**As we prepare for the Lifesaver 2014 Awards Breakfast on March 13th at the Chase Park Plaza, please join us on our blog as we share the stories and extraordinary efforts of this year’s honorees.**
By Emily Cutka, Communications Intern
It’s no easy task to risk your life for another. And it’s not something to take lightly. But after spotting smoke from an active apartment fire and no responders yet on the scene, Lieutenant Colonel Dan Reece quickly jumped into action. With barely a backwards glance, he ran into the apartment to help the residents still inside.
The smoke was too thick to even see through, but the Missouri National Guardsman knew that there were people he needed to get out. He kicked through glass, broke down doors, and did whatever it took to make it inside the building. With the help of emergency personnel that arrived on scene, Reece made it inside and began coordinating efforts to carry out a woman who had been asleep in her bed. The woman, it turns out, was recovering from recent knee surgery. If not for Reece, she might have struggled to make it out on her own.
Most people (with firefighters being the exception) run out of a burning building, but Reece is not one of those people. He never thought twice about his actions. Still, he humbly gives credit to the other responders who were at his side, and to his brothers and sisters in the National Guard who would have done the same thing he did.
Reece’s love and appreciation for community is apparent, and it’s what he works to protect every time he deploys. And that day, it’s what drove him to go against the grain and run into a burning building, risking his own safety for that of others.
On March 13th at the Chase Park Plaza, Lt. Colonel Reece will be honored with the Military Award at our annual Lifesaver Awards Breakfast. We would like to thank Veteran’s Home Care, the official Sponsor of the Award, for partnering with the Red Cross to celebrate a true Lifesaver.
For more information on the Lifesaver 2014 Awards Breakfast, visit redcross.org/stl.
Written by: Phillip Iman, American Red Cross Disaster Specialist
Early one Monday morning we received a call from Audrain County Dispatch asking for assistance for a family of three whose mobile home, located on County Road 9377, had sustained unrepairable damage from a fire. Realizing the fire was just two miles from my home, I called the family myself to assess their situation.
The two adults and two children had been awakened by the scorching smell of smoke. The children had yelled out for Mom and Dad because their path of escape was blocked by fire coming up from the floor. The dad ran through the flames and rescued the children. After getting the family to safety, the dad ran back in to get what he could, realizing the home was going fast. He managed to get their shoes, which he told me he was so thankful for.
The fire department arrived quickly, which allowed a few of the family’s appliances to be saved, but their clothing was either saturated by water and smoke or burnt up. Neighbors quickly took the family in from the cold but there wasn’t room for the family to sleep, so my phone call to them was very welcome. You could tell by the lady’s voice that she was extremely frightened; she didn’t know what to do and was scared to travel far. I called a local motel and paid for a room, and they assured me they could make it to the motel. We made arrangements to meet in the daylight.
I called about 8:30 in the morning and they hadn’t slept at all, but welcomed me to meet with them. A local volunteer and I met them at 11:00 and sat with them for over an hour, just talking over their loss and plans for the future. By the time we parted ways they had somewhat of a plan about what they were going to do next and they knew that we would be right there for them should they have questions.
They felt truly blessed by the emergency assistance we provided. The referrals we provided and the insight of our wonderful volunteer made them feel like they had options instead of hopelessness. The comfort kits were a welcome surprise, not to mention the Mickey Mouse we gave the young man. Through the tears of loss came a resolve to recover and the blessing of knowing that somebody cares. That is the joy of what we do.
It’s Thanksgiving Eve. As we all make our last-minute grocery runs and spend time with our families — it’s good to remember those who have experienced hard times during this season — like those in the Philippines and in the state of Illinois.
When a disaster strikes in your community — the things in life that were important, suddenly aren’t anymore. What is most important is making sure your family, friends, and neighbors have food to eat, a warm place to sleep and clothes to wear. This has been displayed specifically in the community of Brookport, IL — where an entire community has risen up to help one another. Their courage, fortitude, resourcefulness and unity greatly inspires us at the Red Cross, and we are thankful that we have been able to offer our hand of assistance to such a strong city.
As we continue to help families in southern Illinois, we’d like to share with you photos from this past week in Brookport. From mobile meals, to casework, to meeting with government officials — we have been honored to serve this community:
Help those who have been impacted by disasters big and small by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters like the tornadoes in Southern Illinois. Visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. Contributions may also be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.
By Arman, Communications Intern
It was my first experience riding with the American Red Cross to a fire. I was not sure what to expect.
Pulling up to the scene sparked so many emotions: sadness, confusion and grief. Immediately I noticed a blue tarp held down by six bricks over the roof, evidence of previous damage from May tornadoes. I felt the need and obligation to do whatever I could to help this family after a kitchen fire unexpectedly took away the place they hold dearest.
An aunt and nephew were the two people who lived in this house. Fortunately when the fire began, they were not home and no one was injured. Both of them at the time were staying nearby and were notified by a neighbor of a fire in their home. When they returned to their home, the fire department was already working to extinguish the flames.
The fire department did their job, and now it was time for Red Cross volunteers to help the family. The Red Cross would provide access to immediate food, clothing and shelter if the aunt and nephew needed it.
Entering the front door, the heavy smell of smoke and the dark ceiling peeling off of the living room were the first things we noticed. Taking only a single step inside, our feet were in water; we could see the dark kitchen, where the fire started. The microwave was black, burnt, and barely recognizable. The cell phone on the counter was melted. The kind aunt gave us a tour of the home to view the damage. Dark smoke filled both the aunt’s and the nephew’s bedrooms.
Once the tour was complete, the Red Cross volunteer leader called for a meeting to assess the situation. This time, thankfully, the family had insurance; the company had been notified and was to be on site within a couple hours. The team decided to leave a Need Help card, an After the Fire booklet and two comfort kits of toiletries. The Disaster Relief Team spoke with the family and told them to call the Red Cross if the insurance company did not come, something that happens too often.
To get more information on volunteering or donating to the Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts, visit redcross.org/stl.
By Mike Flanagan, Heart of Missouri Chapter
Early morning flash flooding on last Tuesday in Barbara Wall’s Waynesville Wagner Trailer Court neighborhood was not enough to convince her and her husband to leave their home and go to the American Red Cross shelter in St. Robert, but a good friend finally did.
“We were planning on staying the night – Tuesday night – at home, but the mayor (Waynesville Mayor Luge Hardman) said you all are going to the shelter,” Wall, who lives near Mitchell Creek, said Wednesday. “I’m really good friends with the mayor and she said she didn’t want to lose one of her best friends.”
After the mayor convinced Wall to leave the neighborhood, she, her husband, and her mother, who lives across the street, went to the shelter in the St. Robert Community Center. Wall’s son lives with her mother, but he went to stay with friends living on “high ground” in another part of town.
“They’ve been just fabulous people,” Wall said of the Red Cross volunteers who staffed the shelter, which shut down Sunday afternoon. “They’ve constantly asked how we’re doing and if we need anything.
“There was food out the ying-yang. I have to drink diet drinks because I’m a diabetic and they went out and got diet soda for me.”
Wall said the overnight arrangements were fine for her, but because of medical conditions sleeping on the cots was difficult for her husband and mother.
Still, they managed.
“We had nowhere to go,” said Wall, who also made arrangement for the care of her family’s four dogs. “Everyone we know has animals and my mom is allergic to animals. I would not have left her. There was no way I would have left her by herself.”
Wall also praised the efforts Red Cross volunteers put forth to arrange a deluge of donations from Waynesville-area residents.
“We’ve had just an outpouring from the community,” Wall said. “They’ve brought in food. They brought in drinks. They brought in shoes, clothes, toys, household items, toilet paper, paper towels. There are medical supplies and laundry supplies. You name it, it’s here.
“These people have done a fabulous job of getting it all organized. If we’ve needed anything and it wasn’t here, they got it. They’ve just been fabulous here.”
You can help people affected by disasters like the recent floods, home fires, tornadoes and hurricanes, as well as countless crises at home and around the world, by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. Visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text the words REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to the American Red Cross Heart of Missouri Chapter, 431 E. McCarty St., Jefferson City, MO 65101 or by calling 866-815-2739.
Everyday at the Red Cross, we hear captivating stories of clients whose lives have been impacted by kindness and genuine care that our disaster relief staff provides to those in need, around-the-clock. Here is another great story to add to the archives:
On Monday, May 20, 2013, around 10:10 pm, a flash flood sent water rushing into our apartment. My husband was barely able to hold the door open for me to get out. We made our way up the stairs to safety. Then we heard our neighbor screaming for help. She and her three dogs had been sleeping and had no idea what had happened. My husband and a neighbor pulled them out of the bedroom window.
We left our apartments with just the clothes on our back and the shoes we were wearing. We sat in my car shivering, shaking, crying, praying – we were in panic mode. Not knowing what to do next, I called 911; they came and went. I called my renter’s insurance and gave my info, only to find out they could not help.
As the waters receded, we went back to our apartments to survey damages. We could not believe we had 20″ of water in the apartment. It had ruined everything.
We went down the road to a nearby hotel, but after telling our story, the manager gave only a $10 discount; we could not afford the remaining $84 left on the bill. We pulled into a gas station to contemplate our next move. I googled “Red Cross”- and eventually spoke with one of the most humane, nicest people I know, TJ Runge. She listened to me in my panic mode, calmed me down, and said to find a place for the rest of the night. She would visit the complex in the morning to assess the damages. We called our in-laws and stayed with them for the night.
The next morning brought more devastation; when we returned to our apartment, we saw demolition trucks ready to start tearing out the apartments because of contaminated water. We, and the other 44 families affected, could only pack our salvageable items.
TJ came to the complex, and I met with her. I gave my information, and she set me up an appointment to get assistance. I arrived not knowing what to expect. Much to my surprise, after the paper work was completed, we were handed a money card to stay in a motel for three days and enough money to purchase shoes, clothing, gas to get to work, and food; anything we needed immediately. I was wonderfully surprised and grateful. We actually were getting some help from an organization that I thought just dealt with the big disasters: tornadoes, hurricanes, fires. I left there feeling like someone cared deeply and was concerned about our well-being and our livelihood that had just been destroyed. TJ explained everything to me: my responsibilities, and their willingness to continue to help by referring us to other agencies that might help us further.
Three weeks later, after securing another place to live, the Red Cross gave us half of the required first month’s rent. How wonderful that they continued to help us through our loss. It is with much, much gratitude, grace and faith from the Red Cross that we thank them for helping us the way they did. We don’t know where we would be without them.
Julie and Tim Howell
Along with Julie & Tim, we are certainly grateful for our mission and those like TJ, who are committed to carrying out our mission in times of emergency. To find out more about what we do, and how you can become involved as a donor or a volunteer — visit us at redcross.org/stl.
By Mike Pfeifer, International Services Volunteer
Mohamed Dahir Haji spoke of his older brother, Ahmed. “My brother was always a teacher to me.” Yet as boys, Mohamed, Ahmed, and the rest of their family fled war torn Somalia in the 1990s. They found their way to a refugee camp near Dadaab, Kenya, and later became separated for more than a decade.
Before their separation, Ahmed did what older brothers do. He taught his younger brother to play soccer. They went to school together. Together they sold bread in the local markets.
In 1999, the brothers were separated and sent to different refugee camps in Kenya. The Dadaab camp for refugees in Kenya may be the largest in the world. There are so many people displaced by violence and famine in the Horn of Africa, that the camp has been virtually divided into three small cities that shelter nearly 400,000 people.
While in a Kenyan camp, Mohamed married and graduated from high school. Then, he made the difficult decision to leave the camp and immigrate to the United States, leaving his brother behind in Kenya to care for their mother. With that decision, Mohamed lost all contact and had not seen or heard from his family in 12 years. That is until recently, when the Red Cross bridged that twelve-year absence. That’s when Ahmed reached out to the Red Cross, across the globe, in an effort to find his brother.
Using the global Red Cross network, the Restoring Family Links (RFL) program works to reconnect families separated by disaster, war or civil unrest. The program works both to find lost family members and to carry messages back and forth. After Ahmed reached out, the Red Cross network traced Mohamed back to the St. Louis area. Local Red Cross staff and volunteers located Mohamed and delivered a message from his brother Ahmed.
Mohamed read his message aloud. “I am your brother, Ahmed. I am greeting you with my best. If you’ve forgotten me, I have not forgotten you.” The messages are often brief, out of necessity, but a few words can fill a heart and span decades.
“He’s the one who convinced me to marry my wife,” Mohamed said. Mohamed and his wife, Mana, have seven children. His family in the Kenyan camp did not know these children existed, nor had they seen them. He knew exactly how he would reply. “We must send him pictures,” Mohamed said.
The family went through closets to put on their best clothes for pictures. Along with several family pictures, Mohamed sent a Red Cross Message (RCM) in response.
“My Dear Brother, I am hereby submitting my best greeting. Say, ‘Hi” to Mom and brothers and sister.” With a regular communication link established, the family regains the links that bind them and can enfold new members into the warmth that is family.
Separated individuals can contact a local Red Cross representative, which in turn will launch a cooperative international search. In the case of Ahmed’s search for Mohamed, the request went from a Red Cross representative in the refugee camp, to the Kenyan Red Cross, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, to the American Red Cross, and finally to the St. Louis Area Chapter of the Red Cross.
Through the Restoring Family Links program and the use of Red Cross Messaging, local international services staff and volunteers serve the diverse immigrant population of the St. Louis area. Individuals whose family connections have been severed by disaster, war, or civil unrest can contact the St. Louis Area Chapter of the American Red Cross at (314) 516-2800 for more information on initiating a search or sending a message.