Since evacuation orders first began to lift for the Thomas Fire, the Red Cross has been there, helping families on the road to recovery. The local Red Cross is now expanding its recovery service centers for those affected by the fire:
Ventura County Credit Union, 6026 Telephone Rd., Ventura, CA 93003
Saturday and Sunday, December 30 and 31, 2017 – 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday, January 2, 2018 through Friday, January 5, 2018 – 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, January 6, 2018 through Sunday, January 7, 2018 – 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. NEW: Monday, January 8, 2018 through Friday, January 12, 2018 – 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Red Cross chapter office, 2707 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Sunday, December 31, 2017 – 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Ojai Public Library, 111 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, CA 93023
Saturday, January 6 through Sunday, January 7, 2018 – 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
The Tzu Chi Foundation will be on site in Ventura on December 30 to provide additional financial assistance.
A public hotline has been set up for anyone who may have additional questions about what services are available. Please call the hotline at (512) 745-2920 or contact the local Red Cross chapter at (805) 987-1514 to learn more.
Recovering from a disaster can be a confusing, emotionally draining and complicated process. Red Cross caseworkers are trained to help people create recovery plans and connect people with the services and resources they need.
Red Cross caseworkers will connect one-on-one with people to create individualized recovery plans, navigate paperwork, and locate help from other agencies. In some situations, the Red Cross may provide direct financial support. The assistance can be used for such needs as an apartment deposit, to buy clothes or food, or to cover immediate transportation expenses. Red Cross clean up kits (sifters, cleaning supplies, shovels, etc.) will also be provided at each service center location.
The Red Cross delivers help to whoever needs it regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or citizenship status. The Red Cross is a charity, not a government agency, and people who have disaster-caused needs do not need to be American citizens to access Red Cross services.
See our previous list of Red Cross Service Centers, here.
Note: This post was updated on 1/7/18 to reflect additional service center dates.
Over the span of the Thomas Fire, residents at Red Cross shelters receive unexpected visits from some special animals. Service animals are always welcome in Red Cross shelters.
On December 17, 2017, Miss Basil made a guest appearance at the Ventura County Fairgrounds Red Cross shelter. There are many special things about this bunny: she is Flemish Giant Rabbit and weighs approximately 18 pounds. But she is also a Therapy Animal. Her caretakers, Amy Hirahara and her son Andrew, know that Miss Basil’s large size does not prevent her from providing comfort and support to anyone who may need it.
Andrew stated that Basil was rescued from a breeder, and her greatest accomplishment is becoming a therapy animal that can now help others. Amy shared with Red Crossers that a resident laid down face to face with Basil and said, “I have not slept well in days, I could fall asleep right here with her. Thank you for bringing her today.”
On the other side of the fire and relief response, San Lucia Open Dog Obedience Group (SLODOG) and Alliance of Therapy Dogs joined forces to deliver comfort for those directly impacted by the Thomas Fire. They traveled to various groups supporting the Thomas Fire, including the Cachuma Lake base camp to visit with firefighters, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s dispatch center, and ending their tour at the Santa Barbara Red Cross shelter.
At the Red Cross shelter, several Therapy Dogs visited with residents of all ages, and volunteers received some cuddles too. The dogs were tired after a long day of visiting with first responders, evacuees, and volunteers, but they still were able to provide much needed comfort and support at our shelter. Together their visits brought immense joy and compassion to residents and volunteers.
During confusing times like these, a visit from a dog or bunny can make all the difference. It is due to the generosity and kindness of the community that residents in the shelter had entertainment, support, and relief during this heartbreaking and time. Special thanks to everyone for spending time with those affected by the Thomas Fire at Red Cross shelters.
Story and photos by Taylor Poisall, American Red Cross
“If there was ever a Red Cross Angel, it would have to be Bettye.”
This term, “Red Cross Angel”, is given by fellow Red Crossers to a comrade who consistently displays compassion, empathy and resourcefulness for the benefit of others- behaviors the American Red Cross holds dear and looks for in every potential volunteer. It’s not an official award or title, but rather one of endearment and honor bestowed by those who see the works of that “Angel”. It now seems a new “Angel” has joined the ranks.
I was visiting the Red Cross Client Service Center recently in Ojai. The volunteers there were assisting the impacted residents of Ojai, CA following the devastating Thomas Fire. The acrid smell of smoke still lingered in the air on this otherwise pleasant, sunny day. It was hard to imagine that just a week earlier the sky was darkened by the smoke of burning homes and brush and residents were fleeing for their lives. As I approached the service center, I was met by several volunteers who mentioned that perhaps I would like to meet with one of our own Red Crossers who had a remarkable story that needed to be told.
Bettye Berg is known for her humility and deflecting attention away from herself, so these volunteers smoothed the road for me by calling her ahead of time and asking if she would, perhaps share her story. They then drove me up into the blackened hills to meet her and along the way; my heart was breaking as I saw mile after mile of charred hillsides and ash. There were ribbons hanging in front of some properties to indicate that this had been a home that had burned to the ground. Nothing was left, and I got out of the car to inspect for myself: truly nothing remained. The fire had burned so hot, there was nothing but ash in many places. Then, oddly enough, in other lots down the road, green deciduous trees stood untouched. When we arrived at Bettye Berg’s property she greeted us with a smile and a ready hug. She showed us around, pointing out where the homes of her neighbors once stood and she shared with us her experience and survival of the Thomas Fire.
Bettye and her husband had been in Oxnard enjoying a dinner out when her son called her, very concerned, because there was a brushfire in nearby Santa Paula. The Santa Ana winds were gusting by then, and he was concerned for their safety. Bettye and her husband took his advice and decided to head back home immediately. The Red Flag warnings for extreme fire danger had been posted for days, and this year had been a treacherous one for wildfires; they were not going to take any chances. They found the roads back to Ojai through Santa Paula blocked, so they drove an alternate route through Ventura, and again, they found the road was closed. After several hours, they managed to make their way through, so they could get home to evacuate.
They arrived home about 9 o’clock that night and the scene was out of a horror film. Embers and ash were raining down on their home and the entire neighborhood. They both rushed into the house to grab the important papers and their beloved puppy, “Buddy” and ran for their RV to leave. In less than the 15 minutes it took to grab and go, Bettye witnessed several of their neighbors’ homes explode into flames.
“I saw, what looked like a cyclone of fire, hover over one of the homes from the sky and then just drop down on top of it. It was like an explosion of fire.” Bettye remembers. “It was terrifying.”
As they drove down the winding road into and then out of the town of Ojai, the wind was blowing so hard that the fences and brush afire on either side of the road were blowing flames across the road. “We were driving through the flames.” Bettye recalls. “It was hot, almost unbearable. But we made it out. We just knew, after what we had witnessed and what we drove through, our home was gone. All our neighbors’ homes were on fire, and we just knew ours was too.”
Bettye has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for over 30 years, serving in the Red Cross Health Services and then DOVES (Disaster Operation Volunteer Escapees) and Disaster Services during Katrina, Sandy and countless other disasters. She’s been a co-lead for casework and mass care, and has opened and managed countless shelters. “I never, ever, thought I would be a client in need of services from the Red Cross. Never.” But here they were; Bettye and her husband had arrived safely at the shelter and were checking in at the Red Cross shelter as evacuees. “I now understand a little more of what they feel-you know, that uncertainty and that fear. I’ll never forget it. It’s very different to be on the other side of this.” Bettye recalls. She and her husband had a safe place that night. They parked their RV and Bettye wasted no time. “I had to do something. I knew my home was gone, and I knew I could help. There were hundreds of people showing up that needed help, so I pitched in.”
Indeed there were! Ojai has a very diverse population, but in this particular area there is a high percentage of seniors, and that night 837 (mostly seniors) check into the shelter seeking refuge and safety. “Many seniors, like us, drove their RVs in, and there were about 45 of those. For 6 days, Bettye helped manage and run the shelter until it transitioned over to a shelter in Ventura.
“There were many, many people there with special needs and it was a very challenging task, addressing these needs and leading the other volunteers, but Bettye made sure they were seen by the nurse and their needs met,” commented Spiritual Care Team member Norita Cassou, “Nothing escaped her. She made sure everyone who needed attention, got it.” Even the evacuees in the RVs were on her mind.
“I knew they would need to dump their tanks. They’d been here 6 days, and as an owner of an RV, I thought this needs to be addressed too.” So, she put a call out to someone she knows in Public Works, and they came up with a solution that really helped these folks out in dumping their holding tanks. “You might say, I have friends in low places too!” she laughs.
This light hearted senior with bright eyes and an infectious smile then grew more somber. “When it came time, the California Highway Patrol was going to caravan us in for one hour. That’s it…one hour…to grab anything we could that might have survived the fire, and then get out. We started back up that road…….and I could remember everything-how it was trying to get out. I just knew our home was gone, but there was this little, tiny hope. That ride back up the mountain was the longest 20 minutes of my life. Lot after lot….ash…..charred trees, and all my dear neighbors’ homes were gone. I just knew ours was too. But then, we came around the corner and it was there….still standing. I couldn’t believe it! Even the trees were still there! There is no reason that our home should still be standing. None! That old, dried out wooden deck should have burned for sure.” When Bettye examined the home closer, one could see the burn marks and ash on the asphalt shingles, and yet it still stood. “I don’t know why or how. I have no explanation. I don’t know why, I don’t. But I’m so very, very grateful.”
She pulled her beloved, white ball of fluff puppy, Buddy, close to her heart and nuzzled him. I won’t be bothering with Christmas decorations this year. This is enough. ” Cassou pulls me aside and shares, her eyes glistening with tears, “She’s so humble she’d never tell you, but their second RV didn’t burn either, so she’s given it to her neighbor to live in while they re-build. That’s the kind of Angel she is.”
Bettye’s decades of kindness, empathy and selfless service has now come full circle. This is one Red Cross Angel who has, indeed, earned her wings.
Story and photos by Michele Maki, American Red Cross
The outpouring of support from the Santa Barbara and Ventura communities has been incredible. The Red Cross helps to mobilize local residents who want to help their neighbors after a disaster, including the Thomas Fire. When needed, community volunteers can expand the reach of trained Red Crossers by helping to hand out relief supplies or perform other tasks.
As of December 23, 2017, the Red Cross registered 1871 local community volunteers, with 834 community members attending an orientation and working a shift at one of our shelter locations.
I had the pleasure of meeting several people from the area who signed up to volunteer during the Thomas Fire. Despite all of their differences, they all felt a calling to help their neighbors.
Ben Pallan originally set out to volunteer with the casework team. When he found out there was a need for sheltering, he signed up to work two shifts at the shelter in Santa Barbara. “I wanted to do anything I could to help out, and Red Cross was the way to go.”
Sean Whipple, a senior at Humboldt University spent his Christmas vacation feeding residents at the shelter. “My mom lives in Ojai and had to evacuate. I wanted to help others going through the same thing she did. I really felt connected to this”.
Susie DiMauro from Santa Barbara works at a local nonprofit, spent her day at the shelter taking down cots and other random tasks. “I had a good time. It was good to help out,” she said.
As some of the lucky few that did not have evacuate in Santa Barbara, Deborah Danielson and her 15-year-old daughter Nicole, still felt the impact on their community. They attended an orientation at our Red Cross chapter in Camarillo, and then volunteered at the Red Cross shelter at UC Santa Barbara on its last day of operation. Along with many other new volunteers, they helped clean up the Recreation Center, which included cleaning cots and restocking Red Cross trailers so they would be ready for the next disaster.
“Our community truly came together when we needed it the most. Our volunteers made sacrifices to help ensure their friends and neighbors had shelter during this difficult period. The words ‘thank you’ don’t even begin to describe how much we appreciate their efforts,” said Kimberly Coley, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast and Ventura County Chapters. Thanks to these new Red Crossers and their efforts, the local Red Cross will be prepared to respond to the next disaster.
To sign up to become a volunteer, please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up today. There are several ways you can volunteer to prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters with the Red Cross.
Note: Click here to see an updated list of Red Cross service center dates and times (12/29/17).
The American Red Cross is continuing to support residents affected by the Thomas Fire, even as the holidays approach. Several Assistance Centers are currently open to help local families as they recover from the largest fire in California history.
The following additional Assistance Centers will be open next week to serve the community:
December 26, 2017 through December 30, 2017, 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Ventura County Credit Union, 6026 Telephone Road, Ventura, CA 93003 Tzu-Chi will be providing services on December 30, 2017
December 26, 2017, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Santa Barbara Red Cross chapter office, 2707 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
December 27, 2017, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Palazzio Event Center, 814 E. Main Street, Santa Paula, CA
December 31, 2017, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Ventura County Credit Union, 6026 Telephone Road, Ventura, CA 93003
December 31, 2017, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Santa Barbara Red Cross chapter office, 2707 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105 Tzu-Chi will be providing services
Red Cross caseworkers will connect one-on-one with people to create individualized recovery plans, navigate paperwork, and locate help from other agencies. In some situations, the Red cross may provide direct financial support. This assistance can be used for such needs as an apartment deposit, to buy clothes or food, or to cover immediate transportation expenses.
Red Cross clean up kits (sifters, cleaning supplies, shovels, etc.) will also be provided at each assistance center location.
The Red Cross is also working closely with government and nonprofit partners to help develop coordinated community recovery plans and strategies. Disaster recovery is often measured in months and years, and the Red Cross will continue to be here to provide hope, comfort, and support to anyone affected by the Thomas Fire.
A public hotline has been set up for anyone who may have additional questions about what Red Cross services are available. Please call (512) 745-2920 to learn more.
Note: This post was updated on 12/26/17 with the latest available Red Cross services.
Note: This was updated on 12/29/17 with a link to a new article with expanded service center times and locations. Click here to see to the latest information.
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.