Two Harbors native spends retirement helping others

By Adelle Whitefoot

When a disaster strikes in the United States, the American Red Cross is often there to help out. Drawing on her background in human services and making good use of her extra time in retirement, Bonnie Peterson of Two Harbors is one of their volunteers.

Peterson has been a part of the Red Cross since 2002. When she was the financial assistant supervisor of the Lake County Department of Human Services, her director asked her and another co-worker to get trained to be a Red Cross volunteer and learn how to set up a shelter in town in case of an emergency. The possible emergency they were worried about at the time was wildfires near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness after a dry spring and the 1999 blowdown where 90 mph winds uprooted and blew down millions of trees.

“We never had to open a shelter, luckily,” she said. “But once my training was done and I retired, I started helping out more.”

Peterson retired from her Lake County position in 2011. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast and Peterson was called to action. Peterson spent most of her time in Queens, driving an emergency response vehicle distributing snacks and cleaning supplies.”When Sandy hit I was already retired and I felt I had the time and skills to be helpful,” she said.

Peterson said that working for human services for 25 years helped prepare her for the volunteer work she does now.

“In my job, I met people, who through no fault of their own, had crises and we were able to help them through critical times in their lives,” she said.

Helping people through critical times is what Peterson’s job as a volunteer for the Red Cross is all about. Most recently, Peterson helped during the aftermath of the flooding and tornado destruction in Texas. She returned from Houston Thursday after two weeks of volunteering with staff services.

“What I (did) was check volunteers in on the system, get them a room and assign them to a job,” Peterson said. “There are a lot of different tasks that people can do, depending on the need. When they are read to go home, I check them out.”

Peterson has not only helped in communities across the nation, but has helped locally as well. In 2012, when severe floods hit Duluth and the surrounding areas, Peterson was called into action at the Red Cross Duluth chapter office.

“I was on the phones and giving out resources to those who were affected by the flood,” Peterson said. “Working for the Red Cross, I’ve learned that all of our communities need to come together when there is a disaster or a need and how important it is to be a part of your own community.”

As part of being a Red Cross volunteer, Peterson also helps out when there is a house fire or apartment complex fire that displaces a family in Duluth and surrounding communities. Recent fires include both the apartment complex on East Fourth Street and East Second Street in Duluth. Peterson said one of the hardest parts about being a volunteer is going into an unknown situation.

“Your schedule is always changing too,” she said. “You just have to learn to be patient and flexible.”

Once training is complete, volunteers can select a time period during which they will be available to volunteer using an online system. If a disaster hits and volunteers are needed during that time period, the volunteer will be contacted to see if they are available to help out. Anyone interested in becoming an American Red Cross volunteer should visit www.redcross.org.