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In the Wake of Tragedy, One Woman Gives Back


Losing your home and possessions can be a devastating blow. But when you lose a family member, possessions don’t seem to matter much.

“Everybody remembers where they were on 9/11, everybody remembers where they were when a president dies or when something really tragic happened…I remember exactly where I was when I got a phone call on December 5, 2008,” said Billi Jo Baneck, of Plainfield, Wis.

Baneck had been training to become a 9-1-1 dispatcher—learning each day how to help people through their emergencies. However, when the roles were reversed, it was a very different situation. There is no training that can prepare you for the loss of family.

Baneck lost three family members when her parent’s home burned down in a house fire, and two of her siblings were sent to the hospital with burn injuries. Right after Baneck returned from the hospital that night, American Red Cross volunteers knocked on her door.

Baneck asked, “What can I do for you?” to which the Red Cross volunteer replied, “No, I’m here for you.” They were prepared to help with things that Baneck hadn’t even had the luxury or time to consider yet.

“The things you don’t think of, the things that are least important on your mind at that moment, but are going to be very important down the road, that’s what the Red Cross was on top of. They showed up so fast and I didn’t even have time to get home and just stop for a second,” said Baneck.

The Red Cross gave Baneck money for groceries, clothing and gas, since one of her siblings was taken to a hospital hours away. Luckily, since Baneck was living on her own, she had a place where her brother and sister could stay after they recovered. Her family had lost everything, but the Red Cross provided the necessary supplies to help them through the disaster.

The connection with the Red Cross didn’t stop there. Since that experience, Baneck has been giving back to the Red Cross and her community. She spearheaded the “Wautoma’s Got Talent” contest, which benefits local disaster relief, and is now training to become a Red Cross disaster services volunteer—ready to help others who are facing tragedy.

In a speech at the Red Cross in Oshkosh, Baneck told the crowd, “I got through this with the help of everybody in my community—with friends, family and the American Red Cross.”