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Red Cross reaches out to families after fire

Among those at the scene of the duplex fire in North Hudson that left two families homeless last month were Red Cross volunteers. Dick Martin of Hudson and other members of the St. Croix Valley disaster team were on hand to provide coffee and food for the victims, the firefighters and the emergency workers on the scene. They were also there to tell fire survivors Lisa and Mike Olson and Howard Evans that they would be around after the smoke cleared to help them get through the first difficult days following their disaster.

The first step is to open a Red Cross case file for each family. Martin arranged for both families to stay at the Hudson Super 8 in the days following the fire. The Super 8 donates the first night of lodging and has an agreement with the Red Cross for additional days. The Red Cross also provided food vouchers at Perkins and clothing through Target and worked with both families to help resettle.

The Olsons and Evans were honored as Hometown Heroes last week at the annual meeting of the St. Croix Valley chapter of the Red Cross in Dresser. The Olsons could not attend but Martin made the award presentation to Evans.

Martin said families like the Olsons and Evans are what his work as a Red Cross volunteer is all about. "I want to give back. I was a taker for many years and now it's my turn to give something back."

Martin, who has lived in Hudson for 30 years, retired from his job as circulation supervisor for the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1998 after 44 years. Within three months he was growing bored and decided to become a Red Cross volunteer. Martin trained for a year for disaster services that could take him across the country or down the road to a neighbor. Over the past five years, he has traveled to Omaha for flood relief, to south Florida following Hurricane Irene and stayed closer to home to help victims of the flooding in Eagan, Minn., in 2000 and along the St. Croix River in 2001. He was on standby to go to New York City following the Sept. 11 attacks.

In between assignments, Martin has become involved in recruiting and training new volunteers as the coordinator of the St. Croix County disaster team, and he has served on the chapter's board of directors since 1999.

Martin said working with the families following the recent fire is an important part of the work of the Red Cross. "The blood services we provide are very important but they are only part of the story. We are needed in so many different areas and we have a lot to offer to those we serve and to our volunteers. It is a great experience to work with the people I do and to be able to help when it is really needed."

Martin said among the things that he likes about the Red Cross is that it doesn't discriminate when it comes to providing help and assistance. While every effort is made not to duplicate services from one agency to another, every effort is made to accommodate the needs of the people they serve. "We treat everyone equally. You learn a lot about people in this work, and most of it is good."

Martin said the organization, which recently moved its offices from Stillwater to space in the Bayport public library building at 342 Fifth Ave. N., is always in need of more volunteers. But he was disappointed recently when he received a minimal response to a call for more recruits in several newspapers across the county.

"I am hoping we can turn that around. All you really need to be a volunteer is a sincere desire to assist people. I can promise that you will get as much back as you give. It is a very valuable experience."

Martin said his experience with the Red Cross has put him in touch with "some really exceptional folks."

"You learn from everyone you work with from all over the country. It is a one-of-a-kind experience providing help to people who really need it and need it now."

Martin said he values the experience he has had as a volunteer working with people at their worst and their best. "But the truth is I haven't really seen too many people at their worst. Even in very difficult circumstances, people rise to the occasion, gather courage from somewhere and carry on. If we can help them do that, well, I'm glad I can."

For more information about the American Red Cross, St. Croix Valley chapter, call Martin at (715) 386-3503 or the office at (651) 439-0031 or go online at

Meg Heaton can be reached at

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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