by Dan Santos, Public Affairs Volunteer
Please join us in recognizing our annual award recipients for their outstanding service to our communities and celebrating the dedication of all Red Cross volunteers across the country and around the world.
When a disaster strikes, American Red Cross volunteers quickly deploy to help meet the needs of those affected. This is a team effort that takes preparation to make sure all that is needed is available.
Hannah Wirz, is one of those people behind the scenes who help volunteers provide life-changing services.
Wirz has spent six years as a member of the American Red Cross Pacific Coast Chapter Board of Directors. The board is the link coordinating services between the Red Cross and government agencies.
She has spent six years as a member of the American Red Cross Pacific Coast Chapter Board of Directors. The board is the link coordinating services between the Red Cross and government agencies.
“Disasters have become more intense here in the last four years. Wildfires that used to come once every 20 years now seem to happen every year,” she said.
Wirz also said she finds gratification when the board contacts donors to thank them. “I’m often surprised at how committed the donors are to the cause.”
Living in Westlake with her husband and two teenagers, Wirz also helps to recruit volunteers as chairwoman of the board’s Development Committee. The Red Cross couldn’t function without the volunteers. “We (the board) couldn’t do what we do,” she said. “We have so many people with great skills. People don’t realize there are so many things you can do at the Red Cross.”
As a child in Venezuela, Mary Bastos learned the value of helping others in need. Her father was a firefighter and her family included doctors and nurses who were always involved in the community.
“I think volunteers have the same soul to serve others,” she said. “At the Red Cross, if working at a shelter is not for you, there are many other jobs that you can do to help.”
She first contacted the Red Cross while living in Miami after seeing the devastation from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. “Yes, we need a lot of help in Puerto Rico” she was told, “and we also need lots of help here, too.”
Bastos, who is bilingual, is involved in outreach to the Fresno area Latino community for the Red Cross. She has also worked on wildfire disaster action teams and with home fire response teams for over three years.
“My priority is my family,” Bastos said. “But when you see people that need help, you have to serve.” She lives in Fresno with her husband, Mark Myers, a doctor/pharmacist at the Veterans Administration Hospital, and her nephew, Williams, whom the couple has adopted. The family also also has a few rescue dogs.
“The best reward from working with the Red Cross is seeing the people getting better and back to their normal lives. That’s so beautiful.”
J. R. Matchett was familiar with quickly leaving his Mariposa County home due to the threat of wildfires, but didn’t give much thought to volunteering. “I was evacuated from my home and not doing anything to help others in that situation,” he said.
But then a Red Cross volunteer recruiting event at the office building where he worked about seven years ago caught his attention.
Matchett at first wanted to be involved in disaster response. He felt that directly serving those in need would be a rewarding break from his 20-year career as a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. After some time helping out at mass evacuations, including Hurricane Harvey in Texas, he realized his professional skills could also be useful to the Red Cross.
Gathering data from various sources, like Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service and local police and fire departments, J.R. works with a program called RC View Mapping to collect data on disasters, which is gathered, assessed and disseminated so that resources can be directed where they are needed.
“I found it was really engaging,” he said. “We had access to leadership and we were helping those who needed it.”
As a disaster unfolds, Matchett and others working with him can tell which regions will be evacuated and how many clients might need help. Once the disaster is over, the group can use robust data analysis to assess the damage so the Red Cross can follow up with those still in need of help.
When he’s not actively volunteering for the Red Cross, Matchett said he keeps his radio scanner tuned to the fire and police channels, just in case he’s needed.