw brings flooding, shelters and signs of hope

By Wendy Rociles – American Red Cross

fdl ice jam

Fond du Lac crews worked feverishly March 14 to break up ice jams on rivers caused by an sudden temperature spike.

When Jennifer Pena put her five kids to bed in her Fond du Lac apartment on Wednesday, it was just like any other night. The way they woke up Thursday was anything but.

A sudden spring thaw broke up sometimes car-sized sheets of winter ice along the Fond du Lac River, causing an “ice jam” and river overruns into streets, homes and Pena’s apartment building. Her family awoke to emergency officials on A.T.V.s, pounding on doors and evacuating everyone from the building. Pena’s family, in their pajamas and lugging a box of the essentials, plus a few toys for the kids, were among the dozens of people at an American Red Cross reception center and later a shelter set up in Fond du Lac, one of many such sites set up in Wisconsin during this week’s flooding disasters.

Jennifer and Rosalina at FDL reception center March 2019

Jennifer Pena, right, and her daughter Rosalina Robinson color Thursday at an American Red Cross reception center.

Pena and one of her daughters, Rosalina Robinson, colored Thursday afternoon as the mother talked through the paces that brought her from a normal weekday to emergency sheltering.

“It’s been a long morning,” she said. “Right now, with our house, there’s no way to go back inside.”

As of Saturday, March 16, more than 150 people in Wisconsin received care, sheltering, food and other resources from Red Cross volunteers and staff at shelters or sites including Arcadia, Fond du Lac, Lodi, Prairie du Sac, Green Bay and Stevens Point. After a harsh, protracted winter, spring seemed to come overnight in the Badger State. Even so, Red Cross volunteers were able to set up sheltering with partners, provide support for reception centers and distribute clean up kits to emergency managers.


For the latest on statewide shelters and resources, dial 2-1-1. You can find shelter updates, ways to connect with displaced family members, and safety and preparedness tips by downloading the free American Red Cross emergency app.


 

As people processed their ordeal and what may be ahead in the coming days, Karen Leveque was contemplative about her experience. Like many, she recalled a different round of flooding, more than 10 years ago and along this same river in Fond du Lac.

“I’m doing it all again,” Leveque said.

FDL South and Oak Sts March 2019

South and Oak Streets in Fond du Lac were overrun by the nearby river, displaced dozens of people.

As another family, Lisa and Amanda Frank, were informed that they needed to evacuate their apartments early this same morning, they grabbed important things, like medications and identification. They were also able to grab a few smaller items of sentimental value, just in case they couldn’t get back to the apartment soon.

Keeping her upbeat spirit – hope for the best in the early hours of an unknown weather situation – Lisa pointed to a small, sealed container they were able to carry with them out of the flooded apartment building.

“We even brought our dog (ashes) with us!”

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Volunteers from the Wisconsin Red Cross set up a shelter at partner Community Church on Thursday in Fond du Lac. 

By Saturday evening, just about two dozen people remained displaced at shelters in Fond du Lac, Green Bay and Arcadia. Receding waters enabled the Jennifer Pena’s family to return home, as well as Amanda and Lisa Frank. On Twitter, Amanda Frank wrote: “I also want to thank the @RedCrossWIS and Fond du Lac Community Chuch @ccfdl for all they did to make us feel at home. While I wouldn’t want to experience this again, the experience itself was good. You guys had everything we could have asked and hoped for. #ThankYouGreatly

You can always show your support to the Red Cross in three ways: joining as a volunteer; sharing your financial generosity; and giving the gift of blood.

Fond du Lac Fire Department ‘Tames Flames’ for Red Cross

Local Disaster Relief Partnership Announced

Last year the Brat fry raised $4,006.38 for local disaster relief!

Last year the Brat fry raised $4,006.38 for local disaster relief!

Once again this year, the Fond du Lac Fire Department will be “taming the flames” of the barbecue grill to help the American Red Cross help our community.

When: Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Where: Main Street Fire Station (815 S. Main St.)

Time: 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

The Red Cross and the Fire Department are partners on several community initiatives from emergency education to disaster relief and recovery. Emergency responders have requested Red Cross assistance at 24 fires the past year alone! This is the largest number in recent years; a few years ago, it was only seven requests for help. With two recent larger apartment fires, the number of people being assisted is at an all-time high!

“The Red Cross is a tremendous asset to our entire community so we want this event to be our biggest and best yet,” stated Fire Chief Peter O’Leary.

To help the cause, you can pre-order brats and burgers by calling the Main Street Fire Station’s non-emergency number at 920-322-3800 by 9:00 a.m. on April 22.

Delivery is available for orders over 20 items. You can also place an order in-person between 10:00 a.m. – 2:00p.m. at the Main Street Fire Station and enjoy our cuisine at the picnic tables.

Thank You Goldwing Road Riders Association

By Lisa Stanchfield, Program Services Specialist

Check Presentation - 1

The Goldwing Road Riders Association made a check presentation to the American Red Cross for the brat fries they held May 3rd & 4th and June 28th & 29th in Fond du Lac.

Every year they pick a different organization to  donate the proceeds to from their brat fry sales. The association picked the Red Cross this year because we helped one of their members that was affected by a fire last fall,  and they wanted to return the favor.

They presented the American Red Cross with a check for $900.00  to continue our mission in helping others with disaster relief.

CHAPTER “C”BRAT FRY to Support the Red Cross

 FUND RAISING EVENT

for

American Red Cross  and  Chapter C

Friday, June 28  and Saturday, June 29

10:00 AM – 5:00 P.M.

Pick-n-Save, 55 West Pioneer Road,  Fond du Lac

It is an honor for Goldwing Road Riders Association – Chapter “C” to host this event.

This year’s event will be for Chapter C and the American Red Cross. 

Please consider stopping by to visit and to see the Goldwing motorcycles on display.  Also check out Chapter “C”s website at www.gwrra-wi-c.com to learn more about this event.

A Simple Message of Thank You…….

By Lisa Stanchfield, Program Services Specialist

photo TY - no last name

Thursday, May 2 we responded to a fire that displaced 30 people in Fond du Lac.

On Friday, during the day we had about half of those people, adults and kids in our back room until we could work with the family on where we were putting them for the weekend.

We gave the children coloring books to use, I rented some movies, but one of the things they like was drawing on the dry erase board. I found the message that one of the children left on the dry erase board rather touching.

These are the moments I really appreciate working for such a great organization.