Trees, Wreaths, and a Blimp

Annual Festival of Trees event raises money and lifts spirits

By Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross Regional Communications Officer

Wooster, December 6, 2019 – It’s one of the most timely events of the season. And it’s one of the most popular events in the region. Dozens of designer trees, wreaths, centerpieces and baskets were on display at the annual Festival of Trees fundraiser for disaster relief.  The items were auctioned off on Tuesday, December 3 at the Shisler Conference Center on the Wooster campus of The Ohio State University.  Supporters also bid on valuable gifts donated by local companies and individuals during a live auction.

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One of those gifts is always in high demand: a ride on the Goodyear blimp.  The highest bidder was Annette Saeger, owner of the Gilcrest Center, an adult daycare in Wooster.

“One of her resident’s  dying wish is to ride in the Goodyear blimp,” said Lara Kiefer, executive director of the Red Cross of Lake Erie/Heartland. “She bought that for him.” 

49164545698_7913cd9266_cThe event raised more than $80,000 for the Red Cross to help residents who are affected by disasters like home fires and flooding in Ashland, Holmes, Richland and Wayne counties.

The general public was invited to attend a preview the night before the auction.

They 49164556318_dca86bd6ac_cwere treated not only to the splendor of the decorated trees, but also a performance by the  Wooster High School Choir and a visit from Santa Claus.

“What a great way to kick-off the holiday season,” Kiefer said.  “People had a good time for a good cause – those who need help during their darkest hours, after a disaster like a home fire.”

If you’d like to help people recover from home fires, floods, tornadoes and other disasters, visit redcross.org/neo and click the donate button at the top of the page, or call 800-RED CROSS.

To view dozens of photos from the preview night and the auction at Festival of Trees, visit our photo album here.

Photo credits: Tom Newman/American Red Cross volunteer; Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross

Chris and Jim Davis named 2019 Festival of Trees honorary co-chairs

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

November 18, 2019- The American Red Cross Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter named Chris and Jim Davis the 2019 honorary co-chairs for the annual Festival of Trees, which will be held on Tuesday, December 3, 2019 at the Shisler Conference Center in Wooster.

Jim and Chris Davis

Chris and Jim Davis

The event helps raise funds for the Red Cross to help residents who are affected by disasters like home fires and flooding in Ashland, Holmes, Richland and Wayne counties.

The Davis’ were both born and raised in Orrville, Ohio and attended Orrville High School together. Both have led a life of service, with Chris serving as a teacher and director at the Trinity Christian Pre-School for 28 years and Jim a police officer at the Orrville Police Department. Currently, they own and operate the Orrville Dairy Queen, which Jim’s mother and father purchased in 1984.

“We support the American Red Cross and their mission, which is to prevent and alleviate human suffering,” said Chris Davis. “I think of them as the number one second responder, right after police and fire, our first responders. Your contribution to help stays here for local disaster services and programs.”

The Festival of Trees, one of the area’s premiere holiday events since 1990, has generated funds for local Red Cross disaster relief for families experiencing home fires, floods or tornadoes.

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The fundraising event features beautifully decorated holiday trees, wreaths, centerpieces and baskets donated by local artisans and decorators. The holiday decorations will be auctioned at the event.

Additionally, local companies have donated wonderful and unique items for the auction, such as a ride for two on the Goodyear blimp and a trip to Disney World.

For more information and to purchase tickets to the event, visit redcross.org/trees19.

Akron Brass remains a local champion through Red Cross partnership

By Mike Arthur, Disaster Program Manager, Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter (South)

November 15, 2019- When I have trouble with my work equipment, I call the Red Cross information technology (IT) department and they help me fix the problem. At worst, it means I’m not very productive for a short period of time. In my previous career as a firefighter, if I had trouble with my equipment it could have resulted in injury or death.

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For the last 100 years, the Akron Brass Company has made quality equipment to ensure that firefighters are able to put fires out and save lives. Every firefighter knows about Akron Brass, and how good their products are. I recently had the opportunity to visit their offices and got to meet many of their staff members. Akron Brass is an incredible partner of the American Red Cross. This year alone they have provided funds to support our Home Fire Campaign and are the presenting sponsor of the Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter Festival of Trees event in Wooster next month. In addition, the company actively participates in hosting blood drives, including the Wooster Battle of the Badges event, which pits the police against the fire department in a friendly competition.

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I was at Akron Brass headquarters on Friday, November 8th, when employees assembled 150 comfort kits for veterans.

The Akron Brass Company is a world leader in fire products, as well as a local champion for Wayne County and the state of Ohio.

To view more photos from the Akron Brass care kit assembly event, visit our Flickr page.

Mahoning Valley residents and volunteers “Feel the Heat” during emergency response tour

By Mark Sitch, American Red Cross volunteer

October 30, 2019- The American Red Cross partners with many organizations to create a network of volunteers and highly skilled professionals who are prepared when emergencies arise. The Youngstown Air Reserve Station (YARS) has served proudly since 1955 as a community jewel and thirdlargest employer of the Mahoning Valley—ready to serve our region and beyond in multiple ways.

On October 22 the Red Cross community was invited to Feel the Heat, a learning tour of facilities and tools used by the valley’s bravest to serve our region and nation. Nearly 1,900 military personnel efficiently operate this 321-acre federal facility in Trumbull County, where our assignment began.

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Karen Conklin, Executive Director of the Red Cross of Lake to River, and chapter board member Lou Joseph of Home Savings and Loan of Youngstown

We were greeted with opening remarks at the Community Activities Center (CAC) by Colonel Don Wren, 910th Air Wing Mission Group Support Commander. Joe Mersol, Lake to River chapter co-events chair, addressed attendees during refreshments. After Mike Parks, Red Cross regional executive, introduced Air Force Fire Chief John Lewis, we were divided into three squadrons and briefed with instructions for our nearly two-hour tour.

Our second stop was at the Family Assistance Center, where we learned training and drills that can help families in any YARS related event or disaster, with a staff  ready to provide counseling, food, first aid, shelter and specialized services.

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Red Cross Regional CEO Mike Parks, a U. S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral (Retired) speaks with Air Force Reserve Col. Don Wren,  Commander, 910th Mission Support Group

Our next adventure was reporting to the Smoke House for a simulated smoke demonstration. This illustrated how difficult it is to see in a fire. We learned the importance of staying low to the ground and other safety tips. Outside, we “felt the heat” at the next demonstration by witnessing a propane- fueled metal training jet set ablaze as Chief Lewis outlined the challenges of fighting such a fire.

“It’s our opportunity to work with our amazing 910th Airlift Wing on an exercise where we simulate a plane has gone down,” said Karen Conklin, Lake to River Chapter executive director.

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They also demonstrated the powerful “jaws of life” and other tools used to extract victims of car accidents. The chief noted that they assist various area fire departments in the region, as was supported by the presence of Youngstown Fire Chief Barry Findley and Mayor Tito Brown.

Our last stop was at the Emergency Operations Center. This “situation room” with the latest technology helps federal, state and local responders coordinate emergency efforts and monitor events such as air shows hosted by YARS.

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It was an informative and pride-filled day that helped show the community the value of this facility as a Red Cross trusted ally.

Our thanks to Lake to River chapter board chair Deborah Grinstein for coordinating the event; 910th Airlift Wing Commander Colonel Joseph D. Janik; and Master Sgt. Bob Bartko Jr. for allowing us to observe impressive team efforts and for planning this exciting event.

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Col. Wren with Red Cross AmeriCorps workers Carrie Schultz, left, and Teresa Greenlief

Visit www.youngstown.afrc.af.mil to learn more about this Mahoning Valley gem.

To see more photos from the Feel the Heat event, click here to visit our Flickr page.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

International adventures with a former Red Cross staff member

By Beth Bracale, American Red Cross volunteer

October 28, 2019- Betty Lou Sobotincic started working for the American Red Cross right out of high school. Her friend’s mother catered luncheon meetings at the headquarters in Erie, Pennsylvania, and she told director Harry Ringer about Betty Lou. Ringer was known for overseeing all of the Red Cross during World War II and having worked with President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The Erie branch was short-staffed, and Ringer hired Betty Lou as secretary to the First Aid, Water Safety and Disaster Response departments. She soon discovered that she and a college student from Gannon University had two weeks to prepare for the “Teach Johnny to Swim” program that summer – for 2,000 students! They managed to pull it off.

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During Betty Lou’s time in Erie, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. One of her jobs was to raise the flag. When Ringer told her to put the flag at half-mast that day, she asked him what that meant. “He gave me a look. When Harry told you to do something, you just did it. So I went outside and figured out how to hang a flag at half-mast.”

After a couple of years, Betty was getting restless and she had reached the cap of the pay range. Ringer called the Red Cross office in Washington, D.C., and opened the door for them to hire her for overseas duty. She traveled to D.C. and stayed at the famous Willard Hotel. Both the hotel and the Red Cross headquarters were quite impressive to a 19-year-old from Ashtabula, Ohio.

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Betty Lou’s first assignment was at the Far Eastern Area Headquarters of the Red Cross in Tokyo, Japan, during the build up to the Vietnam War. When she arrived, there were between eight and 15 personnel in Vietnam. By the time she left two years later, there were 250, and a substation had been created in Saigon. As secretary, and the youngest staff member by far, Betty Lou was in charge of payroll, processing transfers and keeping track of everyone’s location. She was tasked with going to embassies for the Southeast Asian countries and procuring visas for transferring workers. Finding her way around Tokyo was no easy task. Eventually she bought a car and drove herself wherever she needed to go.

At 21, Betty Lou was transferred to Heidelberg Hospital in Germany, again serving as secretary with a high-level security clearance, which was necessary due to her knowledge of troop movement. Her duties included sending messages to families of soldiers who had been killed and assisting families who came to visit those who had been severely wounded. While this job wasn’t as challenging as the one in Japan, it was emotionally draining.

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Sometimes Red Cross personnel from Washington and other locations came to the hospital and were hosted by the director. One of those guests was Al Cherry , who Betty Lou met at a Red Cross gathering. Six weeks later the two were married in Switzerland! Eventually they moved to Ashtabula, Ohio, to raise a family.

Betty Lou served the Red Cross in Northeast Ohio during a number of local disasters, such as the tornadoes in Xenia, Ohio, and the surrounding area. In more recent years, Betty Lou and Al have been consistent contributors to the Red Cross, with a special focus on family needs following house fires. Betty Lou still stays in touch with people she met through her work, both here and abroad. The Red Cross holds a special place in her heart.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Smoke alarm helps save lives in Wooster

By Samantha Pudelski, American Red Cross Volunteer

October 25, 2019- Did you know that if a fire starts in your home, you might have as little as two minutes to escape? Something as simple as a smoke alarm can alert those inside of a fire in its early stages, providing critical time to vacate the home and call for help. Unfortunately, there are many who don’t have working smoke alarms, or don’t have enough devices within their home.

One American Red Cross volunteer, Barbara Buchwalter, experienced first-hand how powerful a simple device like a smoke alarm can be.

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Joe Kiefer

“I was given a business card at a senior event,” said Barbara. “We knew we didn’t have enough smoke alarms for the size of our home. A fireman came and installed several alarms. Within the same week, our stove caught fire and the smoke alarm went off.  The fireman that installed the alarms also responded to the fire that afternoon. I believe my husband and I were saved, because we had our old alarms replaced.”

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Lieutenant Joe Kiefer was the Wooster firefighter who provided the services that saved the lives of Barbara and her husband. He said that the smoke alarm not only saved lives that day, but it minimized the damage the fire caused. With the fast actions of the homeowners, Joe and his fellow firefighters were able to quickly respond and put out the fire before it spread to other areas of the home.

Joe was recently named Wooster firefighter of the year, and his work with the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign was mentioned as one of the reasons for his nomination.

The Buchwalters are among the 642 people whose lives have been saved after smoke alarms installed by the Red Cross and its partners alerted them to the danger in their homes. In Northeast Ohio, the Red Cross and its partners have installed over 42,000 smoke alarms through its Home Fire Campaign.

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Joe Kiefer with his wife Lara Kiefer, executive director of the Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter

Smoke alarm installations are available to any community member through their local chapter of the Red Cross. Many fire departments, like the Wooster Fire Department partner with the Red Cross to install smoke alarms the Red Cross provides. Fifteen to 30 minutes is all it takes to install smoke alarms in a home. Joe said that it also provides the firefighters an opportunity to answer any questions the homeowners may have, and to point out any potential fire hazards within the home.

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Joe Kiefer with Ashland mayor Matt Miller

“It’s a great way to get [firefighters] face-to-face with their community members,” Joe said.

“It’s a simple thing people can do—there’s no reason not to have smoke alarms,” according to Joe. To learn more about how you can prepare your home in case of a fire, visit the Red Cross Home Fire Safety page.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Northeast Ohio Region weekend disaster response report: October 18-20, 2019

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

October 21, 2019- While residents of Northeast Ohio were enjoying the warm fall weekend weather and getting ready for Halloween, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio Disaster Action Teams (DAT) were responding to individuals experiencing the worst day of their lives.

The Red Cross responded to 12 incidents, including several home fires, in nine counties, affecting all five regional chapters.

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As part of the weekend response, Northeast Ohio DAT volunteers assisted 26 adults and 14 children, and the Red Cross provided more than $7,000 in immediate financial assistance.

Just as disasters do not discriminate in terms of whose lives they destroy; the Red Cross does not discriminate in terms of whose lives we help rebuild. The Red Cross does not turn away people who need assistance after a disaster. We are committed to helping everyone in need.

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As the largest humanitarian organization in the world, the Red Cross has the ability to use your donation to reach more people in need, more quickly. Your donation to the Red Cross helps provide food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support, recovery planning and other assistance during disasters.

To help the Red Cross provide hope and comfort to individuals in Northeast Ohio experiencing their darkest hours, please visit redcross.org/donate to provide a financial donation. Any amount donated truly helps with their recovery.

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Also, without the tremendous dedication of our volunteers, the Red Cross would not be able to serve the 22 counties and 4.5 million residents of Northeast Ohio. Volunteers make up 90 percent of our workforce. Our volunteers are without a doubt the face of the Red Cross. Visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more and to apply to become a Red Cross volunteer today.