Donna Lee and her four children had been in their Baltimore townhome just eight days when disaster struck. She had not cooked much yet and did not immediately realize that the funny smell was not her oven, but a fire building in her kitchen electrical outlet. Her long night of panic was about to begin.
Thankfully, the blaze was confined to only the kitchen and no one was hurt. But Donna has a lung disease and requires regular breathing treatments at home. The combination of smoke and no electricity was going to make her treatments impossible. Lost and bewildered, Donna needed help for herself and her four children.
She began to panic. The neighborhood association leader called the American Red Cross of the Chesapeake Region on Donna’s behalf.
“I didn’t think they’d really come…….”
She was sure that no one from the Red Cross would come that late at night, and was trying to figure out what to do to help her family. Donna was standing in her bedroom and looking out her front window, the only source of light, when suddenly a Red Cross van pulled up in front of her house, and for the first time that night, she started to cry.
“They came! It was Rosalie and Louie,” Donna remembers about the two volunteers who came to her rescue that night. “I had no idea the Red Cross did this kind of thing. I am so grateful! These Red Cross people had to have gotten out of their beds to come and help me. They couldn’t have been nicer.”
The Red Cross volunteers immediately began trying to find a hotel room for her family and then started taking care of the rest of her needs. “They gave me money for food. Almost all of our food had been ruined, and I had just shopped the day before. We spent the next two nights in that hotel until my landlord fixed everything, and we could go home.”
Donna’s story is not unique. The Red Cross offers emergency assistance to an average of three families every day.
“I’ll always be so grateful,” Donna says. “I have told everyone, my friends and neighbors what the Red Cross did for me. I’m so thankful!”
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“Were standing there in the snow, with the children, barefooted and my house is burning down,” Elizabeth recalls about the day her Parkville ranch house caught fire. She shared the home with her daughter, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“I’m standing there thinking, what am I going to do with all my family,” Herrman asked herself. “My home is a sanctuary and my sanctuary was up in flames.”
Soon she had an answer to her question. Before the flames were out, volunteers from the American Red Cross were there with blankets for the freezing family. The Red Cross then offered them shelter and money to buy clothes, food and even baby formula for her five month old great-granddaughter.
“I had no resources that I knew of until the Red Cross came.” Elizabeth says. “If it hadn’t been for them, I honestly don’t know what I would have done... I thought Red Cross assistance was reserved only for major disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian Earthquake." She soon learned that the Red Cross is more than she knew.
“I was amazed and thankful,” says Hermann who encourages the public to support the Red Cross. “You need help to do this.” Her family is now renting a house and has plans to eventually move back home when repairs are made.
When a fire destroyed her Parkville ranch house, Diana Pilachowski says the American Red Cross came to the rescue. “They made it to the scene, before the fire was out, with blankets,” Diana says.
She shared the home with her mother, two children and three grandchildren. The Red Cross also provided the family with shelter and money to buy clothes, food and even baby formula for Diana’s five month old granddaughter.
The Red Cross assistance kept this multi-generational family together. “We would have split up as a family,” Diana says. “I was not aware of what the Red Cross could do for you.”
The week after the fire her church was hosting a blood drive and Diana saw that as an opportunity to help others in need. She also recruited her brother to donate blood. “What better way to give back what the Red Cross has given us than to donate blood,” Diana asks.
The family is currently renting a house but plans to move back home after repairs are made.
On a cold January night, Timeeka Wilkins got a phone call that would change her life. It was a neighbor telling her that Wilkins home was on fire. She and her four children lost everything in the blaze.
Wilkins says that when she first re-entered the house she could stand in her living room and see the sky through a hole burned into the roof. “Within 20 minutes, the Red Cross was here. It’s not a joke,” Wilkins says. “Just look over your shoulder. They’re here.” The Red Cross provided the Baltimore family with shelter, food, clothing and the other essentials that were needed to get back on their feet.
Unfortunately, this was the second time Wilkins had to experienced the loss that comes with a home fire. In 1995 a blaze that began in a neighboring home not only destroyed her house but almost took the lives of her family. Wilkins' mother, sister and her three of her children were all hospitalized after that disaster. She says it was a Red Cross volunteer who got her through that first night.
“It was very comforting because I didn’t have anyone else at that moment,” Wilkins recalls. “And it’s a volunteer. This is someone who is just sitting here because they want to. Not because they are waiting on a paycheck.” In addition to the emotional support, the Red Cross also provided Wilkins with shelter, food, clothing and even helped her look for a new place to live. They followed up with her for months after the fie.
“The Red Cross doesn’t just come out and say, ‘here’s a couple dollars for food, here’s a couple dollars for clothes,’” says Wilkins. “The Red Cross gives you peace of mind.”
That peace of mind stuck with her and she has made it her mission to spread the word about how much the Red Cross does in Central Maryland by organizing blood drives at her workplace and donating directly from her pay check as part of the Federal Combined Charities campaign. “It’s not much but it’s my way of giving back. If the Red Cross wasn’t there I probably wouldn’t be here.
“You just don’t know. A group of people were enjoying lunch,” recalls Chuck Udzinski, Manager, End User Services at Black and Decker. “Then that whole afternoon changed in an instant. It could have been really tragic.”
Udzinski and his co-workers were celebrating at a company holiday party when a colleague suddenly jumped up, unable to breathe. “Are you choking,” Udzinski asked. She vigorously shook her head yes and clutched her throat.
Udzinski gave his co-worker the Heimlich maneuver and dislodged the food from her airway allowing her to breathe again. Suddenly she turned and clutched her throat again. Udzinski used the Heimlich maneuver a second and final time.
Thanks to his quick action Udzinski’s co-worker survived. Udzinski says that just a few seconds can make the difference between life and death. “You can’t rely on public safety officials to always be there,” Udzinski says. “It’s critical for people to be able to take matters into their own hands to save a live.”
Phillip Bovender is heading to Mississippi as part of a team of Red Cross volunteers from around the country that will assist in the recovery efforts following the deadly storms that have swept through that region. An instructor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, Bovender will serve as a triage nurse at a Red Cross shelter. His school is currently between semesters giving Bovender the time for this important assignment but Maryland law also allows state employees to take 15 days of disaster service leave. “I feel very privileged and blessed,”
Bovender says about the opportunity to help those in need. While this is his first national disaster assignment, Bovender has been a volunteer with the Red Cross of Central Maryland for over a year. He will bring the expertise that he and scores of other local volunteers have mastered providing comfort and assistance more than twice a day to Maryland families who are burned out of their homes. Bovender says he’s nervous about the destruction he will see in Mississippi but is comforted by being a part of the Red Cross team. “Every one I’ll see in red vests will be neighbors helping neighbors,” Bovender says. “Just like here in Central Maryland, neighbors helping neighbors.” Check with your employers Human Resources department about Maryland Disaster Service leave or checkout our training and volunteer opportunities.