Red Cross volunteer leaves Milwaukee to help tornado victims

MILWAUKEE -- Victims of the tornadoes across the lower Midwest and the South are getting some help from Wisconsin.  The state's first American Red Cross volunteer, Dennis Erickson, left Milwaukee Monday morning to provide relief in one of the areas hardest hit.

When it comes to responding to wild weather , Erickson is prepared. “I started about seven years ago this year with the Red Cross,” Erickson said.

Erickson has mostly dealt with hurricanes and flooding. “I spent 3 months in New Orleans with the people that were affected,” Erickson said.

For this trip, he'll be helping survivors in Kentucky.  Entire cities there, like West Liberty, were wiped out from the devastating tornadoes last week. “Just to see how quickly the mold can set in and how people's lives are being uprooted and they don't have a place to go,” Erickson said.

Erickson will be working as a shelter supervisor - providing mass meals, supplies and most importantly, emotional support to the hundreds of people who’ve lost their homes, their belongings and even their families. “You just lend a hand, you talk, you comfort them,” Erickson said.

“Dennis was on that priority list and happens to have that expertise, so we gave him a quick call and asked him, ‘Do you want to go?’  And he said ‘yes’ right away,” Red Cross chapter executive Patty Flowers said.

Erickson said it’s the least he can do after suffering a life-changing event himself.  10 years ago, he received both kidney and pancreas transplants. “I'm a double-organ recipient.  It changed my life for the good, obviously, and I had to retire.  This is my way of supporting the community and giving back for an opportunity, a live-saving change that I had. You want to do the best you can to help these people.  They basically hit rock bottom.  They don't know where to turn," Erickson said.

Erickson will be down South for a minimum of two weeks, but he says he’ll be there as long as he needs to be.

The American Red Cross has shelters set up in 11 states where tornadoes touched down.  More volunteers from Wisconsin are expected to travel south in the next few weeks, specifically those with expertise in areas like mental health and health services.

FOX6 News is teaming up with the American Red Cross and holding a phone bank, taking donations for disaster relief. Volunteers will be at the FOX6 studios from 5:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

If you would like to help people affected by disasters like these tornadoes and storms, you can make a donation today to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Contributions may also be sent to your local Red Cross chapter (2600 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53233) or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.