The American Red Cross Central Valley & Kern County Executive Director Barry Falke has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer of the Pacific Division of the Red Cross. Falke will oversee the operations for Red Cross regions throughout the Pacific Coast of the United States, including California, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and Saipan.
“I am very proud of and happy for Barry to take on a larger leadership role within the American Red Cross,” said Hugh J. Quinn, interim Central California Region Chief Executive Officer. “His commitment to the Red Cross is incredible and he has served the Central Valley Chapter and the Kern County Chapter at a very high level during his tenure.”
As executive director, Falke was instrumental in leading the Central Valley’s ability to respond to and recover from natural and man-made disasters as well as promote the growth, quality and constituency of Red Cross programs and services throughout the community.
“During my time as executive director, it was most rewarding to see our volunteers provide comfort and hope for those who have been affected by disaster,” said Falke. “The Red Cross mission is empowering, and I look forward to serving staff and volunteers throughout the Pacific Division.”
Falke recently earned his Master of Business Administration from the Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick and is also an alumnus of Fresno State and Fresno Pacific University. He is a graduate of the Disney Institute and in 2009, was named one of Fresno’s Top 40 business professionals under 40. He serves on several community boards including the Whitney Foundation, is a past president of the Leadership Fresno Alumni Association, and was appointed in 2015 to the City of Fresno Housing and Community Development Commission. Prior to joining the Red Cross, Falke served as the Director of Corporate Giving & Mission Driven Business at United Cerebral Palsy of Central California.
In his new role, Falke will continue to be based out of the chapter headquarters in Fresno. In the coming weeks, an interim executive director will be named.
Those interested in joining the Red Cross can apply here.
The American Red Cross continues to provide relief to people affected by the Woolsey Fire in southern California with shelter, food and comfort. As evacuation orders are lifted and people are able to return to affected areas, the Red Cross is there with them.
Drew and Amanda Haver are two of the more than 900 Red Cross disaster workers helping with California Wildfire relief efforts. The couple, together with a team of volunteers with Disaster Mental Health Services and Health Services, are driving through affected neighborhoods offering emotional support, health services and relief items to help those affected by the Woolsey Fires. Their box truck contains gloves, masks, shovels, rakes and sifters to help people sort through the debris.
The sifters are tools, hand-built by volunteers, that help people sift through the ashes to retrieve precious remains of personal property following wildfires. Piles of ash can be shoveled inside, sifting out the ash to help locate materials or belongings that may have survived the fire. The volunteer team communicates important safety considerations as they distribute the sifters.
“Be sure to wear the gloves and N95 mask we’ve provided and have proper coverage of your skin while using the sifter,” Amanda instructs as Drew hands the sifter and other supplies to a young man whose home was lost to the fire.
Sifters can provide a meaningful activity for people to focus on when going through the shock of the loss after a fire.
Amanda and Drew, who live in Westlake Village and are both teachers at local schools, began volunteering with the Red Cross after last year’s Thomas Fire along Central California’s coast. They were moved by the work of the organization and wanted to join the efforts to assist their community.
The couple needed to evacuate their home as the Woolsey Fire raged toward their neighborhood early on. Grateful their home was spared, the couple has been volunteering with the Red Cross, visiting affected communities, distributing relief supplies and checking in on their neighbors.
“Our schools are closed while they’re being cleaned following the fire,” said Amanda. “We felt helping our community with the relief efforts would be the best use of our free time.”
HOW YOU CAN HELPEntire communities and families have been left reeling from these deadly wildfires. Help people affected by the California wildfires by visiting redcross.org, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS or texting the word CAWILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters.
HELP IN TRYING TIMES Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved—especially when they cause such massive devastation so close to the holidays. This is a time for people to come together and support one another.
Mental health experts recommend finding a balance with regard to media coverage. It’s important to stay informed while also limiting exposure, especially for children.
Also, be patient with yourself and others. It’s common to have any number of temporary stress reactions such as anger, frustration and anxiety.
To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746.
Featured photo: Photo taken on November 16, 2018, in Westlake Village, CA. Diane Concannon/American Red Cross.
By Sharon J. Alfred, Red Cross Senior Journalist Volunteer
There are many reasons people choose to become Red Cross volunteers. According to Gail Mcgaugh, a volunteer for the American Red Cross of Central California, participating in a Red Cross Home Fire Campaign was an ideal way to learn fire safety tips and to get to know members of her community.
Mcgaugh has volunteered for years as a member of the Central Valley chapter in her hometown of Fresno, California. Visiting homes to install smoke alarms as part of the home fire campaign gives her the opportunity to connect with her neighbors, as she explains the importance of fire safety and how to prepare.
She has met many memorable people as a home fire campaign volunteer, including:
A revered elder of a Native American tribal nation
A hearing-impaired man establishing a lifelong bond with his new service dog
A colorful artist and publisher, and her gorgeous pet cat
A retired Marine who found a second calling as a Red Cross volunteer
“The random of act of knocking on a stranger’s door to give them the tools they need to survive a home fire,” Mcgaugh says, inspires her again and again. And people aren’t shy about expressing their gratitude. “When I am on a home fire campaign, I get thanked and hugged by everyone.”
But Mcgaugh doesn’t just install smoke alarms and teach home fire preparedness. She is involved in many other Red Cross projects as well. For example, she leads the Madera, Merced, and Mariposa County region’s Pillowcase Project, a program that teaches elementary school children how to build their own emergency preparedness kits.
“I truly enjoy meeting community partners and building lasting relationships and goodwill towards the Red Cross within our communities,” says Mcgaugh.
Fleeing from wildfires can be traumatic and having pets close has been proven to reduce stress and comfort owners driven from their homes by fire. This inspired Katrina Poitras, Central Valley Red Cross Disaster Program Manager, working with Naomi Slam at the Central California Animal Disaster Team (CCADT), to provide emergency pet shelter at select Red Cross shelters.
Evacuees won’t have to shelter separate from their pets, as the Red Cross tests out the new shelter model with pet shelters serving Madera, Mariposa, and Merced counties. Housing evacuees with their pets has been shown to lower stress level of humans and animals alike.
Pet owners staying at the shelter are responsible for the care and feeding of the pets cohabitating with them. CCADT CEO Naomi Slam recommends owners bring a few key items with them to the shelter: “Bring your pet’s carrier, ensure they’re up to date with vaccinations, and bring their preferred food… so there aren’t any upset tummies.”
The practice of cohabitating pets and owners in shelters was implemented at the Ferguson Fire’s New Life Christian Fellowship shelter and expanded upon moving to the Mariposa Elementary School shelter due to the increase in both shelter evacuee and pet populations.
Interviews with shelter residents confirmed the effectiveness of the new shelter plan and the calming effect of having personal pets in the same shelter with them.
The presence of pets also increased bonding among shelter residents and volunteers, and kept children occupied through playing with and learning about the various animals.
Firefighters come from far away to battle wildfires burning across the state. This means faster response to out of control blazes, but it also means long separations from friends and loved ones. The Red Cross Central Valley chapter is working to change that.
Katrina Poitras, Red Cross Central Valley Disaster Program Manager, and Laura Norman, president of Eastern Madera-Mariposa Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster (VOAD), partnered two years ago to launch the Postcard Project. The project provides postcards to family and loved ones of firefighters, then gathers stamps donated from the community, and delivers them to the men and women on the front lines.
Since its creation, the program has sent postcards from loved ones to firefighters responding to multiple fires, including last year’s Detwiler fire, and from the look of things, the program will live on long after this year’s fire season is over. Most recently, it gathered and delivered 1,500 postcards from family and friends of firefighters battling the Ferguson blaze near Yosemite National Park. Another 1,500 are currently being distributed.
Local businesses, including resorts and hotels saved by previous fires donated thousands of postcards, which featured pictures of Mariposa, Yosemite, and Bass Lake, and members of the community donated stamps, making this project truly of and by the community it serves.
The postcards were even stamped, in many cases, by the evacuees themselves to give to the firefighters, according to Lynn Northrup, a Red Cross emergency vehicle driver and Mariposa government liaison.
“What was special about the project was that even though there was a fire in our area, the postcards were a reminder to come back and visit when it was beautiful again [like it was pictured on the postcards].”
Poitras hopes to expand the program nationally, to include first responders not only to wildfires, but also to hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters across the country.
To support the program by donating postcard stamps, click here.
This week, April 15 – 21, 2018 is National Volunteer Week, and we’re taking the time to celebrate and honor the incredible volunteers that make our Red Cross work possible. Last month we celebrated the occasion early, with Volunteer Appreciation dinners throughout the region. At each event, we invited volunteers to write down their favorite Red Cross moments, memories, and stories.
This Volunteer Week, we’re letting local volunteers tell these incredible stories in their own words. The following are excerpts from some of our favorite shared stories.
“When I was a child I stayed in a Red Cross shelter in Northern California. It was during Christmas and I wanted to help the other kids have something to do. I bought coloring books and colored. I always thought it would be great to help others, and here I am more than 30 years later serving my community in a disaster relief shelter during the Christmas season! The seed planted so very long ago was actually a spark that I kept alive in my heart and I am inspired to keep the tradition going.”
“It’s the most professional group of volunteers I’ve ever worked with! Everyone is so dedicated to the effort and will do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
“It’s an amazing organization of humanitarians. Red Crossers are some of the kindest, brightest, most caring folks around and it is an honor to be in the midst of such wonderful people.”
“I truly enjoyed the opportunity to work with Red Cross family members from around the region during our recent responses. Everyone has been so welcoming and there was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for accomplishing our mission.”
“My first official Red Cross event was the past January Sound the Alarm event. I was able to go into homes and connect with the families. I was so happy and proud because the people we met were very skeptical of me, but by the end of the visit I felt a bond. And knowing the small task of installing a smoke alarm could do so much for them.”
“It’s great to put something directly into the hands of someone who needs it. One of these times was at the stand down when we gave out comfort kits and backpacks. I almost cried when the vets thanked us for our service!”
“In 2017 Visalia Fire had a 3-alarm apartment fire where I was the Battalion Chief in charge of Operations, and then went home to get my Red Cross Disaster Action Team supplies to assist six families that were displaced.”
“I love the sense of community. I’m proud to be part of an organization that helps the community with no strings attached.”
“I had no idea how much the Red Cross does during disasters. It has been a beautiful, eye-opening experience.”
“The Red Cross was giving a helping hand in more ways than I had ever imagined. My biggest surprise is that I seem to be getting back more than I’m giving… the Red Cross has been a tremendous blessing in my life.”
“Seeing neighbors helping neighbors all across the country. The Red Cross brings out the best in all of us.”
“When I was 17 I was involved in a fatal car accident. I lost a lot of blood, and wouldn’t be here today without the help of a blood donor. When I met Jim McGee, and he gave me the full Red Cross story and all the organization does including blood drives, I knew it was a place where I could pour passion and enthusiasm. I am here to help the way I was helped.”
“I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for the Red Cross. My Dad was in the US Army at the Battle of the Bulge and was captured by Germans. He was starving. He was a little guy, 5’6” and 145 pounds. He was only 90 pounds when he escaped. Prior to that, the Red Cross sent a box of food for the prisoners each month. If it wasn’t for those boxes of food, he would have died of starvation.”
“I joined the Red Cross at 13 with my mother, and the first time I deployed it was with my mother! My sister is now a Disaster Action Team volunteer in San Diego County. Red Cross is family in every sense of the word.”
Volunteers make of more than 90% of the Red Cross workforce. The work we do every day to serve our communities would not be possible without their compassion and dedication. Learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer; visit redcross.org/volunteer today.
These quotes have been edited for clarity and grammar.
With an unprecedented amount of large-scale natural disasters over that last several months, many striking right here in California, we’re even more grateful for our volunteers, donors and partners. This incredible level of response demonstrates the need for preparedness and what it means to have a kit, make a plan and be informed. And, while we are fortunate that we did not have to respond to a major California earthquake through all of this, being prepared for an earthquake of any size should always remain a top item on all of our lists.
One long-time Red Cross partner, the California Earthquake Authority, places a high priority on educating California homeowners and renters about how to stay safe during an earthquake, and how to reduce the risk of earthquake damage and loss. One of the programs they promote, the Brace & Bolt Retrofit, stands to benefit qualifying California residents with critical financial assistance in preparing for earthquakes.
For qualified persons, the Brace & Bolt Retrofit will cover up to 50% of the cost of retrofitting a California home for earthquakes. More specifically, expenses cover the bolting of a home to its foundation to keep it from sliding off during an earthquake, and a subsequent bracing of the house’s supports. CEA’s program also provides homeowners with a list of qualified retrofit contractors.
But, that not all. Each year, CEA plays an instrumental role in the Great California Shake Out and, every year since 2012 they have shown their commitment to Red Cross emergency preparedness and disaster relief by hosting the Get Prepared California! Auction.
This year, the auction runs from April 2nd to April 30th and, as in the past, it will raise funds to help support American Red Cross disaster relief and preparedness efforts—right here in California.
The money raised will help us distribute blankets, provide hot meals at shelters or out in communities affected by a disaster via our Emergency Response Vehicles and, offer hygiene items to people who may have lost everything.
Thanks to the generous support of bidders and the efforts of CEA and iHeartMedia, after six years, the funds raised to date by the annual auction have exceed $1 million dollars—with more than $171,000 being raised during the 2017 auction, alone.
Check out just a few of the incredible prizes you can win at this year’s auction: