A Family Tradition: Two Generations of Red Cross Service

This month is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and I would like to share a World War II Red Cross Story that involves my Mom.  It includes cities that are now in the Central California Region, and also highlights AAA partnership with Red Cross.

My Mom passed away in 2004 and I was recently going through a file and found the card and letter among her important papers (birth certificate, passport, etc.), so evidently it was something that was very dear to her.  The picture came from her picture album.

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This display of Audrey’s service now hangs in the new Red Cross satellite office in Oakhurst, CA

My mother Audrey grew up in San Francisco, her parents had married soon after experiencing the 1906 Earthquake. When World War II began, my mother, Audrey Stewart was finishing her Master’s Degree in Education at Stanford University in Palo Alto.  Men were heading off to war and many schools were in need of teachers. Audrey was immediately recruited to be a teacher in Santa Maria.

In February 1942, Audrey became a driver for the Santa Maria Red Cross (now Red Cross of the Pacific Coast.  I believe most of her duties were taking Plane Spotters to their locations along the coastal hills. For those of us who grew up on the west coast, our parents would tell us that after Pearl Harbor, there was a real fear that the Japanese might invade cities along the coast.  Volunteers manned observation posts along the coast with the purpose of identifying enemy aircraft in time to prevent future attacks.

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Now a volunteer herself, Hilary is proud of the special Red Cross connection to her mother.

Interestingly, I attended a Ready, Set, Respond! Disaster Preparedness Program at the AAA offices in 2013 in Fresno.  I was one of the attendees that later became a volunteer!

Hilary Swartz
Red Cross Volunteer

Hilary is a volunteer for Red Cross of the Central Valley, teaching lifesaving CPR/First Aid courses and providing relief as a disaster responder.

Since our local chapters were chartered in 1917, the Red Cross has been here for the last 100 years when people in Central California needed us most.  Your Red Cross story of the past can be a part of our centennial celebration. Do you have your own Red Cross story to share? Click here to submit it directly online! 135604-central-ca-region-centennial-logo-final-1

Four Ways to Holiday Safety

139711-holiday-campaign-social_1200x1200_hopeIt was Christmas Eve at my Grandmother’s house. Tummies were full of holiday treats, stockings were hung by the chimney with care, and the family was gathered at the kitchen table playing cards. That’s when my Dad smelled the smoke.

“Is something burning?” he asked. Everyone looked up from their cards with concern and started sniffing the air. It did smell like smoke. Dad got up from his seat and followed the scent into the living room. That’s when we heard him shout, “Get some water!”

Everyone jumped up from their seats and rushed to the living room to see what was causing the distress. There, on the table, was my grandmother’s carefully placed nativity set fully engulfed in flames.

Just days before she had so delicately placed the wooden figurines on a bed of angel hair and thoughtfully surrounded it with candles. But it didn’t take much – just a flame catching the slightest wisp of angel hair – to cause the fire to start.139711-Holiday-Campaign-Social_1200x1200_Shelter.jpg

Thankfully we were all home, awake, and able to quickly put the fire out. There was minimal damage, except for the nativity set itself, and we were able to laugh about it for the rest of the holiday and for years to come. But that’s not the case for many families during the holiday season.

With the holidays comes a whole host of safety hazards that often result in disaster. Last year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, the Red Cross Central California Region responded to help  373 families affected by fires, providing relief and comfort to those that  had lost everything.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can help us reduce that number this year. Here’s how.

Get Red Cross Ready

Following a few Red Cross fire safety tips goes a long way to stopping preventable tragedies. Holiday mishaps can happen to anyone, including you and me. So put the odds in your favor by being extra cautious.

This video shows just how quickly a Christmas tree can go up in flames:

Don’t let this be your home this winter. Place Christmas trees, candles, and other holiday decorations at least three feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, portable heaters, radiators, heat vents and candles.

Always unplug the tree and holiday lights before leaving home or going to bed.

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Smoke alarms save lives. Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms if you sleep with doors closed. Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.

Find even more holiday fire safety tips from the Red Cross here.

Be a Social Butterfly

Share your favorite tips with your social networks. Share this blog post on social media along with your own holiday hazard story to illustrate the importance of fire safety. Social media users are far more likely to listen to a plea of safety from their own friends and family. So share the love!

Give With Meaning

Make a donation to your local Red Cross and #GiveWithMeaning this year. Stuck on gift ideas for that person who has everything? A gift to the Red Cross in their honor helps to educate families on the importance of fire safety and installs free smoke alarms in local neighborhoods. Plus it provides your loved one with a unique holiday present that they’ll remember for a lifetime.

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Find out how your gift helps those in need.

Sign up to Help

On January 14, 2017, we’re hosting three different Home Fire Campaign events in Bakersfield, Fresno, and Oxnard. We’re looking for passionate citizens like you to help build stronger communities by installing free smoke alarms. You don’t have to be an existing Red Cross volunteer to help! Visit redcross.org/cencalhfc to sign up and learn more.

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Photo Credit: Eddie Zamora, American Red Cross

If we all just commit to one of these four opportunities for fire safety, our beautiful Central California community will be a much stronger, more resilient place!

From all of us at the Red Cross, have a safe and happy holiday season!

Jessica Piffero
Regional Director of Communications

A One Year Anniversary, A Devastating Loss, A Treasure Found, And Gratitude

Local volunteer Michele Maki is currently on deployment in Gatlinburg, Tennessee as part of the Red Cross response to the deadly wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced thousands. Here is one of many heartbreaking stories Michele has experienced on her journey so far.

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Red Cross volunteer Michele Maki comforts Gatlinburg resident Brian Myers as he surveys his destroyed property. Photo Credit: Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

“We bought this home……one year ago-yesterday….. just one year….”, his voice trails off. Brian Myers, young husband and father of two, struggles to maintain his composure after arriving and viewing the ashes of what was once his family’s home.

“It’s gone now….all of it.” Myers pauses a moment, and choking back tears continues, “But we got out. All of us, and we’re safe.”

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Brian Myers walks through what remains of his Gatlinburg home after it was destroyed by wildfire. Photo Credit: Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

Myers is the general manager of the Mountain Mall in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Five days ago, he had been watching the press conference about the local fire on the television at work.

“It was the afternoon and everything was okay in our neighborhood, but within 30 or 40 minutes, that all changed. I ran home. My wife and I grabbed our kids and pets, piled them into the car and fled. It all happened just so fast!”

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The wildfire destroyed Brian’s Gatlinburg home, melting the slide on his children’s swing-set. Photo Credit: Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

Myers pauses in his conversation starts walking around the rubble of his property, very slowly, kicking aside charred debris and ashes, then suddenly stops. He stoops down and finds a ceramic mug in the ashes. He wipes the ash away and cradles this treasure as tenderly as if he were holding the most fragile flower. He then looks over to what is left of the swing-set belonging to his 4 year old daughter and 12 year old son. The heat from the fire has melted the plastic slide.

It’s a painful reminder of how he and his family’s lives have changed since that afternoon. The holidays are upon us, and one wonders how this family will cope. But Myers instead, thinks of others in his community and adds, “We got ou and we’re all safe. I’m so thankful for that. But there are folks in worse shape than us, and they need a lot of help right now. Thank you to the American Red Cross and to everyone who’s helping us, truly. Thank you.

Michele Maki
Red Cross Volunteer


Assisting people affected by the wildfires is the latest relief response in what has been a very busy year for the Red Cross, which responded to 15 large disasters across the country this year, 50 percent more than in 2015. More than 24,000 Red Cross disaster volunteers from all over the country provided the following this year:

  • More than 200,000 overnight stays in more than 600 shelters
  • Served more than 3.6 million meals and snacks with the help of partners
  • Distributed more than 1.8 million relief items to people affected by these disasters.

This holiday season you can #GiveWithMeaning to provide relief to people affected by disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, floods and countless other crises by making a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small across the United States. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.