I remember it was right before Christmas when I received a call for a house fire. It was cold, late at night, and it had just finished sprinkling, so it was very wet out. I hesitated to go, however I knew that I had signed on so I decided to get up and answer the call.
I met another Disaster Action Team responder at the office and we picked up the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV). He immediately told me to turn the heater on in the back and make sure we had plenty of blankets, comfort kits and Mickey’s. On the way I was instructed that there were at least four small children that were affected by this fire so our focus will be on them first and then we will focus on the parents.
We arrived at this house that was in total darkness and it looked as if it had been hit by a tornado. There was debris everywhere, with furniture in the yard and the roof was gone. Even with the ERV’s lights there was a glooming darkness over the scene.
We got out and approached the front door with flashlights, and as we peeked inside the front door there was a sight that I will never forget.
I shined my light on a mother, grandmother, and four kids huddled on a wet mattress sitting in the middle of the living room wrapped in some blankets that were also wet. As we identified ourselves all the children immediately got up and ran towards us. All these kids had on were pajamas with no socks and they too were soaking wet and shivering.
We both quickly picked them up and carried them over to the ERV and wrapped them up in warm blankets and handed each one of them a Mickey Mouse. The mother was outside on the phone trying to figure out what to do next so the scene was a bit chaotic for the children. We decided to give the kids some snacks and close the doors to the ERV with the Grandmother inside with them.
We turned our attention to the mother who was distraught and had no idea what to do next. As a team we calmed her down and let her know we were there to help. Once she heard her children laughing and playing inside the ERV she understood that we were already trying to make things better. She calmed down enough for us to receive the information that we needed in order to assist her and her children.
As soon as we gave the mother her financial assistance, she started to cry, hugging us both not knowing what to say. She continued to hug us over and over with joy and finally muddled words telling us that we were angels that were sent to help her when no one else would. We decided to wait with her until a family friend came to pick them all up, so we knew the children and the grandmother could stay warm and continue to play.
This was one of the many times that volunteering with the Red Cross has allowed me to see that the work we do as volunteers is not only needed but very well appreciated.
Joaquin (Jake) Gonzales
Red Cross Volunteer
Give With Meaning This Holiday Season
Stories just like this one happen across our Central California Region every single day. Red Cross volunteers like Jake respond 24 hours a day, seven days week, to provide relief and comfort to families that have lost everything due to home fires or other disasters.
This holiday season, it’s your turn to be a part of this incredible Red Cross story of hope and compassion. You can #GiveWithMeaning and support the many urgent needs of families facing disasters big and small by making a donation to the Red Cross. Visit redcross.org/gift to learn more.
The Stand-Down was started in 1988 by Vietnam veterans, for Vietnam veterans, because when they came home they had no place to go and it has grown to what it is now.
The Central Valley Veterans’ Stand-Down (CVVSD) celebrated its 27th year in September. The event is held annually for four days during the third week in September. Numerous services at one location are available and overnight facilities are provided for our homeless veterans including three meals per day, showers, new clothing, personal hygiene bags, sleeping bags, etc.
The event is a collaboration of numerous governmental agencies at all levels. Non-profit organizations, active service members and veteran organizations and private businesses are available to assist all veterans, active service members and their families, homeless or not. The Red Cross is proud to play an active role at this event every year.
The Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program goes all the way back to the establishment of the American Red Cross by Clara Barton in May of 1881. Not only did Barton, the “Angel of the Battlefield,” risk her life tending to soldiers wounded in the Civil War, she wrote letters for them to send to their family and strengthened their morale.
Today’s American Red Cross workers proudly carry on this tradition through the SAF program, and they function as a critical line of communication among the U.S Armed Forces and their families.
The Central Valley Stand-Down, which was hosted Sept. 19th through the 21st, actually started with a stand-up on Monday Sept. 18th, where specific needs for female veterans are met. Sara Brown-Monroe, Red Cross volunteer, said “They come in, they register and we have a social services set up for them including: Red Cross, Veteran Affairs (VA), local women services, military sexual trauma, different kinds of flu shots and a female guest speaker.”
The stand-up is an empowering event where women get resources to encourage them in their family life and in dealing with the transition back to society after their active duty service.
This year was the 27th year of the Central Valley stand-down and the 4th stand-up for the women veterans. “It’s great to be of service to the veterans of any nature of whatever they need. Whether it’s homeless or female veterans they’re there to be served,” said Brown-Monroe.
Female veterans also received a Red Cross reusable shopping bag and feminine products, and were provided a free lunch. After the stand-up for female veterans has ended the stand-down begins the following day on the 19th.
There are more than 80 different service providers onsite throughout the event that offer essential services to local veterans, including: the DMV, the prosecutor’s and public defender’s office and a judge.
“We had about 80 services here inside the building. You know if you needed it, it was there,” said John Schuler, Director of the stand-down and Vice President of CVV.
“We do our court out here. The onsite judge is about giving these guys a hand-up. The judge finds a way to work with them to get them up on their feet and get some pride,” said Schuler.
The judge addresses legal issues that might be a hindrance from getting housing services and getting records cleared. There are other services like San Joaquin Valley Veterans, Counselors and the Red Cross helps with supportive services.
For two full days the veterans can come and take advantage of the services and their legal services so they don’t leave without getting their legal and housing services to avoid being homeless.
Bill Gonzalez from Central Valley Veterans (CVV) was one of the organizers for the event. Gonzalez expressed his feelings about a trend amongst younger veterans that now attend the annual event.
“A lot of younger veterans that are being discharged and are unaware of the available services,” said Gonzalez, “My feeling is it’s hard for them to come back into reality after doing their tours: one, two, three, five tours. It’s hard to come back and get into society again because they have been trained to do things so long the other way and working with them and listening to them trying to help them get their benefits and let them know they do have a problem and they do need the help going to the vet’ center talking to a counselor to get back into this society.”
Gonzalez knows firsthand how important these services are for veterans.
“I didn’t think I had a problem. I had a problem I got myself semi-straight. I went through my counseling. I’ve been going through counseling for the last 14 years. I still go through my combat counseling,” said Gonzalez, “I’m helping the vets and helping my other brothers, the younger ones, to get them established back in life in this society.”
While the stand-down itself is only a few days every year, the work leading up to it is a year-round process with volunteers like Gonzalez coordinating donations, organizations, and community partners. Often times, other local veterans in the community are the first to help.
“We are looking and looking, every day, throughout the year, for other organizations to help us out. I have a lot of companies here in town that I get my produce from that they donate; and they’re vets too, they understand,” said Gonzalez, “A purple heart recipient Korean War vet’ donates the paper products.”
Schuler also added that support for local veterans is a year round process.
“We support veterans every day. We support veterans through emergency electric bills and help pay deposits for rents,” Schuler said, “What we do is work with the homeless veterans and we help get them into a house through housing.”
The CVV helps the veterans by aiding them in the process of getting the resources that are available and not actually giving them the resources. “The motto of our organization has always been ‘A hand-up not a hand-out,’” Schuler said.
“That’s what this about, this is a recovery based program,” Schuler said.
“But Red Cross has always been on-board with us. I can’t say enough about Red Cross. We work with Red Cross all year ‘round. We help them, they help us. Even with all the fires whatever you can do and if you ever need us Red Cross knows how to get a hold of us,” Schuler said.
“I want to thank the Red Cross nurses that volunteered out here all week to run our medical. They ran the medical all week and it was awesome,” Schuler said.
“The Monday before is always crazy. The Tuesday always crazy setting everything up but the Red Cross, I ask them to be there Tuesday at 11:15 a.m. and there they were,” Schuler said.
“And they set up the medical and ran my medical for me the whole time that is a huge help. That’s a huge part of it handling the meds and taking care of things, so Kudos,” Schuler said.
The Medical unit that helped is a First Aid station that is known as “MASH 8900”.
Gina Bustamante, Regional Nurse Lead for the American Red Cross said that the nurses, EMT’s, and nursing students spent 185 volunteer hours in the MASH 8900 over four days.
The MASH was open from 6 am to 10 pm. Veterans came to the unit for blood pressure and blood sugar checks. Some veterans also came in to discuss his or her health, medication, seek medical attention, and/ or share stories.
The volunteers also help put together comfort kits for the men, women, and children that stayed on-site for the duration of the stand-down.
Carlos Anderson was the second in command of the CVV at this year’s stand-down. His hope is that more of the community can see the tremendous need that exists for local veterans.
“I’d like to see more of the community come out and meet some of these vets. Some of them are still homeless. We have a Purple Heart recipient sleeping on the streets and at the end of the day some are being dropped off on a corner somewhere because they don’t have a place to live and this is their getaway,” said Anderson.
“It’s great for a kid to see someone who served in Vietnam. We had a Korean vet out here and we had a 90 something year old that came out and visited for one day that fought in the Korean War. That’s great for the community to see it’s not just the homeless thing this is for everybody to get a chance to meet those individuals too,” said Anderson, “What’s really important to me is if more and more Fresno county people came out.”
Stanley Stinson, a Supply Sergeant with CVV, expressed his gratitude towards the Red Cross and the community for their participation at the annual event.
“We appreciate what Red Cross does for us. These are veterans here that don’t know how to come and ask no one else for help. This the one time of the year where they are trying to show that they need some help,” said Stinson.
“Over the last three years we’ve had less funding and less donations you know a dollar here, a dollar there. But these are our veterans that are afraid to ask because they get turned down. So when they come out here we try to give them something to let them know they haven’t been forgotten,” said Stinson.
It is truly sad when a person could risk so much and receive so little. These Vets should never be homeless, hungry and or thirsty once they return back to theirs and our country.
The CVV and all the other organizations should be commended for taking their time and personal resources to make the vets feel appreciated and not forgotten.
After fighting for this country and the freedom non-vets enjoy so much it is hard to believe that non-vets would be reluctant to help homeless vets on the streets.
These vets risked their life to protect and ensure that American citizens are able to have a sense of comfort. The least a non-vet can do is help when homeless vets ask for a little financial help.
Learn more about the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces program and find out how you can help. Visit redcross.org/saf.
Two American Red Cross volunteers Jerry Chavez and Ray Quintana headed across the country to help their fellow compatriots dealing with the overwhelming effects of Hurricane Harvey. Driving a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) from Fresno, California to Black Springs, Florida took about a week to arrive.
Right now, more than 250 of these vehicles are on the ground, helping thousands of people affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
Before heading out on their cross country drive, Ray and Jerry spoke with local media about their past experiences assisting with disaster relief and what they anticipated to encounter with the recent disaster relief efforts in Florida.
What type of duties do you think you would be doing?
“Most likely we will be mobile feeding, bulk distribution, anything that they need out there: water, snacks, hot meals, to cleaning supplies,” said Chavez.
“We’ll be mobile ready to roll once it goes through to try to get people these services as soon as we get there,” said Chavez.
You ever done anything like this before?
“Yes. Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy my partner and I had gone up for Hurricane Sandy. So we’ve done it a couple times,” said Chavez.
“It’s all ways something new though never the same,” said Chavez.
How long do you expect to be there?
“Our deployment is two weeks. We’ll be out there a full two weeks,” said Chavez.
What do you find that most people need the most?
“The most is the kind of listen to what they have to say. Besides water donations are a big issues,” said Chavez. “People are frustrated and don’t know what to do. Sometimes just venting and moving about their day,” said Chavez.
How does that make you feel to be helping? That has to be a good feeling.
“It’s a good feeling to be able to come out of the comfort of our home and to go over there and help,” said Chavez.
“Even if it’s just temporary to help somebody for a short period of time,” said Chavez.
How long have you been a Red Cross volunteer?
“Since Katrina,” said Quintana.
What’s it like being up there?
“It’s hectic sometimes but we love doing the job by being busy and being ready for whatever they call for. So we keep pretty busy out there. Long hours,” said Quintana.
So you have a long drive ahead you? You headed for Florida?
“Yes we do. Yes for Florida. I believe its Black Springs, Florida,” said Quintana.
When you guys went to Sandy it’s about the same distance. How long was the drive? How long did it take?
“I believe its four to five days. We drove together Jerry and I,” said Quintana.
So do you expect this to be the same trip?
“More or less, yes we’re ready for it.
What do you get out of this trip?
“It makes me feel so good to help people. That’s what we are here for is to help people in their need in the time of need,” said Quintana.
“So we’re there to be these for them and help them any way we can,” said Quintana.
This is a prime of example of how much the Red Cross cares about people in need; in addition to the kind of heart the individuals that volunteer for the Red Cross have.
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself at home. You’ve been told a hurricane is coming your way and to prepare for the unimaginable. The rain has started falling. It gets heavier and the wind is picking up. You drive to the store and stock up on water, batteries, and food. The TV is kept on so you can listen to the news and weather reports. A quick look into your wallet reminds you that payday is a couple of days away, so spend carefully. There is little gas left in the car, but you aren’t too worried yet, because you haven’t been given an evacuation order and you don’t live right on the coast. Still, the thought of a hurricane hitting your own state is a scary thought, so you keep the news on to stay informed, just in case.
The hurricane hits. There is lots of rain and wind, and you’re so thankful that you don’t live on the coast which is 25 or 30 miles away. The storm rages all night and in the morning you get the evacuation order and go to leave and see……. water. Lots of it. The area around your home is flooding. How can this happen? It happened so fast.
The hurricane hit and then the storm stalled over land and dumps rain at the rate of several feet per day over your town. The water is rising. You can’t get out. The feeling of terror starts to overcome you and you fight away the panic.
The coast guard and fellow citizens arrive in your neighborhood and are rescuing your neighbors in boats. You’re next….your family is helped into a boat. There is no time to grab the food and water you spend your last dime on – just enough time to grab your backpack with a change of clothes and a phone and flee. You are overwhelmed with fear and then relief… so much so that you don’t even recall who saved you. It’s a blur.
By nightfall you and your family have been driven to a shelter and an American Red Cross volunteer welcomes you and listens as you recount the terror of the last 24 hours.
What just happened? You are numb…shock. Comprehending the last 24 hours is difficult. Decision making? Too much. Everything is still sinking in.
This narrative mirrors the last 24 hours for one evacuee and her family. Juliet Valdez and her family survived a terrifying ordeal when they were rescued from their Dickinson, Texas home. “It happened so fast. I thought we were OK… I mean, we did everything right, didn’t we? Food, water, listening for the evacuation orders…” Her voice cracks with emotion as it trails off. “I don’t know what to do now…. I don’t know what we are going to do.”
Juliet and her family are just a few of the more than 42,000 residents that slept in a Red Cross or partner shelter last night in Texas. And their story is not an uncommon one. Thousands of families have been impacted by Harvey’s destructive path and historic flooding, leaving many homeless with just the clothes on their backs.
Juliet is now safe in a shelter supported by the Red Cross. She and her family have a safe place to sleep, food and emotional support thanks to the 2,000+ Red Cross volunteers on the ground helping with the Hurricane Harvey response. “I can’t thank them enough – the Red Cross. I don’t know what we would do without your help.”
Story by Michele Maki, Kern Red Crosser deployed to Texas
HOW TO HELP
Make a donation. Financial donations are the best and quickest way to support Red Cross relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey. Call, click, or text to give: dial 1-800 RED CROSS, visit redcross.org, or text the word HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation. You can also mail or bring in a check to your local chapter office.
The local Red Cross is not collecting donated items such as food or clothing to send to the impacted areas. We are so grateful for this outpouring of support and generosity, but collecting and sending food, clothing, and other household items often does more harm than good. It takes time and money to store, sort, clean, transport, and distribute donated items, which diverts limited time and resources away from helping those most affected. In contrast, financial donations can be accessed quickly and put to use right away to directly help and support those affected. Watch this video to learn more.
Become a volunteer. Right now the local Red Cross is sending existing and trained Red Cross volunteers to assist with Harvey relief efforts. More than 90% of our Red Cross workforce is made up of volunteers, and they serve our local community every day. By registering to become a volunteer, you can help with everyday disasters here at home, and potentially deploy to future disasters in other communities. Visit redcross.org/volunteer to begin your application process today.
It moved fast, furiously and forced hundreds of people from their homes. The Detwiler Fire was like no other for the residents of Mariposa and surrounding areas. It swept through dry brush, charred trees and demolished dozens of homes, leaving numerous residents without a place to live and stole all normalcy from their lives.
In the midst of the inferno firefighters, PG&E workers and law enforcement from across the state converged on the small mountain community with a mission to save lives and property. But, while the firefight happens at the fire lines, another war is waged to save the wellbeing of those displaced; a big task that Red Cross workers from around the world with specialized training take on. Two people on the front lines of mental health are Ramon Almen of Puerto Rico and Jan Walker from Alabama.
Almena, a 51-year-old social worker, began his Red Cross journey almost six years ago in Puerto Rico. A journey that has taken him to other countries and landed him in Mariposa to help those impacted by the Detwiler Fire.
“They went to my school so I get to know the Red Cross. So I went to the chapter, American Red Cross chapter, in Puerto Rico. I did several workshops there to become a mental health case worker. Now I am going into my sixth year with the Red Cross,” Almena said.
His job requires expert interpersonal skills and the ability to understand people’s emotional and physical needs following a disaster.
“So when I talk with them [clients], if I see they need some psychological help because they don’t know how to manage their situation of disaster. So I have to talk to them and look for services that person would be able to get the help,” Almena said.
His talent to connect with people is instantly apparent and is what makes him a strong asset to the American Red Cross and the people it serves. Almena’s service has taken him around the world, with a full heart and a vest lined with pins to show for it. However, he also serves those in his native Puerto Rico, too.
“In Puerto Rico, the problem that we have is fire, too. We don’t have much rain or earthquakes. Sometimes we have too much rain, but much of the problem in Puerto Rico is fire. During blue skies, the Red Cross does orientation for people to help them avoid fire in their houses,” Almena said.
Another member of the Red Cross mental health team on the ground in Mariposa, Jan Walker, is a retired school counselor. The Detwiler Fire is her third deployment with the Red Cross, following work in the wake of a tornado and hurricane.
“I’ve spent my working career in a service organization — I was a school counselor for 30 years. I just like helping people basically. Feel like I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and I’ve got to pass that on,” Walker said.
Walker’s passion for helping people is instantly seen as she helped Detwiler Fire victims find the resources they need and provided a listening ear.
“Just spoke with a little lady, 81 or 82 years old, sat in a chair in the main room over there for about an hour and a half just patiently sat waiting and I stopped and chatted with her for awhile and she said somebody had told her that she has a great smile so whenever she got to thinking about things she just smiled. She was so pleasant,” Walker said.
Walker and Almena are just two examples of the heroic team doing their part to help those affected by a disaster. Proving the importance of the work done by all Red Cross volunteers and the value of approaching every challenge with sleeves up, hearts open and all in.
Janet Kirkland has been in the Hunter’s Valley community for the past thirty years and can make anyone smile. If there is one thing you need to know about Janet, it is that she is tenacious and that she is going to stay positive throughout the Detwiler Fire.
One thing that brought her comfort, was that she had her emergency bag ready to go. With a suitcase in hand packed for three days, a fireproof case with her important documents, and her dog, Janet was able to evacuate in less than five minutes. Knowing that it is fire season, her thoughtful preparedness gave her peace of mind and had her most valuable items with her as she left her home.
With her possessions in tow, Janet just needed a safe place to stay. That’s when she found herself at a shelter in Oakhurst, ran by the American Red Cross of the Central Valley.
“I would have been sleeping in my car if Red Cross didn’t have a shelter for me,” Janet said.
At the height of the sheltering operation, the Red Cross housed nearly 300 residents in one night across seven different shelters. Hundreds more came to the shelters to receive meals, snacks, water, fire information, health services, and more.
One of those shelters was the Sierra Vista Presbyterian Church in Oakhurst. The church’s property manager Charles Fisher and his wife Marianne found comfort in the face of adversity.
“This is our community’s disaster,” said Marianne. When it comes to the Red Cross volunteers, “we couldn’t have asked for better people.”
Since the fire first began on Sunday, July 16, the Red Cross has provided 960 overnight shelter stays, served 13,250 meals and snacks, passed out over 430 comfort kits, and supplied nearly 1,600 recover items such as gloves, shovels or clean up kits.
As evacuation orders continue to lift and residents begin to return home, the Red Cross is shifting focus to help families focus on recovery. Volunteers will be present at the Local Assistance Center at Mariposa High School on Tuesday, where the Red Cross will be meeting one-on-one with each family to determine how to help them on the path to recovery.
HOW TO HELP
Financial donations are still the best and quickest way to support Red Cross Disaster Relief. Call, click, or text to give: visit redcross.org, call 1-800 RED CROSS or text “RED CROSS” to 91999 to make a donation to your local Red Cross region.
Follow the local Red Cross on Facebook and Twitter for additional updates on Detwiler Fire relief efforts.
Last weekend 7-year-old Andrew George was celebrating his spiritual birthday by giving away lemonade at a lemonade stand with his family in his neighborhood by Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California. While he was giving away lemonade, people would leave him tip money as a thank you.
While he and his family were giving away the lemonade the Whittier Fire broke and they could see the huge smoke plume from over the mountain. As the day wore on, more and more fire resources poured into the county and actually set up their basecamp at the high school near them.
Seeing all the help for the community coming in from all over the state, Andrew decided he wanted to do his part and donate the proceeds from his lemonade stand to the American Red Cross. Jason had suggested the Red Cross to donate his money to because he had taken a first aid class at the Santa Barbara office before and knew we would be the best place to donate money to help the fire victims.
So, with that, he had his dad, Jason George, drive him and his brother to the Red Cross shelter a few miles away. When they walked in they approached Red Cross shelter manager Patti Shiflet and told her that he wanted to donate his tip money to the Red Cross. He was very shy but managed to let Patti know why he was there, “I want to help people” said Andrew. “I want to give you my lemonade tip money to help the people of the fire.”
You too can support Red Cross relief efforts, just like Jason. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800 RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.