Meet the women behind the ‘Ratchet Red Cross’: ‘We rescue ourselves’

Women band together in wake of terrifying tornadoes in grassroots effort to help community

Libby Ballengee was amped up on adrenaline.

Her home in Dayton’s historic Huffman neighborhood was spared the brutality issued by the 15 Memorial Day tornadoes that ripped through the Dayton area, as was her brother’s in West Milton.

But the owner of Venus Child Productions and a co-host of the Gem City Podcast knew so many were not as lucky.


“I thought, ‘what am I going to do?” Libby said. “I cannot take that blessing and not pay it forward.”

After a long, sleepless night accented with updates to her brother, who was without electricity due to the storms, Libby sprung into what fellow members of a group that has dubbed itself the “Ratchet Red Cross” called “general” mode.

She put off her work and ignored her emails.

Credit: Amelia Robinson

Credit: Amelia Robinson

Instead, she focused on what she could do for others.

The contributing writer used her social media and writing skills to get the word out about efforts to help those impacted by the storms

As part of the grassroots push, she dispatched hundreds of  men and women to where help was needed most through a network of women — some of whom did not meet in person until interviewed for this article.

The women of the Ratchet Red Cross disseminated information about those in need to the public, organized volunteers, collected donations and delivered supplies to churches, fire stations, homes and makeshift donation spots set up in Pippin’s Market in Trotwood and Sunny Acres in Harrison Twp.

>> Native son: ‘If we don’t do it for ourselves, no one is going to come in and help do it

Now they are working on their next step — an event to benefit those most impacted by the tornadoes.

While some of them are working to organize efforts to rebuild homes destroyed by the unprecedented storms, others are hoping to attract a nationally known act to an event in the making described as Dayton Strong Live to be held at the Masonic Temple.

“We are not doing this for attention,” Libby said. “We are doing this for attention for people (impacted by the storms).”


Credit: Amelia Robinson

Credit: Amelia Robinson

When times get tough, Brittany Smith, the co-owner of Heart Mercantile in Dayton's Oregon District, said Daytonians band together and don't wait for the government to respond.

“This is Dayton,” Brittany said. “It could have been any of us, and it is way too many of us...still.  So many people have helped in many ways, and it is nothing short of inspiring.”

Help to the cause has ranged from people dropping off donations to folks swinging hammers and wielding chainsaws against trees.


Rachet Red Cross member Aja Delaney set up a donation space at The Stillwater River Lodge, her business.

She did several supply deliveries and housed Trolley Stop owners Chris and Robin Sassenberg after their Dayton home was damaged by the worst of the tornadoes.

RELATED: Stories of Survival: Dayton gives back to restaurant owner after loss of son, home

Brittany said Dayton could not afford to wait.

“This is what we do. We handle it. We pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, help strangers, and look out for our neighbors that need help. We don’t wait for things to happen. We make it happen,” Brittany said. “We don’t let bull****, politics, or differences to come into play when people are in need, and we don’t wait for a knight in shining armor to rescue us. We rescue ourselves. It seems as though we really don’t have a choice.”

The work done by the Ratchet Red Cross is one of several examples of people jumping in to help each other in the wake of one of the darkest nights in recent Dayton history.

>> RELATED: Restaurant worker called 'unsung hero' after tornadoes 

While Libby was getting the word out about events and hot spots of need, a short distance away in the Oregon District, the owners of Heart —  a business known for sassy, snarky and pro-women merchandise and sandwich board messages —  were getting swarmed with messages from people asking how they could help.

“People keep coming to us and asking us to share information,”  Carly Barrett, a co-owner,  said. “My whole inbox was filled with ‘What can I do?’ ”


Credit: Amelia Robinson

Credit: Amelia Robinson

Various Heart owners also own Luna Gifts and Botanicals and Beck + Call in the historic neighborhood.

They had set up a “war room” with laptops open around the bar at Toxic Brew in the Oregon District to organize relief efforts.

Kait Gilcher, also a Heart co-owner, said the need was apparent, but the coordinated effort was not as obvious.

“We are doers. We do that in our own lives, and we know that we can add value.

“ We know our strengths, and we know that people follow us,” owner Kait said. “We never thought we would use our Heart social media to help tornado victims, but why not use it?”

>> RELATED:  Local stores designing ‘Dayton Strong’ merchandise to help relief efforts

Heart released an "(expletive) Racism" T-shirt with proceeds benefiting YWCA before the members of a group affiliated with the KKK held a protest on Courthouse Square in Dayton two days before the tornadoes hit. Heart also was among the first to release Dayton Strong shirts in response to the twisters. That shirt has a common theme: it's an "(expletive) Tornadoes" shirt. The store says 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the shirts will benefit the Foodbank of Dayton.

Not so far from Heart in downtown Dayton, Warped Wing Brewery started collecting donations for tornado relief and teamed up with Libby.

Facebook groups were formed — at times there were about seven at once — and combined.

“Everybody saw that everybody was doing stuff, and we just kind of joined forces,”

Tara Michel, Warped Wing's social media and marketing manager, said: "We basically spread out to divide and conquer."

Tara estimated Warped Wing alone distributed and collected eight giant pallets of food, water and supplies.

Credit: Amelia Robinson

Credit: Amelia Robinson

“Just last Friday (May 31) alone, we passed out over 300 hot dogs, and that was just from our hot food station. Since then we have distributed thousands of supplies ranging from clothing to cleaning supplies, food, water, etc.,” she told this news organization. “WW picked up four pallets of water on Friday and we delivered all of that too, along with other pallets we filled from donations. It has to be several thousand people touched, we have tried to spread out our donation stuff everywhere from Brookville to Beavercreek.”


The brewery is not done, she said.

Warped Wing and more than 20 other Dayton-area breweries are joining forces for a special beer to support Memorial Day tornado relief.

>> Dayton breweries announce they’re banding together for tornado relief

Warped Wing is shifting away from collecting donations, Tara said, adding that it plans to organize some cleaning crews next.  

Efforts attracted help from retailers like Kohl’s and Walmart and a list of downtown businesses that include Barrel House and Mike’s Bike Park.


Sabrina Cox, an Oregon District fixture and community advocate who works in sales, said the effort at times was all-consuming.

She had long receipts to prove it.

Sabrina said she got so engrossed that she ran her personal bank account down due to buying things for those in need.

“Basically, people would send me cash donations to use, but I just kept buying whatever was needed and ran into an issue where I spending more than what was coming in,” she said. “If someone needed something, I was getting it for them.”

The need was so great, Sabrina said.

She loaded a band van owned by her boyfriend, Rebel Rebel Tatoo owner Robbie Bauer, eight times and made delivers, often to individual neighborhoods.

“People could not leave their homes to get to these designated places,” Sabrina said.

Carly explained, “(Some of) their cars were smashed.”

Sabrina recalled a mother that she and Brittany met in Trotwood who was recovering from a recent emergency C-section.

Sabrina and Brittany, both of whom volunteered in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, learned that the mom of five had a tree fall on her house, as did her elderly neighbor.

“The next morning 40 people came up to their houses and cleaned,” Sabrina said. “It was very awesome.”

A power supply was put into the mother of five’s home.

She said she considers the mother and her neighbor family now. “Hugging that lady was just like hugging my grandma,” she said.


Ratchet Red Cross member Shana Lloyd, a photographer  who lives in the Huffman neighborhood, said she made about 30 trips to deliver supplies in the days after the tornadoes.

Shana helped organized The Christian Life Center's LoveDayton event that saw 900 people help with tornado cleanup last weekend.

>> Christian Life Center to spread the ‘love’ to tornado victims and volunteers this weekend

Many tears have been shed due to the storms and for good reason, she said. Shana shared the story of a single mother in her church who lost everything in a tornado.

“My 6-year-old daughter is constantly crying,” Shana recalled the mother saying.

She and others interviewed for this story said it has been hard to watch other people go on with life as if nothing has happened.

But Carly and Kait said they were trying to keep things in perspective.

“For every person who didn’t show up, there is someone who did,” Carly said.


Libby suspects some of her drive to help came from "survivor's guilt" and 
"privilege guilt," but it was also about doing the right thing for the community.

She said major organizations contacted her seeking advice on where to help.

The coordinated uncoordinated effort was effective because it was grassroots, Libby said.

Credit: Amelia Robinson

Credit: Amelia Robinson

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“Part of the reason that all of us collectively were able to get things done is because we are not elected officials,” Libby said.

Red tape didn’t get in the way.

>> Tornado relief: How you can help

“We knew it had to be done, and we could do it immediately,” Sabrina said.

Brittany said the community’s reaction to the tornado echoes its history.

"The government is slow to react, and people can't wait in dire situations without water or electricity," she said. "Even going way back in history to the 1913 flood, it has always been caring Daytonians, local business owners, and concerned citizens from all over who have shown up. John H. Patterson and NCR Country Club. Lib Hedges, Dayton's legendary Madame..."

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