DAY OF GIVING: How Chicagoans can help Hurricane Florence survivors

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Thursday, September 20, 2018
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ABC7 and the American Red Cross are teaming up to raise money for survivors of Hurricane Florence.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- ABC7 and the American Red Cross are teaming up to raise money for survivors of Hurricane Florence. Chicago area volunteers are in the Carolinas, helping those in need after the storm.

According to a statement released Thursday, the Walt Disney Company announced it would donate an additional $500,000 and match any donations given by its employees. These donations have brought the total raised to $1,038,886 and counting.

The full statement about donations from the Walt Disney Company and the ABC Owned Television Group is below.

"People need shelter. They need a safe place to be. They need food, water and clothing," said Celena Roldan, CEO of the American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois. "The best way to do that is to make a financial donation to help support those efforts."

WATCH: Red Cross CEO Celena Roldan on explains how you can help

The American Red Cross set up a text line to donate. You can text the word "Florence" to 90999 to make a $10 donation to relief efforts for Hurricane Florence. You can also call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or donate online at REDCROSS.ORG/ABC7.

Google is matching donations up to $1 million to the American Red Cross. Click here to donate via Google. In total, Google plans to donate $2.5 million to relief efforts.

RELATED: Hurricane Florence: How you can help the victims

You can also donate blood. Hurricane Florence forced the Red Cross to cancel more than 140 blood drives in the storm's path, which is significant because the organization provides 40 percent of the nation's blood, Roldan said.

"Every 2 seconds, someone in our country needs blood," Roldan said. "So that is a huge hit to the blood supply and the critical demand. And when you also think about the fact that a disaster is happening, there will be a need for blood."

Visit the organization's website to find a blood drive near you.

WATCH: Red Cross volunteers from Chicago area provide aid in the Carolinas

Thirty-five volunteers from the Chicagoland area have been in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia for over a week and more will be on their way in the coming days.

Red Cross Spokesperson Holly Baker observed flooded homes and roads on her way to a shelter in New Bern, N.C., where flood victims returned to after seeing their damaged homes.

"They are turning around and coming right back to our shelter because it's more comfortable. They have a place to sleep. They have food. It's definitely a lot still going on the East Coast," Baker said.

Volunteers from across the country are on the forefront. Geoff Fishwick, of west suburban Wheaton, is volunteering in South Carolina.

"He was loading up water. He's kind of one of those, 'I'll do whatever you want me to do type guys,'" Baker said.

That spirit was truly evident in the area on Thursday. Volunteers Tim Zeller, of north suburban Gurnee, and Terry Nosal, of south suburban Lemont, were busy supplying shelters in North Carolina.

"They have been shuffling around supplies wherever people need it. That's where we use those big vehicles - getting things different places, making sure it gets there," Baker said.

In all, there are more than 90 shelters in the Carolinas and Virginia. Steve Wise, of south suburban New Lenox, is running one in Winston-Salem.

"We are doing our best. People came here. There are a lot of questions, a lot of worries, as you normally have with disasters like this. But we have great staff," Wise said.

Thousands of people remained at shelters Thursday, nearly a week after the storm made landfall. The help will be there as long as necessary.

"We are going to wrap our arms around them for as long as we need to. We will always be here," Baker said.

Red Cross trains volunteers to provide disaster relief

"I'm making sure that our volunteers, ahead of time, are trained up and ready to go, so that when a disaster actually hits, we have a team that is ready to deploy on the spot," said Angie Chiesa, a disaster workforce engagement manager.

Chiesa said volunteers and staff are requested to deploy for at least two to three weeks at a time to prepare, access the situation and address the need.

"The need is constantly changing. There is no routine to this, necessarily. So the more flexible you can be, the better it is," Chiesa said

Volunteers are sent in to assist in shelters, help with financial assistance and man emergency response vehicles to hand out meals and supplies.

Across the country there have already been a total of 3,000 people deployed to help after Hurricane Florence.

The Red Cross said they are hoping to deploy someone from the Chicago area Thursday or Friday, and potentially a few more over the weekend.

Emergency response vehicles deployed to hardest-hit areas

Emergency response vehicles, or ERVs, are trucks are deployed to disaster zones. They're stocked with food and supplies to help those who have lost everything.

Floodwater from Hurricane Florence washed away everything for many families on the southeast coast. The ERVs are strategically deployed to serve those who need it most.

"We wanted to stage the vehicles so that once the hurricane passed, were able to get in there the day after and really get into those communities as soon as the water started to recede," said Kyle Morford, a regional mass care logistics manager.

The trucks are filled with everything from water, snacks and hot and cold meals, to cleaning supplies, like rakes shovels and gloves. They're placed in the hardest-hit areas.

"This is direct contribution to people. We're out there meeting people, shaking hands, giving hugs, handing out hot and cold meals and really impacting people in that personal way," Morford said.

Go inside the Red Cross Emergency Operations Center

Staff at the Red Cross Emergency Operations Center in Chicago respond to emergencies at home and across the country.

House fires, wildfires, hurricanes and floods - the center tracks it all and makes sure staff and volunteers can respond.

"While we've deployed 35 staff and volunteers from our region to the Carolinas and Virginia, we still have so many people back home who are aiding in those efforts," said Adam Runkle, a regional disaster officer.

These efforts include coordinating fundraising, recruiting volunteers and organizing blood drives to make sure supplies don't diminish.

"One of the challenges that we had is that nearly 200 blood drives had to be canceled because of the damaging effects of the storm. One of the efforts that the folks behind me are continuing to do is mobilize local blood drives here in our area and other parts of the country to help address that need," Runkle said.

WATCH: Chicago area volunteers head to the Carolinas

Last Friday, the Red Cross had more than 200 shelters, housing some 20,000 evacuees in North Carolina and South Carolina. Baker was already in Durham, N.C.

"We're all over this storm, making sure people have a safe place to go," Baker said.

Additionally, Governor Bruce Rauner announced late last Friday that he would deploying a 13-member search and rescue team to North Carolina to aid in the aftermath of the storm.

Some first responders from the Chicago area were already in South Carolina, including ambulance crews from Orland Park. Elite Ambulance sent eight ambulances and 16 workers to South Carolina, where the crews are now on deck - the next team of ambulances to be dispatched to the hurricane zone.

"We could be going anywhere for literally anything, it seems just about anything," said Tyler Yost, an ambulance worker from Morris. "And I feel like as long as we keep that mind set we shouldn't be too shocked."

Statement from The Walt Disney Company and ABC Owned Television Group

"From the coast to the piedmont, Hurricane Florence landed a historic and devastating blow to North Carolina. The rescue and recovery efforts started immediately, but it's a long road ahead for many families across the Carolinas and more. ABC11 Together with the American Red Cross, ABC11's corporate parent The Walt Disney Company, and the ABC Owned Television Group have raised more than one-million dollars in donations this week to help. The ABC11 Together Hurricane Florence Relief Drive will deliver urgently needed funds to relief organizations on the ground now.

On Tuesday, ABC11 Together teamed up with the American Red Cross to host a 13-hour Hurricane Florence Relief Drive to kick-off a week of giving. This on-air phone bank and online donation drive included support from the ABC Owned Television Group with eight stations from New York to Los Angeles rallying their viewers to give. This ongoing initiative has collected $538,886 to date.

Today, The Walt Disney Company announced that it would be donating another $500,000 to the Red Cross Hurricane Florence relief drive. The company has also pledged to match donations made by Disney employees. This brings the total funds raised to $1,038,886 and counting. That money will go a long way to help provide overnight shelter stays, emergency supplies, medical assistance, meals, and other life-saving services to the people of North Carolina.

"We are just so grateful to our viewers, viewers across our ABC stations, and to the Walt Disney company for their incredible generosity," said WTVD President and General Manager Caroline Welch. "This is a great example of how people come together when there is a need. Our ABC11 Together motto is 'Together, we can do more,' and this week, we've seen how powerful that idea really is."

ABC11 Eyewitness News continues to drive viewers to to donate, as well as to find other ways neighbors can help neighbors. The station is also partnering with local radio stations from iHeart Media, Radio One Raleigh, and Beasley Media in Fayetteville. This drive is just the start. There is a lot of work to be done in helping families impacted by Hurricane Florence. ABC11 and its amazing partners will continue to bring awareness and support for the needs in our community.

ABC11 (WTVD) is an owned and independently operated subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. Go to to learn more about how ABC11 serves people in our community.

The ABC owned station group includes WABC (New York), KABC (Los Angeles), WLS (Chicago), WPVI (Philadelphia), KGO (San Francisco), KTRK (Houston), WTVD (Raleigh-Durham), and KFSN (Fresno, CA)."