Red Cross volunteer returns home after lengthy deployment to Puerto Rico

American Red Cross volunteers in Puerto Rico provide assistance to those impacted by the hurricanes that struck the island. (Red Cross photo by Ben Desa)

By Brooke Schmelder
American Red Cross

In the wake of devastating hurricanes, Puerto Ricans looked to numerous American Red Cross volunteers in their greatest time of need. Among those showing up was Ben Desa from the Southern Missouri Chapter in Springfield.

When Red Cross volunteers left each area where they had been helping, the residents’ question – “Are you coming tomorrow?” — weighed on their thoughts. Volunteers did not know if they would return to the same location the next day.

Originally from Puerto Rico, Ben knew he had to volunteer as soon as disaster struck, demolishing the island he once called home. People he knew and loved were suffering and needed help.

Benjamin Desa (2)
American Red Cross volunteer Ben Desa

Although not yet a volunteer, Ben quickly contacted the Red Cross, asking to be sent to support the hurricane victims. His first-hand knowledge of his homeland was a major plus for his deployment.

After completing his volunteer training, Ben made his way to Puerto Rico in late October, where he remained for 64 days working in mass care distributing water, food, cleanup supplies and other items to help people in their recovery.

Normally, such a deployment was about 21 days, so the extended time Ben spent there was a sign of his commitment.

The island Ben knew had completely changed. The flourishing tropical environment was robbed of its beauty. Buildings had been destroyed; bark and leaves from trees had been ripped clean off.

Traveling in the aftermath proved to be difficult. The island had an extreme gasoline shortage, making public transportation inaccessible. When gas was available, emergency services such as hospitals had top priority. When on the move, volunteers were escorted everywhere by the police.

The desperation was evident. Those impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria flocked to distribution sites where volunteers offered them much needed necessities.

Ben recalled that despite the conditions they were in, the hurricane survivors remained humble and kind, being grateful for the aid the volunteers provided and the items they could receive.

American Red Cross volunteers hand out relief supplies after hurricanes struck Puerto Rico. (Red Cross photo by Ben Desa)

Religious organizations came together to help. Cell phone companies worked together to help the community. It was unique for Ben and the volunteers to experience this unity formed in the wake of a disaster.

Ben and his fellow Red Cross volunteers in Puerto Rico were quartered in a church basement for the duration of their time. They experienced sickness, hardships, and moldy environments, but despite that, true friendships were formed and they became like a close knit family.

Since the hurricanes struck Puerto Rico, the Red Cross served more than 11.3 million meals and snacks, distributed 5 million relief supplies and provided nearly 40,000 mental health and health services to people in need. More than 1,600 trained disaster workers have supported relief efforts in Puerto Rico, many deploying multiple times.

The Red Cross volunteers worked alongside volunteers from all over the world to best serve the Puerto Rican community. Ben and his crew traveled all over the island, even making their way up through the clouds in the mountains to assist bed-ridden victims. The daily relocation of volunteers allowed them to reach more community members.

When reflecting on his experience returning to the island, Ben mentioned that the mentality of the entire island has changed. Puerto Ricans have accepted what happened and look to move forward, but the laid-back approach to their lifestyle has shifted through a change in priorities. Alongside volunteers, the community must work together to rebuild what was destroyed.

Perhaps the hardest part for Ben was leaving, after spending so much time helping those in need. Recalling his experience, he said, “You want to stay till the end.”

Puerto Rico residents line up at a Red Cross distribution site  after the island was struck by hurricanes. (Red Cross photo by Ben Desa)

Ben plans to continue volunteering with the Red Cross. He enjoys working with people, getting a feel for the culture, and making an impact on a community. He wishes he could have gotten involved sooner, but he will jump on future opportunities. Selecting the Red Cross as his method of volunteering was an easy choice and he recommends it to anyone who wants to make a difference.

If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer, go to


Red Cross GKC Chapter volunteers busy helping others in disasters during 2017


Red Cross volunteers in the Greater Kansas City Chapter responded to numerous home fires during 2017, helping those who were displaced by providing for immediate needs such as  food, clothing and lodging and working with them on  their long-term recovery (Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)

By Carl Manning
American Red Cross

For the Red Cross volunteers at the Greater Kansas City Chapter it was a very busy 2017 dealing with fires, floods, tornadoes and occasionally doing a little cat wrangling.

Homes fires accounted for the majority of disaster responses and assistance provided, although there were other disasters such as tornadoes, floods and hurricanes where volunteers from the GKC chapter responded.

Last year, the chapter provided disaster assistance to 2,928 people in the 15 counties it serves. Of that, 2,112 were people displaced by home fires with 1,013 of them in Jackson County.

In some cases, people were displaced when their homes caught fire and they had to flee for their lives. Others were forced out because of a fire in a nearby apartment rendered their place unlivable because smoke and water damage.

Those responding to the fires are members of the Disaster Action Team, or DAT, a specially trained group of Red Cross volunteers who arrive with firefighters and other first responders to provide comfort and care to those facing what likely is the worst time in this lives.

Cat saved
Cat rescued from apartment fire taken to animal shelter thanks to the Red Cross. (Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)

DAT members talk to those displaced and provide for immediate needs such as food, clothing and lodging, often working with Red Cross partners such as church groups or community centers.

Red Cross caseworkers then work with those displaced to assist with their long-term recovery and any special needs they might have.

Often if a large number of people have been displaced by something like a fire in an apartment building, the Red Cross will open a shelter to provide a safe place for people to stay.

Sometimes DAT volunteers will go the extra mile to help out like providing a flashlight and helping a person searching for car keys or a wallet amid the ashes.

In one recent fire, a mother of two was forced to leave her cats behind when she and her children had to flee in the middle of the night because of a fire in an adjacent apartment.

Red Cross volunteer checks tornado damage in Oak Grove. (Red Cross photo by Sherri Odell)

The next morning, the tenant and a Red Cross volunteer returned and found the cats hiding under the bed and in a closet. The cats were rounded up and taken to a nearby animal shelter that works with the Red Cross to assist in such instances.

Last year was made even busier by a spate of natural disasters like the tornadoes that struck Oak Grove and Smithville. Red Cross volunteers were on the scene to assess damage to homes and provide initial recovery assistance. At both locations, the Red Cross was part of multi-agency resource centers set up with other agencies to help in the recovery process.

July and August brought repeated flash flooding in the Kansas City area where Red Cross volunteers provided assistance with such things as cleanup materials for residents dealing with flooded homes.

Red Cross volunteer provides food for those recovering from the Oak Grove tornado. (Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)

But the assistance didn’t stop there. Many GKC Chapter volunteers also were busy helping out with flood recovery throughout southern Missouri and later in the year were part of the national response to hurricanes that devastated parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

As Red Cross volunteers start another year of service to others, they will be ready to help those in need. Time and circumstances may change many things, but one thing that won’t change will be their desire to help others.


Red Cross blood shortage prompts urgent call for donations this month



The American Red Cross has an urgent need for donors of all blood types to help address a winter shortage.

Severe winter weather in Missouri and other states has had a tremendous impact on blood donations. Nationally, more than 150 blood drives this month were forced to cancel causing over 5,500 blood and platelet donations to go uncollected.

This is in addition to seasonal illnesses, such as the flu, and hectic holiday schedules collectively contributed to more than 28,000 fewer donations than what was needed in November and December.JULY BLood 3

While all blood types are urgently needed, there is a more critical need for the following blood donation types right now:

  • Type O negative: The blood type that can be transfused to almost everyone and is what doctors reach for in trauma situations.
  • Type B negative: The blood type that can be transfused to type B Rh-positive and negative patients.
  • Type AB: The plasma type that can be transfused to almost everyone and can be donated through a platelet or plasma donation, where available, or during a regular blood donation.

Every two seconds, someone in this country needs blood. The Red Cross must collect more than 13,000 blood donations every day for patients at approximately 2,600 hospitals across the country.

While serving local hospitals is the first priority, the Red Cross can move blood products to where they’re needed most. This allows generous donors throughout the country to contribute to the national blood supply and potentially help patients locally and in disaster-affected areas.

 Eligible donors can schedule an appointment by using the free Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Donation appointments and completion of a RapidPass are encouraged to help speed up the donation process. RapidPass lets donors complete the pre-donation reading and answer the health history questionnaire online, on the day of their donation by visiting from a mobile device or computer, or through the Blood Donor App.

Locations of area blood donation opportunities in January:


St. Joseph: Jan. 23, 2 p.m. – 6 p.m., Red Cross, Northwest Missouri Chapter, 401 N. 12th St.

Kearney: Jan. 23, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m., KCB Bank, 950 W. 92 Hwy.

Independence: Jan. 19, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Bass Pro Shop Independence, 18001 Bass Pro Dr.

Kansas City:  Jan. 11, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. KCMO Aviation Blood Drive, 601 S. Brasilia.
Jan. 12, Noon – 4 p.m., Boys & Girls Club of Greater KC, 2405 Elmwood.
Jan. 16, 2 p.m. – 7 p.m., St. Peter’s Parish, 701 E. Meyer Blvd.
Jan. 17, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., UMKC Student Union, 5100 Cherry St.
Jan. 18, 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., City Hall, 414 E. 12th St.
Jan. 23, 3 p.m. – 7 p.m., Genesis Health Clubs, 8600 Ward Parkway, Suite 7
Jan. 26, 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.,  Red Cross GKC Chapter, 211 W. Armour Blvd.
Jan. 26, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., HyVee 64th Street, 5330 NW 64th St.
Jan. 28, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m., Club House, 5602 NW Club House Cove.

Lees Summit:  Jan. 18, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., Reese Nichols Lakewood, 5000 NE Lakewood.
Jan. 25, Noon — 4 p.m., John Knox Village, 1001 Chipman Rd.
Jan. 27, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., Spirit Zone Booster Club, 1160 SE Century Dr.
Jan. 29, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., St. Luke’s East, 100 NE St. Luke’s Blvd.

Platte City:  Jan. 30, Noon – 6 p.m., Platte County High School, 1501 Branch and 92 Hwy.

Riverside:  Jan. 16, 2 p.m. – 6 p.m., Riverside Community Center, 4498 NW High Dr.


Atchison:  Jan. 15, 2:30 p.m. — 7:30 p.m., Trinity Lutheran Church, 603 N. 8th St.

Gardner:  Jan. 13, 9 a.m. —  2 p.m., Gardner Elementary School, 218 E. Shawnee St.
Jan. 18, 2 p.m. — 8 p.m., Nike Elementary, 19500 S. Gardner Rd.

Lenexa:   Jan. 25, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., Metro Title Services, 8215 Melrose Dr., #200.

Leavenworth:  Jan. 11, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., The Guidance Center, 500 Limit St.
Jan. 25, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Fairfield Inn and Suites, 1101 N. 4th St.

Olathe:   Jan. 12, 1 p.m. — 5 p.m., Bass Pro Shop Olathe, 12051 Bass Pro Dr.

Jan. 15, 1 pm. – 7 p.m., Olathe Indian Creek Library, Santa Fe Shopping Center,
13511 S. Mur-Len Rd, Suite 129.

Overland Park:   Jan. 19, 3 p.m. – 7 p.m., Rose Estates, 12700 Antioch Rd.
Jan. 20, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., New Haven Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 8714 Antioch.
Jan. 23, 10 a.m. — 2 p.m., Ad Astra, 6900 W. 80th St., #300.
Jan. 26, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., Overland Park Racquet Club, 6800 W. 91 St.

Shawnee:   Jan. 17, 11 a.m. — 5:30 p.m., Monticello Trails  School, 6100 Monticello Rd.


Red Cross standing by for solar eclipse

This shows the solar eclipse path across 12 states on Aug.  21 (American Red Cross graphic)

By Carl Manning
American Red Cross
 Millions of people are making travel plans to see the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse visible in the U.S. in nearly a century, and the American Red Cross is prepared to help them if needed.

The eclipse path is a 70-mile-wide band stretching from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina and crossing over much of Missouri. Officials estimate that more than 7 million people will travel to scores of viewing areas.eclipse sun

The Red Cross is coordinating with various emergency agencies along the path to ensure that it’s collectively prepared for any contingency. Such planning is a part of the collaboration between the Red Cross and emergency management officials with regard to large-scale public events.

For example, the Red Cross has hundreds of emergency shelters on standby in the 12 states touched by the eclipse in case of other emergencies such as severe weather that might occur while travelers are away from home.

The Red Cross also has some tips for eclipse viewers:

Looking directly into the sun is unsafe and can cause lasting eye damage except during the brief time when the moon completely blocks the sun’s brilliance. To learn how to observe the eclipse safely, check out the information from NASA at

For traveling, pack an emergency kit that includes water, non-perishable food, medications, flashlight with extra batteries, battery-powered radio, first aid kit, infant supplies, a multi-purpose tool, personal hygiene items such as toilet paper, cell phone chargers, extra cash, blankets, maps and emergency contact information.

Know how officials contact people in the area you are planning to visit in case of an emergency. Be sure to let family and friends know where you are going and the route you plan to take.

Arrive to where you plan to watch the eclipse at least a day ahead of time and stay up to date with the weather forecast in the area where you will be.

Create an emergency plan including deciding a location to meet in case someone gets separated from your group, and where to go in case of severe weather.  Also, because cellular service may be overwhelmed, print out directions and have a printed map.

Know where you are staying and phone ahead before leaving to verify your reservation since lodging along the viewing areas mostly are sold out and room prices are extremely high in many areas. Plan to camp if necessary.

Keep your gas tank full so you don’t run out stuck in traffic. A good rule is not to let the tank drop below half filled.

The Red Cross app “Emergency” can help keep you and your loved ones safe with instant access to long-scale event tips, weather alerts and the location of open Red Cross shelters.

“Red Cross First Aid” is another app that puts instant access to information on handling the most common first aid scenarios. Download these apps by searching for “American Red Cross” in your app store or at


Red Cross urges blood donations during summer months

An American Red Cross blood donation worker prepares a person to give blood. The Red Cross is urging people to donate blood during the summer months. (Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)

The American Red Cross urges blood donors in the Western Missouri Region to give in the final weeks of summer to help overcome a chronic summer blood shortage.In August, regular donors may delay giving as final summer vacations are planned and back-to-school activities ramp up.

To fully meet the needs of hospital patients in the coming days and weeks, donations are urgently needed from new and current donors. Those who donated blood earlier this summer may be eligible to donate again. Blood can be safely donated every 56 days, and Power Red cells can be donated every 112 days.biomed_heart

As a special thank you, those who come out to give blood or platelets with the Red Cross now through Aug. 31 will be emailed a $5 Target eGiftCard™.*

Appointments can be scheduled by downloading the free Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

To help reduce wait times, donors are encouraged to make appointments and complete the RapidPass online health history questionnaire at

Here are upcoming blood donation opportunities Aug. 15-31 in the Kansas City Metro area:

 Aug. 15, 4 p.m.-8 p.m.: Rose Estates, 12700 Antioch Road, Overland Park, KS.

Aug 16, 3 p.m.-7 p.m.: Platte City United Methodist Church, 14040 N. Highway, Platte City, MO.

Aug. 23, 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.: Public Works Robinson Complex, 1385 S. Robinson, Olathe, KS.

Aug. 26, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.: Spirit Zone Booster Club, 1160 SE Century Dr., Lees Summit, MO.

Aug. 27, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.: Redeemer Lutheran Church, 920 Alta Lane, Olathe, KS.

Aug. 29, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.: City Wide/ODDO/BASYS, 15423 W. 100th Terrace, Lenexa, KS.

Aug. 30, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.: Hy-Vee, 8301 N.Saint Clair Rd., Kansas City, MO.

Aug. 31, 8 a.m.-Noon: New Directions Behavioral Health, 8140 Ward Parkway, Suite 500, Kansas City, MO.


Red Cross works with many partners during disasters

Red Cross volunteers work with many partner agencies at the multi-agency resource center in Doniphan, Missouri after flooding  destroyed and damaged hundreds of homes in the area earlier this year. (Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)

By Julia Lugon
American Red Cross
It was a dark, stormy night when Deborah Abner arrived in Chapman, Kansas.  She was there with the Salvation Army to assist the survivors of an EF-3 tornado that left a path of destruction across the town, destroyed over 60 homes and left hundreds of families homeless. The violent storm took the lives of two people and damaged churches, business and schools.

She was there to help – but she was also scared. What can you do in a situation like this? How can you help families rebuild? As she walked around thinking about her next steps, a sigh of relief: the friendly face of an American Red Cross volunteer.

The Salvation Army and the Red Cross have worked together for years to help people in disasters.  In the 2008 Chapman tornado, the organizations worked side by side to feed survivors, volunteers and response teams.

“We were so glad to see each other because then we knew everything was going to be OK,” said Deborah, the Salvation Army’s assistant divisional director for disaster services.

Deborah and her Red Cross friend decided they would work together serving lunch and dinner at a tennis court nearby. Parking their emergency response vehicles in the shape of an L, they created an environment of hospitality, where people could hang out and have a nice meal. Many restaurants donated food, and there was a lot of barbecuing.

“This just became like a community center, a place for people to come and see normal for just a few hours every day. It was a happy, wonderful place and it started with two friends: one from the Salvation Army and one from the Red Cross,” Deborah said.

After a disaster, there’s a lot to do: sheltering, feeding, assistance with insurance, case work, mental health, cleaning debris, cutting trees, figuring out how to get back to a normal life. And in each one of these steps, there’s a different organization that can help.

“There’s so much to do that no organization can do it all on their own, and no one should have to,” said Joann Woody, Red Cross mass care program manager for Missouri.

Red Cross volunteers work with many partner agencies to provide assistance to those recovering from a disaster. (Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)

By working together and coordinating efforts, disaster organizations can assist communities effectively, fulfill their mission and avoid duplicating services.

“We all know each other: it’s like working with family. If someone raises the red flag, we are all going to be there together and help out,” Joann said.

Among the many Red Cross partners is United Way 211 of Greater Kansas City, which connects survivors, donors, volunteers and emergency managers with their call center system. By feeding information in a huge database, United Way volunteers are able to identify the needs and resources available, connecting people to the most appropriate source.

“There’s a constant flow or information coming in after a disaster and things can change quickly,” said Gary Thurman, United Way 211 director in Kansas City. “There’s a lot of people out there doing a whole lot of good. If you just had your life turned upside down by a disaster and you need some help, we can connect you to those different organizations, help you navigate through all these different resources with the least amount of frustration.”

Immediately after a disaster, it’s common for organizations to gather in multi-agency resources centers to help survivors.

It is a one stop shop where families can talk with nonprofits, insurance companies, state agencies and mental health groups and figure out their next steps to recovery. These  centers wouldn’t be possible without the help of another Red Cross partner: Catholic Charities of Kansas City – St. Joseph.

“We all have the same goal of working with the survivors so they can become self-sufficient. And the more support they have, the better off they will be.  We understand that other nonprofits are great in what they do, so we utilize their talents in their areas of expertise so we can shine in our area of expertise,” said Kisha Thomas, Welcome Center director for Catholic Charities of Kansas City – St. Joseph.

In order to coordinate efforts and ensure organizations are in sync in a disaster response, there needs to be constant communication.

One of the ways to do this is through the Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD),  a national movement founded in the 1970s. With over 100 member organizations, including the Red Cross, and representation at the state and local level, this movement is guided by the principles of cooperation, communication, coordination and collaboration.

The Missouri VOAD is well-known for its excellent work and collaboration. The secret to success? According to Jody Dickhaut, Missouri VOAD chairman, it’s all about “rock star”organizations working together.

Aside from chairing the state VOAD, Jody also is a member of the Adventist Community Services, a longtime partner with Red Cross in disaster response.

Most recently, members of the Adventist group worked with the Red Cross to help Missouri flood survivors maneuver through the various agencies at the multi-agency resource centers set up in various towns where there had been flooding.

Jody said he realized years ago that it’s about organizations working together with the common goal of helping others while watching a TV interview with Joe Walsh, one of the members of the Eagles rock group.

When asked about the group’s success, Joe said that while most  rock bands have a single lead singer, whose ego can grow and hinder the collaborative nature of the band, the Eagles didn’t have one lead singer, they had four.

As much as they were all rock stars, they could never create on their own as individual artists what they could create together as a team. It was a matter of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

“When you transfer that to the disaster world – The Red Cross, Adventist Community Services, Catholic Charities… every one of them is a rock star organization, they have so much capacity,” Jody said.  “But when we work together we can create something even better.  We’re not just adding our own capacity we’re exponentially growing.”

To view a video about Red Cross partners go to:


Red Cross blood shortage continues

Summer 2017 Emergency Need_July 5_Blood EmergencyThousands of people have responded to the American Red Cross emergency call for blood and platelet donations in early July, but there continues to be a critical summer blood shortage.

After issuing the emergency call, the Red Cross experienced a 30 percent increase in blood donation appointments through mid-July. About half of the appointments were scheduled by donors using the free Blood Donor App or at

As a special thank you, those who donate blood or platelets with the Red Cross from July 26 through Aug. 31 will be emailed a $5 Target eGiftCard™.*

 Despite this improvement, blood products are still being distributed to hospitals as fast as donations are coming in, so more donations are needed to meet patient needs and replenish the blood supply.JULY BLood 3

“The blood supply is like a cell phone battery, it constantly needs recharging,” said Joe Zydlo, external communications manager of the Missouri-Illinois Blood Services Region. “We sincerely appreciate those who have responded to the call to help save lives and encourage those who haven’t to consider rolling up a sleeve and give the gift of life. It only takes about an hour but can mean a lifetime for patients.”

Nearly 61,000 fewer blood donations than needed were given through the Red Cross in May and June, prompting the emergency call in early July. The shortfall was the equivalent of the Red Cross not receiving any blood donations for more than four days.

To schedule an appointment to donate, use the Blood Donor App, visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Donation appointments and completion of a RapidPass online health history questionnaire are encouraged to help reduce the time it takes to donate.

Upcoming blood donation opportunities through August 15 in the Greater Kansas City Chapter service area:

 JULY 26
10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Kansas City Fire Department, 6750 Eastwood Trafficway, Kansas City.
7 a.m. – Noon, Missouri Department of Transportation, 600 NE Colbern Rd., Lees Summit.

10 a.m. – 2 p.m., City Center Square, 1100 Main Street, Kansas City.

9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Red Cross Chapter, 211 W. Armour Blvd, Kansas City.

10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Apostolic Church of God, 1911 Hardesty Ave., Kansas City.
1 p.m. – 5 p.m., Spartan Athletics, 725 NW Commerce Dr., Lees Summit

2:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m., Victory Christian Fellowship, 903 W Walnut St., Waverly.

AUG. 3
9 a.m. – 1 p.m., Kansas City Courthouse, 415 E. 12th St., Kansas City.
2 p.m. – 6 p.m., Presbyterian Disciples Church, 914 Franklin Ave, Lexington.

1 p.m. – 5 p.m., Hy Vee-Liberty, 109 N. Blue Jay Dr., Liberty.

AUG. 7
Noon – 4 p.m., North Kansas City YMCA, 1999 Iron, North Kansas City

9 a.m. – Noon, Adesa Kansas City, 15511 Adesa Dr., Belton.
11 a.m. – 4 p.m., zTrip, 1316 E. 14th St., Kansas City.

AUG. 10
10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Heritage Biologics Inc., 255 NW Victoria Dr., Lees Summit.