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Shelter in a time of need: Hotels donate to Rooms for Red Cross program

Junette Nelson, left, talks about her experience with the Rooms for Red Cross program when her family's house caught fire on Nov. 23. Terri Krowoza, right, a Red Cross volunteer, listens. (John M. Steiner / The Sun)

When the Brent Nelson family home burned down south of Eldridge early Nov. 23, Junette Nelson said she was relieved to have an American Red Cross disaster volunteer team on site to help keep the Jamestown Rural Fire Department’s firefighters fed and hydrated.

She was also grateful for the hotel room the family had waiting for them at the Holiday Inn Express in Jamestown through the American Red Cross’ Rooms for Red Cross program.

Nelson talked about her family’s experience Thursday as part of a presentation about the Rooms for Red Cross program at the Gladstone Inn & Suites. The Buffalo Valley Chapter of the Dakotas Region of the American Red Cross announced that 19 hotels and motels in the central area of the state have donated the use of 93 rooms in 2014 for the Rooms for Red Cross program.

Beth Dewald, Buffalo Valley Chapter executive director, said for people who have experienced a disaster, like a house fire, the Red Cross has agreements with participating hotels and motels to provide a room for those people to stay for up to three days. She said the Red Cross also offers this service to people serving in the armed forces and veterans who are traveling through the area and have a problem, like a vehicle breaking down, and need a room for a night.

Dewald said the need for these hotel rooms seems to always be present.

“Over the last 10 days, we have in our Dakotas Region, we’ve had 22 disaster responses and have assisted 65 individuals,” she said. Those disasters were mainly fires that damaged single family and multi-family homes.

Nelson said her experience with the Red Cross was “amazing.”

“When my life went up in smoke, the Red Cross showed up and made it (fighting the fire) easier on the firefighters to do their job, and made it easier on my family to handle what was going on,” she said.

Nelson said it was comforting having the Red Cross volunteers at the scene of the fire because they provided answers to all the questions that were running through her mind.

“You couldn’t ask for better people,” she said. “They sit there and tell you this is what you need to do, this is what we’re going to do, this is what you can do, because your mind is going in 20 different directions.”

Nelson said she and her family were also helped by the owner of the Holiday Inn Express, who offered to let the family stay for as long as they needed.

The Nelson family was able to find a house to rent on short notice with the help of a friend through a real estate office. She said the family is still in the rental home, but have ordered a modular home that will be placed on their property 2 1/2 miles south of Eldridge, near where their home once was, as soon as they can get the foundation ready.

Matt Woods, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express, said taking part in the Rooms for Red Cross program is a way for a hotel or motel to support members of the community during trying times.

“It’s an opportunity to do something that is real, besides giving money,” he said. “Money is important, but in an emergency a check for $100 is not going to provide the same amount of comfort as a warm bed at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

Woods said people working at hotels often feel a disconnection from the community they are located in because they service people who come from outside the community.

“This (the Rooms for Red Cross program) gives us a connection to the people in our community who are facing a crisis,” he said.

Dewald said the program succeeds only through the work of people like Terri Krovoza, a Red Cross volunteer who helps secure agreements with hotels and motels to provide rooms, and Phyllis Thompson, general manager of the Gladstone Inn & Suites.

Dewald said for 2014 Thompson has co-signed the letters the Red Cross sends out to hotels and motels around the area seeking the donation of rooms for the program. She said having Thompson co-sign the letter has helped other hotel owners and general managers to sign up for the programs.

Thompson said she thinks the hotels and motels have the “easy” part in the Rooms for Red Cross program.

“All we do is open up the hotel to those in need,” she said. “That is what we’re supposed to do.”

Sun reporter Chris Olson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at

Chris Olson

Hometown: Traverse City, MI College: Northwestern Michigan College and Michigan State University

(701) 952-8454