Across Country Helpers: Two volunteers on a mission


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.

Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) circulate throughout affected communities after disaster to hand out food, relief supplies, information and comfort to those in need.

Right now, more than 250 of these vehicles are on the ground, helping thousands of people affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

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During the Key West Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square in Florida – the first since Hurricane Irma – the American Red Cross provided free hot meals for dinner.
Photo by Marko Kokic for The American Red Cross 

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.

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Big Pine Key, Florida. During Hurricane Irma, Big Pine Key resident Christina swam from her flooded trailer to a boat across the street. She welcomed health services from Red Cross volunteer nurse Marie, RN, Missouri. Photo by Marko Kokic for the American Red Cross. 

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.

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Bonita Springs, Florida. American Red Cross volunteers, including volunteer nurses provide much needed support, medical attention, hot meals and water to those impacted by Hurricane Irma in Bonita Springs, Florida. Almost two weeks later, flooding is still impacting residents. Photo by Daniel Cima for the American Red Cross 

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.



24 Hours of Terror

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.

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Juliet Valdez, an evacuee from Dickinson, Texas, sits with her children David Dupre age 5 and Jennifer Dupre age 8 at a Red Cross supported shelter near Dallas, Texas pondering what the future holds for them. Photo: Michele Maki, American Red Cross

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.”

Jennifer Dupre 8 smiling
Little Jennifer Dupre age 8, an evacuee from Dickinson, Texas in a Red Cross supported shelter. Photo: Michele Maki, American Red Cross

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.

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Thousands of impacted residents seek refuge at the Red Cross “mega shelter” at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. Photo: Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

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


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, 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.

Event-based volunteers at the George R. Brown Center in Houston accept and process clothing donations. Photo: Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

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.

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Red Cross Volunteers Amy Gasea and Emanuel Castillo hand out hot meals to shelter residents at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Photo: Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

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 to begin your application process today.

Detwiler Fire: A tale of two mental health volunteers

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.

Detwiler Fire Ramon 1“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.

Detwiler Fire JanWalker’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.

Comfort in the Face of Adversity

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.

Janet Kirkland shares her story with a Red Cross worker at a local shelter. Photo: Eddie Zamora, American Red Cross

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.

Clean cots and brand new Red Cross blankets are ready for residents at the Mariposa Elementary School shelter. Photo: Dan Halyburton, American Red Cross

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.

Charles and Marianne Fisher pose with a Red Cross meal at the Sierra Vista Presbyterian Church in Oakhurst. Photo: Eddie Zamora, American Red Cross

“This is our community’s disaster,” said Marianne. When it comes to the Red Cross volunteers, “we couldn’t have asked for better people.”

Meals are ready to serve at the Red Cross shelter located at Mariposa Elementary School. Photo: Dan Halyburton, American Red Cross

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.


Financial donations are still the best and quickest way to support Red Cross Disaster Relief. Call, click, or text to give: visit, call 1-800 RED CROSS or text “RED CROSS” to 91999 to make a donation to your local Red Cross region.

The Detwiler Fire has destroyed over 60 homes. Red Cross will be there to help families recover.

Follow the local Red Cross on Facebook and Twitter for additional updates on Detwiler Fire relief efforts.

Pouring Out Some Good

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.

The George family stops for a picture outside of the Red Cross Whittier Fire shelter at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara. Photo: Ryan Cullom, American Red Cross

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.

Local Red Cross volunteers pause to offer a firefighter a cold bottle of water. Photo: Jessica Piffero, American Red Cross

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.

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A Red Cross registration table is ready to greet to wildfire evacuees at a local shelter.

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, call 1-800 RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.


California Wildfires Update

Rick and Ronda Rozanek had left their Lake Cachuma campsite for the day when they heard about the Whittier Fire evacuations. Stranded in a new place with just the clothes on their back, they found relief in the Red Cross emergency shelter at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara, California.

Rick and Ronda Rozanek are eager to show off their comfort kits, courtesy of the Red Cross. Photo: Kimberly Coley, American Red Cross

They were grateful for all the small touches that volunteers made to make their stay easier, such as the Red Cross comfort kits full of hygiene items. While it wasn’t the way they anticipated spending the evening, Rick and Ronda were determined to make the best of their situation – what they called, the most unique “date night” they’d ever had.

A Red Cross volunteer unloads a trailer full of relief supplies at Santa Margarita Elementary School, where the Red Cross assisted families evacuated due to the Stone Fire in San Luis Obispo County. Photo: Jessica Piffero, American Red Cross

Rick and Ronda are just two of the dozens of residents that have found relief so far in a Red Cross shelter since Friday, when wildfires began to sweep through the central coast. Volunteers have set up shelters and supported residents evacuated throughout San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties due to the Alamo, Whittier, and Stone Fires. The local Red Cross has provided more than 60 overnight stays at four different shelters, and served nearly 500 meals and snacks.

In total, wildfires raging throughout California have evacuated thousands of residents. The Red Cross stands ready to help these families for as long as there is a need. When evacuations orders lift and residents are able to return home, the Red Cross will be there, making sure residents have what they need to recover from this disaster.

The Whittier Fire billows out over Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County, CA. Photo: Ryan Cullom, American Red Cross

But we can’t do it alone. The wildfire season is just beginning, and the Red Cross relies on the compassion of volunteers and the generosity of donors to serve our community. You can help people affected by disasters like California wildfires and countless other crises by making a donation to support Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables us to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters big and small. Call, click, or text to help: visit, call 1-800 RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Every single donation will bring hope to those in need.


A Service to Stand By

As we continue to look back on 100 amazing years of service from the American Red Cross Central California Region the word “selfless” has made an appearance multiple times.  The definition of “selfless” as explained by the Modern Language Association is described as, having little or no concern for oneself, especially with regard to fame, position, money, etc.  In my time working at the Red Cross, and being a part of this team I have witnessed this on countless occasions.  From our volunteers, to our Disaster Corps members, to our executive front.  Selflessness has remained a true staple in the core of the message and identity.

Some of the duties of our wonderful volunteers tend to go untold due to the constant need for disaster relief, lifesaving blood donations, international services, training and certification, etcetera, but I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with a volunteer that embodies the definition of selflessness.  Prior to meeting Virginia Bradley (Ginny) I had no idea what a Donut Dollie was.  I had been told that they were Red Cross volunteers that served in the Vietnam war.  Once I sat down with Ginny and heard her story I knew it was one that needed to be told.

Vietnam War 1966

When you think of volunteering the thought of bullets whizzing past your head, and losing friends in the process is something that never comes to mind, well at least for me it didn’t. Then I met Ginny and I understood exactly what this team that we have at the Red Cross truly is.  She described to me her experience of being in Vietnam for a year with the purpose of helping our soldiers keep their moral high in times that seemed like they may be your last.  A ride back to camp in a helicopter with a friend whose light had been extinguished, and all you can hear are the blades of the helicopter thumping.

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“I would definitely do it again, but war is not fun”, Ginny stated as she thought back to her time spent in Vietnam.  “I gained a much better understanding of war and the people that lived through war.  I met a soldier that was on his third tour, and was afraid he’d kill someone if he went home.  We were there to remind them that there was life after the war, but some men and women never got over the experience.  On one trip back to base in a helicopter, the pilot told us something had gone wrong, and that we were probably going to crash.  I thought to myself that my family was ok, and I had lived a good life if this was the end.”

Along with the dark there were also many things that Ginny said helped strengthen the light.  The many games that were played and bonds that were made between soldiers and volunteers.  The long talks of home over a cold beverage, and the beautiful sights of cities such as Saigon and Khe Sanh.  From the beautiful tile pools that had been left by the French to the adopted dogs that became companions.  Vietnam had made a lasting impression not only on those that were serving their country, but also those that were not only there for their country, but on behalf of humanity.

Through all the gunfire, tears, monsoons, and snakes Ginny never lost her smile.  To this day, she continues to instill in her students the compassion and bravery she took with her to Vietnam the day she flew out from Fairfield, California.  It’s not easy to give up a year of your life so effortlessly, and at that to be separated from your family and friends to be placed in a foreign country.  This is something that only a special group could be capable of.  For that I am truly thankful for our troops and the courageous task that they take on.  I am especially thankful for Ginny and the other Donut Dollies for their selfless service that should make all Red Crossers proud to don the Red Cross symbol.


The work of the Red Cross is never ending, and as long as the need is there, so will we.  To learn more about Donut Dollies visit  To follow in the footsteps of countless other volunteers visit  If you have a Red Cross historic story to share, or other Red Cross historical collateral from the Central California Region visit, we’d love to hear from you.

You must never so much think as whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.” – Clara Barton

Ryan Henry Jackson

Communications Coordinator