Red Cross Volunteers Helping Their Neighbors Affected by California Wildfires

By Diane Concannon

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.

Red Cross volunteers discuss available resources with Westlake Village resident.
Red Cross disaster workers Drew and Amanda Haven discuss resources available to help those affected by the Woolsey Fire with a Westlake Village resident. Photo taken on November 16, 2018 in Westlake Village, CA. Art Remnet/American Red Cross.

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.

Red Cross volunteer deliver sifters during supplies distribution in Westlake Village.
Red Cross disaster worker Drew Haver provides a sifting box and breathing masks to a resident whose Westlake Village home burned during the Woolsey Fire. Photo taken on November 16, 2018, in Westlake Village, CA. Art Remnet/American Red Cross

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 HELP Entire 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.

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