Donated items prove useful during Minnesota/Wisconsin clean-up efforts

September 13, 2007

By: Jeffery L. Biggs
American Red Cross


RUSHFORD, MN, August 29, 2007 – When relief workers and residents in the flood-ravaged areas of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin began the arduous cleaning process, they didn’t have to worry about having the proper supplies. Instead, the American Red Cross has been able to provide more than 3,000 clean-up kits which include brooms, buckets, cleaning solutions, and more. The Red Cross has also been able to provide invaluable gloves and hand sanitizer to the workers; helping protect themselves during the potentially hazardous cleaning process.

The gloves, manufactured for the American Red Cross by Magla Products under a licensing agreement, provide an extra layer of protection for disaster relief workers and residents cleaning their homes and businesses; helping protect them from potentially harmful contact bacteria and hazardous materials such as nails, screws, and other sharp objects.

The hand sanitizer, also manufactured for the American Red Cross under a special licensing agreement with WaterJel, gives users a way to clean and sanitize their hands after working in the mud and muck of the flooded areas.

One of the folks taking advantage of the gloves and sanitizer was Larie Wohlert of Spring Grove, Minn. Larie was working relief efforts in Rushford as part of the Houston County, Minn. Cattlemen’s Association clean-up project.

“It’s great that we can have something to protect our hands while we’re working and then have a good cleanser for them when we’re done,” said Larie. “The Red Cross has been extremely helpful in providing supplies to help get the work done.” In addition to hand sanitizer and work gloves to help people with individual clean-up and salvage, local vendors like Valley Crest donated two-wheeled sturdy hand trucks to easily move pallets of in-kind donations perhaps the most precious donation – a little girl’s donation of 75 cans of insect repellent to help workers in the flood zones.

“This 5-year-old girl and her mother, Lisa Anttila, brought in several cases of bug repellent to be used by the workers,” said Sandy Zuiderhoek of in-kind donations. “It was a very nice gesture and greatly appreciated.”

“Marissa wanted to help out,” said her mom, Lisa. “I’m an Avon representative, and she always likes delivering [products of orders]with me. We sent out a call to all of our customers for bug spray because we had heard that the bees and mosquitoes were so bad. We were able to collect at least 70 cans of spray, and she enjoyed bringing them to the Red Cross so she could help out, too.”

The distribution and use of the gloves, hand sanitizer, and other clean-up materials is all part of the Red Cross’ plan to help those who need it most when disaster strikes, and is part of the Red Cross’ nationwide campaign which encourages people to “Be Red Cross Ready.”

This campaign stresses individuals and families taking preparedness steps ahead of time for whatever the future may bring – be it a natural disaster, a personal disaster such as a house fire, or even a traffic wreck while traveling. The focus of the campaign is to get or make an emergency supplies kit – both for home and in the car; making an evacuation and family communications plan; and being informed about what to do during an emergency.

McKesson Pharmaceutical boosts Red Cross efforts

September 7, 2007
By: Glenda Plunkett
American Red Cross 


Rochester, MN, September 6, 2007; It all started when Scott Mooney, Distribution Center Manager for McKesson Pharmaceutical, received a phone call from his client in St. Charles, MN. The client had experienced flooding over the weekend and needed his help. Mooney went to see him. While there he heard for the first time that there was trouble in Rushford. Rushford had been overwhelmed by a disastrous flood causing great loss to businesses and homes. Mooney’s thoughts turned to a previous client, Tom Witt and his business, Witt’s Pharmacy.

Mooney knew the townspeople and the nursing home, Good Shepard, relied on this small mom and pop pharmacy. He made a trip to Rushford to see his former client Tom Witt.

He found Witt at the Good Shepard Nursing Home. Witt was in trouble. The rumors were true. His business was lost. Witt asked him to walk across the street with him to the Red Cross shelter.

Mooney said, “The shelter was packed with cots and blankets. It hit me like a brick what the Red Cross was doing for these people. I thought we need to help too. I was also impressed with how Tom was helping the people there even though he had lost his business. He recovered what medicines were left and channeled them through the shelter to those who really needed help. My next question for Tom was what do you need to make this work?”

I called our foundation and we agreed to give a check for $10,000 to Red Cross in the city of Rushford and another $10,000 to the National Headquarters of the Red Cross,” said Mooney. The McKesson Foundation founded by McKesson Pharmaceuticals, the largest pharmaceutical distributor in North America. Each day they distribute one-third of the medicines used in the United States.

Witt needed counter tops, cubicle dividers, and a refrigerator to name a few things. He needed rubber gloves, cotton balls and other odds and ends for the make shift first aid center in the back of the shelter.

Mooney said, “Let me see what I can do.”

Mooney went back to his warehouse in La Crosse, WI where he procured portable tabletops, counters, cabinets, and other odds and ends. “I bought him a refrigerator since I didn’t have one in the warehouse. We sent all of it directly to Rushford. There we helped to assemble a make-shift pharmacy and office so that Witt could operate his business again. He needed a refrigerator and I bought him one at Menards,” said Mooney.

By Tuesday morning thanks to the generosity of McKesson Pharmaceuticals the St. Charles Pharmacy and Witt were back in business. Witt was once again providing needed medication to the Good Shepard Nursing Home and the residents of Rushford.

After doing so, Mooney spoke with the health professionals running the first aid station. These professionals were a mix of Red Cross volunteers and Winona Public Health Department. Winona Health was also a former client of McKesson but this made no difference to Mooney as the nurse relayed her dilemma. The health department was dispensing shots of tetanus and Hepatitis B to those of the public that wanted them but were running out of the much needed vials of serum.

Once again Mooney sprang into action. He sent for 300 vials of tetanus serum and 300 vials of Hepatitis B serum from his warehouse for Winona Public Health’s use.

“It was the right thing to do,” lamented Mooney. “We are all in the business of helping people and it touched my heart how much they needed our assistance.”

“A couple of times Tom has brought up buying from McKesson again. I told him now is not the time for that. We can discuss it in the future. Right now we have to get you on your feet and back on-line,” said Mooney.

Mooney continued, “The Red Cross support I saw there was incredible. It touched me from the first time I walked in. I walked up to a woman who was checking people into the shelter. It turns out she lost her mobile home and everything in it, but it didn’t stop her from helping other people as they checked into the shelter. I stopped in there several times over the next few days and each time she greeted me. She put everything in her life aside to help others.”

 “As time went on, I saw the Red Cross progress from a shelter to more support services…feeding, nursing, clean up supplies, and making financial assistance happen. They had Salvation Army, FEMA and the Small Business Association in there with a host of others working alongside them doing various kinds of support for the locals there. I was truly impressed with the will to help,” said Mooney.

Mayo pledges $100,000 to Red Cross

September 6, 2007


September 5, 2007, ROCHESTER, Minn. –Mayo Clinic announced on Friday, August 31, 2007, it will be making monetary donations to the agencies that have been heavily involved with the flood relief effort:


  • $100,000 to the Southeast Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross;
  • $100,000 to the Northern Division of the Salvation Army;
  • $100,000 to the United Way of Olmsted County;
  • And joining with other local organizations in making a contribution of $25,000 to the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation’s Business Recovery Fund, which will make grants available to local businesses to assist in their recovery.


Mayo Clinic officers, Glenn Forbes, M.D., Chief Executive Officer, and Jeff Korsmo, Chief Administrative Officer, were inspired by the overwhelming need in the affected communities and moved by the response of the employees and generous spirit of their willingness to help those affected by the floods.


The Mayo Clinic also delivered stethoscopes, insulin and blood pressure cuffs along with other supplies and services for the relief effort to the Red Cross shelter in Rushford. 


Melanie Tschida, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Southeast Minnesota Chapter said, “We are continually amazed by the generosity of the Mayo community.  They have been working with us side-by-side since day one of this disaster, and now they have also made a very generous financial gift to support our relief efforts.  We are proud to call them our partner and grateful for their support.”


To date, the American Red Cross has distributed 51,632 meals, 115,891 snacks, and 3,763 clean-up kits to the Minnesota and Wisconsin flood victims.

The fall and rise of Rushford

September 5, 2007


Rushford Mayor Les Ladewig speaks twice daily to
residents of the Minnesota town affected by the flood.
(Photo by Lynn Farrell/American Red Cross)


 By: Glenda Plunkett
American Red Cross

Rochester, MN, September 1, 2007; “Never Ever Give Up” is the battle cry for Rushford, MN severely affected by the flood. As a matter of fact they have printed signs that are in each storefront window to help boost morale. No one sings that more optimistically than Mayor Les Ladewig.

The nightmare for Rushford started in the early morning hours of August 19th when torrential rains combined with a dyke failure forced residents to flee their homes. Residents gathered at the Rushford High School and at the Good Shepard’s Nursing Home as flood waters rose. For much of that night Rushford Firemen rescued residents with boats as they battled more than twelve feet of flood water. “Not one life was lost thanks to their heroism, because of them we aren’t attending twenty funerals this week,” boasted the mayor.

The town was divided in half by a roaring river so two shelters, the Rushford High School and the Good Shepard Nursing Home, were initially established. As 4 more inches of rain were forecasted for the following day, the school fell threat to flooding. The nursing home held more than a hundred people in its activity area. This was impacting their normal activity. The mayor knew something needed to be done.

“Red Cross was here at first light. They graciously agreed to help and magic started to happen.  Red Cross brought with them over 300 cots to set up a shelter. Rodney Allen owner of RiverSide Electronics, and his General Manager, Gregg Reich, offered their newly acquisitioned TRW building to use in anyway we needed,” replied the mayor. At that point the TRW building became more than a shelter; it became the town community center where relief could be found. It was a grace from God type of thing that it was even available,” continued Ladewig. “You know now that I look back on it, TRW left town a year ago and we thought their departure was a real blow for our town. But if they had not, we would not have had that building open to do all the good it did.”

Meetings were held twice daily, 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., at the TRW building and relief came to the town of Rushford in many ways…Red Cross, Salvation Army, FEMA, Small Business Administration, Americorp, Children’s Disaster Services to name a few. Each tidbit of information was relayed to the community by the mayor who always kept the community’s best interest at heart.

“It was a privilege to serve these folks. Someone asked me if I followed the Emergency Operations Plan and I said, ‘You bet for the first 15 minutes’ and then we had to re-tailor the plan.” Ladewig humbly continued, “But we couldn’t have done any of this without the Red Cross. There aren’t enough good things to say about the Red Cross. There haven’t been enough kind words printed in the dictionary to describe it. I hung around the client assistance tables and asked people how they were treated as they walked away from their sessions. Not one person has been disgruntled or upset. The Red Cross didn’t just make an impact here. They made a statement! I can’t express how grateful I am to have their services available.”

 Thinking back on a town split by a river and then reunited by resilience the Mayor smiled and said, “Without a doubt Rushford will be back. We intend to have a town-wide picnic next year to celebrate our rebirth and we will all be wearing t-shirts that say ‘What flood?’”

Red Cross, American Cadet Alliance proves fruitful

September 5, 2007



 By: Glenda Plunkett
American Red Cross


ROCHESTER, MN, September 2, 2007; It takes so many pieces to assemble any puzzle and which is akin to a disaster relief operation. Each piece does their job and when the pieces are totaled up they make a picture, except this picture is one of relief.

One of the pieces of the Minnesota – Wisconsin Flood Disaster Relief Operation is the help of the American Cadet Alliance. The cadets start at age 12 and go through 17 years old. “The cadets are in trained with a military preciseness and are at the disposal of the Red Cross,” said Sergeant Jason Albers.

The nation’s number two man in this program is Lieutenant Colonel Joseph M. Land, Sr., said, “It’s all about the mission for these dedicated youths. This program is about inspiring national pride to others. All people as citizens should step up at some point to help others. We all have an obligation to do something for our nation. When these youths put on that uniform they represent heroes. The decorum they present emulates those heroes.”

The cadets may be assigned to clean up in affected areas, security, traffic control, load or unload trucks, or perimeter containment to name a few. The cadets like the Red Cross are here to help people, communities, and their country. For the first few days in the aftermath of the flood it was their job to keep a tight perimeter for the town of Rushford. Without proper identification no one was allowed to enter the town of Rushford which received extensive damage from the flood.

“The cadets have brought security to the headquarters of the American Red Cross in Rochester, MN. They are mobile and can be plugged into the need as we see it arise. They also helped affected populations clean up their communities. To say that they are useful to us is an understatement,” said Pat Kraemer, Director of the Minnesota – Wisconsin Flood American Red Cross Disaster Relief Operation.

Eight cadets endured long hours, hot weather, mud, and debris to help. This group of cadets included: Sergeant Jason Albers, US Army Cadet Corps; Instructor Jack Rector, American Cadet Alliance; Private Jacob Recht, US Army Cadet Corps; Private Frist Class David Andrzejeski, Minnesota Army National Guard; Private Kazi Tyler Rashid, Minnesota Army National Guard. One of their own, Sgt. Jason Albers, said, “This gives youth an opportunity to decide whether a military life is for them. And as far this group of guys goes, they are a stellar group of people.”

 “I have been doing this for about 30 years. I started as a cadet myself. It’s an opportunity to become a part of something bigger than them,” Land said. “I think the partnership with the Red Cross on this mission has been a highly successful one and would like to see an agreement formalized. I would like to see the American Cadet Alliance working with the Red Cross become more of a norm. Hopefully, you will see more of us in the future.”

Inspired by the Red Cross

September 4, 2007
 By: Stephanie Carter
American Red Cross

foundation.jpgIt was August 18, 2007, and it had been raining heavily for days.

Bonnie Oldham was exhausted from a long day of working outdoors and had been sound asleep for several hours. Her husband, Roger woke her at 11:20 p.m. Her daughter was on the phone telling them their town, Stockton, Minnesota, was being evacuated.

It was too late for them to evacuate. The water was already lapping over the front porch and Roger decided it would be safest for them on the roof. He tried to open the door but it was stuck. The house was shifting and the doors were jammed shut.

Bonnie awakened her 72 year old mother, Audrey Ellinghuysen, who has on-set Alzheimer’s disease, and helped her gather her medications and a change of clothes.                                                                                                                                  

Both Bonnie and Roger’s cell phones rang. Bonnie’s son was heading to Stockton but she told him it was too late. Roger told his son they were stuck in the house. During these hurried conversations, the phones went dead. 

Roger pried open the door. He and Aubrey tried to use a glass patio table to gain access to the roof but the glass shattered. They dragged a desk and night stand out of the house and stacked the furniture. Roger boosted his wife and mother-in-law onto the roof. By adrenaline alone, Bonnie reached down, grabbed her husband and pulled him up along side of them.

Roger, who suffers from heart failure, began gasping for air. Bonnie realized she didn’t have his nitrogen pills. She climbed down and ran back into the home.

She saw her frightened cat, Sylvester sitting on the bed. She knew she couldn’t take him with her so she put him on the shelf in the closet. “I told him to wait until Mama comes to get you,” Bonnie said.

She grabbed two quilts and forgot the medication. Roger pulled her up on the roof and would not let her go back for the pills. “A wall of water was heading towards us. The sound was deafening,” Bonnie recalled.

They heard a loud snap and thought it was a tree but it was their house ripping away from its foundation. As if in slow motion, the house started moving with the current. Roger yelled, “Here we go.”

“We knew we were in for a ride,” Bonnie said. “We were level with the tree tops and had to duck under the power lines.”

They saw their neighbors also on the roofs of their homes yelling for them. Bonnie yelled back, “Tell my son I’ll see him later.”

The house was carried a few blocks through their neighborhood and grounded to a halt on the railroad tracks. Only a few more feet and they would be dragged under the tracks and into the woods. It was 12:50 a.m.

Throughout the night, they clung to each other and waited. Bonnie used the quilts to shelter them from the rain. They saw a car being carried by the water coming towards them but it became snagged on the tracks as well. They heard strange popping and hissing sounds and realized they were surrounded by gas tanks.

They were discovered at 5:45 a.m. Several firefighters arrived by airboat and a neighbor arrived with a ladder. They were taken to a shelter where they were told the American Red Cross had listed them as missing.

They arrived at St. Mary’s University and met with a Red Cross volunteer who told Bonnie her son had called 10 minutes prior desperately trying to locate his family. The Red Cross immediately called her son back and put them in touch with each other.  

Bonnie said, “The Red Cross volunteer instantly said tell us what you need. Roger needed medical assistance and they made sure he got it.” They rested at the shelter until family arrived.

On Monday, Bonnie returned to her house, which was still sitting across the tracks. A National Guardsman prohibited her from entering but Bonnie was determined to find her cat. With the assistance of the National Guardsman, she found Sylvester alive. “I called to him and he answered me with a meow,” she said.

On Saturday, employees of the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad Corporation tried to remove their house from the tracks but it crumbled. Bonnie was able to salvage photos of her dad who passed away one year ago.

Bonnie has visited the Red Cross Client Service Center in Winona daily, seeking counseling and long term recovery referrals to get her life back on track.

Though exhausted, Bonnie said, “The Red Cross was fantastic out there. They put us in touch with our family; gave us food and water; and helped with Roger’s medications. I saw what the Red Cross did for the Katrina victims. And after all this, I want to help people too. I want to become a Red Cross volunteer.”

 Written by Stephanie Carter, a volunteer with the Rappahannock Chapter of the American Red Cross assisting with the Minnesota/Wisconsin floods

Technology aides recovery

September 4, 2007

technology-truck.jpgAmerican Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle Operator from DeKalb County, Illinois packs to hit the road. (Aaron Litwin/American Red Cross)