Sometimes, We Wear Two Hats

By Heath Wakelee, American Red Cross

Our volunteer, Heath Wakelee, is continuing to join teams assisting evacuees who have had to leave their homes in the face of ongoing wildfires throughout northern California. Heath has captured their experiences of heartache, hope and inspiration in a series of vignettes.

American Red Cross volunteers sometimes find themselves wearing two hats during disasters – volunteer and evacuee.

This is the case for Dominique Smith and Penny Helton, who both had to evacuate from their homes due to wildfires.

What a pleasure it was to meet and talk with Dominique Smith. She is a Red Cross volunteer and is quite active in her Oroville community.

Evacuee and now Red Cross volunteer Dominque Smith poses for a picture during her shift helping people often in similar situations to her and her family.

When she and her family had to evacuate their home and temporarily move to Auburn, she put on the Red Cross vest and began serving others. Dominique also recruited her sister to assist and they are both delivering meals to evacuees.

While Dominique waits for more information about the status of her home, she is committed continuing to volunteering for the Red Cross and helping others in need. 

Penny Helton is also wearing a few hats.

She and her husband were evacuated from Clipper Mills with little time to spare. While her husband was spreading the word of the evacuation to their neighbors, Penny drove to the Yuba County Fairgrounds to help the Red Cross register and assist evacuees. After working all night and much of the next day, Penny and her husband settled in at their assigned motel room in Roseville.

Many of Penny’s neighbors are also housed at the same motel, creating a sense of community. Penny is widely known as a Red Cross volunteer and the motel evacuees rely upon her for support and assistance, which she is always ready to provide.

Both women wear two hats and wear them exceptionally well. We sincerely hope that Dominique and Penny, and their families, can return soon to their homes. We join with their communities in thanking them for their unwavering commitment to serving those in need.

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, sign up today at redcross.org/VolunteerToday.

Can you spare some time and talent?

By Heath Wakelee, American Red Cross

What do you want to do with your free time? You know – that vacation time you have saved up or a few free hours each week?  How about when you retire, what about all that hard-earned down-time? 

Gary Chan, volunteer, smiling behind his mask during a recent food delivery shift at our Yuba City Chapter office.

Gary Chan and Scott Allen – two northern California residents at different points in their personal and professional lives – have asked themselves that same thing. They both found the same answer: by signing up as volunteers with the American Red Cross.

Chan, of Sacramento and an employee in the Emergency Department at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center, is using his vacation time to volunteer. Scott Allen, of Woodland, made the move to the Red Cross after a long career in the fire department and law enforcement.

Both men volunteered to assist evacuees from the North Complex fires that as of Sept. 16 had destroyed over 265,000 acres and resulted in the evacuation of thousands of people.

Scott Allen making his round of calls to make sure families have their meals taken care of, during a volunteer shift in Sutter County.

Their assignments became even more critical due to COVID-19 and the need to adhere to guidance from the CDC and local public health authorities. The Red Cross discontinued using large shelters and began sheltering fire evacuees in motels. Meals are prepared by community partners and local restaurants, and then arranged in individual boxes for delivery to approximately 1,500 rooms across the Region.

Both men are working on the meal delivery process, with Scott contacting evacuees to ensure that food deliveries are being completed as needed, and Gary is doing the actual delivery of boxed meals to each evacuee’s room. They are pleased to be able to help people in their time of great need. Their dedication and commitment are much appreciated.

If you have the time, you can make a significant impact as a Red Cross volunteer. There are jobs for everyone, regardless of your background, skills or how much time you have to give. Review our most urgently needed volunteer positions at www.redcross.org/volunteertoday

‘The Fire is Coming’: Two Evacuees Share Worry, Gratitude After September Wildfire Surge

By Heath Wakelee, American Red Cross

Each of the tens of thousands of people who have had to evacuate from surging wildfires this past week carries tales of heartache and uncertainty. Many of those people have been assisted with shelter from the American Red Cross and state partners – including approximately 1,500 on Monday night alone – in this still-evolving and historic disaster.

As we continue the response phase in these still-dangerous wildfires across northern California, our volunteer Heath Wakelee followed teams bringing food to families in emergency hotel sheltering to be able to share parts of their journey. Here are two vignettes in a forthcoming series of posts by Heath.

The Baby’s Room

Eugene Kaspari and his wife had spent recent months decorating the room where their first-born would sleep. It was their main concern when it came to their home in beautiful, wooded Berry Creek, Calif.

Outside a hotel where Eugene and his wife have found emergency lodging with the Red Cross, he talked about the pain of what they left behind, in a hurry, as the fire burned their town, as well as what keeps him going.

Eugene Kaspari puts a hug-hold on his very affectionate pitbull as American Red Cross volunteers bring lunch to his growing family. Kaspari and his pregnant wife evacuated Berry Creek from surging wildfires.

On the fire, Eugene admitted they didn’t know where they were going to live long-term. He was most worried about the baby’s room, where his wife had been collecting items and where decoration had become a joint act of promise and pride. Those items are lost in the fire that came through Sept. 9 and 10, along with family albums, wedding pictures, and most everything else in the home.

As Red Cross volunteers brought a meal to the expecting couple, Eugene looked to the bright side. He had not lost his job. Their dog seemed to be enjoying the change of pace – this pit bull was eager to lick you as a sign of affection.

Eugene and the Red Cross volunteers talked through meal deliveries and the possibility of replacing eye glasses and prescriptions they left behind as they rushed away from the fire. They reminded him of Red Cross disaster mental health services, too, should they want to talk about coping skills.

What’s Still Standing

Tara Dawn Pash was settling into a nap. She was woken by pounding at the door. It was a neighbor in her Berry Creek neighborhood, yelling for her to “get out,” that “the fire is coming!”

Tara Dawn Pash says she’s grateful for the help her and her husband have received since evacuating September wildfires near their home. She’s considering volunteer work once she’s settled back in to “pay it forward.”

Like so many others, Tara grabbed her jewelry box, threw some clothes in a suitcase, picked up the dog and ran for the car. A few steps later in her evacuation, she was at a hotel provided by the Red Cross.

For the time being, it’s not safe to go back to her neighborhood. As Red Cross volunteers bring Tara and her husband lunch – provided on this day by partners at The Salvation Army – she shares frustration in not being able to go back to her home.

But she counts herself as lucky: of the 12 homes on her street, the fire department has indicated that only a handful remain – including hers. She attributes her good fortune to spending a lot of time and money making a defensible space around her home.

In the future, Tara said she plans on volunteering for the Red Cross to “pay it forward.” She wants to help others realize that there is hope and to become that Red Cross hand that guides them toward recovery.

If your family is in need of assistance from these devastating wildfires, contact the American Red Cross at (800) 733-2767. Additional local for northern California are posted on our Facebook page.

Key Ingredients for Successfully Providing Meals During Disasters

By Mimi Teller, Volunteer

Batman had Robin and Alfred, while American Red Cross California Gold Country’s Feeding Lead Volunteer Dawn Pesola had Michael and Michael. Dawn and her dynamic duo supervised the delivery of nearly 6,000 meals and 3,000 snacks over two weeks to residents displaced by just a handful of the many wildfires that raged across Northern California in August.

Delivering breakfast, lunch and dinner every day to 25 locations spread across Colusa, Glen, Lake, Lassen, Mariposa, Placer, Sutter, Tuolumne and Washoe counties required expert planning and superhuman organizational skills.

“It’s vital to have a strong team,” Dawn shared. “I picked two, well trained, hard-working supervisors – they divided their regions and conquered.”

Dawn Pesola, American Red Cross California Gold Country Feeding Lead Volunteer

Dawn credits her team’s success to their passion for volunteer work and genuine concern for the communities the Red Cross serves. Constant and clear communication, along with texting and sending photos of receipts and other vital information also factored into the feeding team’s ability to bring food and comfort to residents forced from their homes due to the fires.

While Dawn attended daily Red Cross disaster relief planning meetings virtually and arranged all meals through local restaurants, supervisors Michael Hernandez and Michael Schubarth did the leg work. They divvied up the expanse of locations, scheduled deliveries and coordinated teams of six to 10 volunteers to make the deliveries – some of whom often traveled 45 minutes between each meal drop-off site.

The success of these meal deliveries is also thanks to Red Cross partners like Quincy High School, The Salvation Army and Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen. When fires forced road closures around the small town of Quincy and rendered outside food delivery impossible, Quincy High School fired up their ovens and cooked three meals a day for 25 people for seven days. The Salvation Army also provided tremendous support to the mission by arranging and providing three daily meals for Red Cross Temporary Evacuation Points, while World Central Kitchen teams used their large delivery vans to distribute over 200 meals per day to Kelsey High School and Lassen Community College evacuation points. 

Though this was Dawn’s first disaster response as Feeding Lead with the Red Cross, Dawn comes from a background in nutrition and has experience as a Senior Manager for Meals on Wheels in Placer County. While Dawn applied the same service delivery methods that have served her well in the past, she now needed to implement new safety protocols due to COVID-19.

To protect both the people served and Red Cross workers, visits and communications were narrowed to a knock on the door instead of a buffet-style service for those in need of a hot meal. Despite these constraints, Dawn aimed to make the feeding operation warm and fuzzy.

“We couldn’t hug or get close to people who were struggling, we couldn’t have long conversations,” Dawn lamented. “At least we could knock on doors, ask ‘how are you?’ and check on people.”

Some evacuees, especially older adults, relied on Red Cross food and snack deliveries both for sustenance and a friendly face during several long, hard weeks following fire evacuations.

When asked about her most memorable moment during such a trying time, Dawn spoke of a single, elderly man who had been evacuated to a motel in Williams. Every day, he would take his food delivery and walk across the street to an outside table and eat alone. Dawn ensured he was cared for, as he wanted nothing else but to return home, yet ended up being the very last person allowed to return home safely. His longing to go home tugged on Dawn’s heart and because of moments like this, she feels she has found her calling as feeding lead with the Red Cross.

Her cape hangs readied for the next response.

The American Red Cross remains committed to providing shelter, food and emotional support to victims of disasters. If you are in need of assistance or would like to learn more, call 1-800 RED CROSS or visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org.

Rolling Out a New Emergency Sheltering Process in the Time of COVID-19

By Peg Taylor, Volunteer

August 20 began like any other summer day in Jamestown, a small town in the forested area of Tuolumne County, CA. Nayna Patel, owner-manager of the Country Inn Sonora, was working at her motel, which was nearly completely booked.

Suddenly, she received a call from Red Cross volunteer Peter Lancelotti, who inquired about the availability of rooms in the Country Inn Sonora for Moc Fire evacuees. Though Nayna didn’t have enough rooms for all the evacuees, she quickly moved in as many evacuees as possible. Other Red Cross volunteers began looking for shelter elsewhere for the rest of the evacuees.

Soon word spread among the motel guests that there were wildfire evacuees who didn’t have a place to stay.  Five motel guests voluntarily gave up their rooms for the evacuees.

 “I feel awful for those people moving into the motel, not knowing if their homes are still there. It’s the right thing to do,” said one motel guest. “What if we had to evacuate and had nowhere to go?”

This sentiment was echoed by other occupants as they vacated the motel. Happily, all wildfire evacuees were sheltered that day and have since returned home.

The pandemic necessitated the creation of a new environment for handling sheltering for those affected by disasters such as wildfires.  The Red Cross uses the latest COVID-19 guidance from the CDC and local public health authorities to provide shelter for everyone in a safe and healthy environment. 

To meet social distancing standards, the Red Cross has prioritized the use of non-congregate shelters, such as motels, college dormitories and RV parks. Months in advance of the wildfires, Red Cross volunteers began contacting venues throughout the Gold County Region and developed a long list of available rooms.

Congregate or traditional shelters, usually the mainstay of Red Cross sheltering, is now an alternate option when hotel rooms are not available.  New sheltering protocols include setting up a health screening process for everyone coming into the shelter; providing face coverings; adding additional space between cots; and using enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices.

The successful revamping of Red Cross’ long-standing congregate sheltering system wasn’t easy and relied upon planning, research, training and hard work.  The success was also built upon the cooperation and understanding of local venue managers and owners, such as Nayna Patel,  and from the empathy, goodwill and generosity of people such as the motel guests who gave up their rooms to evacuees.

Disaster Response Lodging: How One Red Cross Volunteer Spent His Summer

By Mimi Teller, Volunteer

American Red Cross volunteer Peter Lancellotti juggled a jam-packed schedule this summer.  Between June and August, he worked remotely on five separate Red Cross disaster responses, with no immediate plans to stop.

Peter LancelottiPeter joined the Red Cross after retiring from a career as a human resources consultant and a CEO. Originally from the East Coast, Peter moved west to be closer to his family and to eventually became part of the Southern California Region family.

As a member of the National Virtual Lodging Team, Peter works one of the more difficult assignments of a disaster response. Working closely with Red Cross partner CLC Lodging, Peter manages all lodging requests and matters related to housing for both Red Cross workers and those we serve. Due to the COVID-19 environment, the preference for non-congregate housing options has placed a tremendous demand on the lodging team’s expertise and workload.

“Working virtually is not as easy as people might think,” Peter reflected. “Even though I can do chores around the house and go grocery shopping, I am on the phone 14 hours a day.”

Peter’s whirlwind schedule began early in the summer.  In June, Peter came on board to arrange lodging for the Red Cross response to the Minneapolis St. Paul civil unrest. Shortly after, Peter’s efforts turned to support the wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico. A month later, Hawaii’s Hurricane Douglas displaced local residents and sent Red Crossers to the islands, all in need of lodging. Come August, Peter donned the manager hat for the Apple Fire Temporary Evacuation Points, before resuming his lodging duties for the Northern California wildfires.

“It’s emotionally trying when you hear people’s circumstances,” Peter said. “When I hear of people sleeping in their cars, I am determined to secure them a room.”

When asked if he plans to skip the next possible disaster to take a little time off, Peter was hesitant about his answer.  He acknowledges that the Lodging Team is a small cadre of specialists. However, with the possibility of more wildfires and hurricanes on the horizon, Peter says he plans to take time off and recharge before accepting his next virtual assignment.

The American Red Cross remains committed to providing shelter, food and emotional support to victims of disasters. If you are in need of shelter or would like to learn more, call 1-800 RED-CROSS or visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org.

Registration Open for Drive Fore Disaster Relief Golf Tournament Benefiting the American Red Cross

Once again our partners at Rancho Murieta Country Club are hosting Drive Fore Disaster Relief, a golf tournament to benefit the American Red Cross!

Funds collected will benefit local Red Cross disaster relief and preparedness efforts.

There is still time to register so contact RMCC at the number or email addresses below. Hope to see you there!

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Wildfire Evacuee Thanks Red Cross Volunteers: ‘U Have No Idea’

By Stephanie Gaito, Volunteer

On Monday night, August 17, Margaret Grant received an after-hours call from her insurance agent. Evacuation warnings had been issued for the North Complex fires near Susanville, but she was waiting for more information.

Once the phone rang, Grant knew the call from her agent must be urgent, and she was correct. The agent urged her to immediately evacuate the home she shared with her fiancé and parents. Their property was in danger as the fire rapidly headed in their direction.

Grant and her fiancé, Rick Duckworth, moved six years ago to rural Susanville from Southern California to help her parents care for their family home and surrounding property. That Monday when they were evacuated, her family’s safety was the main concern. As each family member headed to a safe destination, her worries were put to rest.

“As long as my parents are safe with my brothers, Rick and I would have slept in our car and done whatever we needed to do,” Grant said.

Grant and Duckworth used their own resources to cover the expense of staying two nights at the Diamond Mountain Casino in Susanville. They didn’t want to bother anyone or use resources for others in need.

“At that point, it has been over two days, and we had pretty much run out of funds” she explained. “We didn’t know what we were going to do. Later that day, a lady called and asked if we had eaten, and at that point we hadn’t,” she explained through tears. “She called and took care of our food and she has called and checked on us every single day since.”

The woman who called Grant was a Red Cross volunteer, and she Textmade sure to take care of the family’s needs. The Red Cross assisted by covering additional nights at the hotel and by providing meal tickets and vouchers to Grant and her fiancé so their stay was as safe and hassle free as possible.

Grant and her family had made considerable efforts to protect their home from wildfire, including maintenance of defensible space and adding fire suppression tanks to the property. When asked if there was anything she would recommend to those looking to protect their homes, maintaining well equipment was high on her list. She said to make sure all equipment has been serviced and maintained to ensure sufficient water pressure, as this could save your home.

“I’m just grateful for the firefighters up here. Between the Red Cross and the firefighters, we would have lost our house if it wasn’t for them.”

If you would like to support Red Cross disaster relief efforts, visit redcross.org.

How the Lebanese Red Cross is Helping Those in Need

A massive blast struck Tuesday at a port in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut. The impact was intense, rippling through several areas of the capital and could be heard 149 miles away on the island of Cyprus.

According to the Lebanese Red Cross, the reported loss of life is more than 100 people and 4,000 injured. Currently, search and rescue teams are still digging through rubble looking for missing persons.

Read more here.

Reflections on Volunteering with Amador County’s Interfaith Food Bank

the gang FB 2020The American Red Cross California Gold Country Region is helping to fill vacancies in the volunteer workforce at the Sacramento Food Bank and the Interfaith Food Bank in Amador County.

Both endeavors have added up to many hours of volunteering, many thousands of pounds of distributed food and a lot of pride in serving these communities.

Below is a note from Disaster Program Manager Debbie Calcote on what the experience has meant to her:

When the sheltering in place order was set, I was already working in the local Emergency Operations Center. My role was to help make sure that our food banks were able to maintain a supply of food for the communities.

Adel Welty and I worked with local churches to find all the places that had small food pantries, and we have maintained open communication with them throughout.

But working with other agencies to make sure food got out was way different than working the food bank.

When I was first reaching out to volunteers and friends to help there, I heard a lot of different excuses.

Here are some of the responses:

  • “It’s too far to drive.”
  • “Why would I want to stand all day and sort fruit and vegetables?”
  • “Can’t they (the food bank) just put stuff in a bag and hand it to them? Do we really have to bring it out to them?”
  • “ I really have to clean my house and go grocery shopping.”

These were just a few examples of what I heard. When my Operations Coordinator Carolyn Stinemates advised that there was a real need for more support there, I decided it was my duty to step in and help.

Well, I received an eye opening, and a heart filled with sadness, joy,  and much gratitude for having this opportunity to be there and to help our communities.

The first day, I was sorting good vegetables and fruit in the morning. Then the bank opened for people to come park in front.

We take their order and note the number of family members. We run that back inside to the warehouse where there are other people bagging and boxing just about everything (including some sweet treats, which everyone needs now and then).

Then someone brings the cart out to us to deliver to the car.

My first car was a piece of cake. It went smoothly. They said thank you and I told them to have a nice day.

My second car was an elderly woman in her late 80s to early 90s picking up for herself and a neighbor. I loaded a couple small boxes into her trunk and walked away waiting for them to bring out her shopping cart of groceries.

I just got back inside when I heard someone ask for some assistance. I walked to the door and there by her car was my little lady. She needed help closing her trunk.

When I asked why she wanted it closed her response was, “I can’t drive down the road with it open, dear.”

I smiled and told her the rest of the groceries would be out shortly. Her eyes got big and she said, “There is more?”

I smiled and said yes, there is more.

Shortly thereafter her cart came for me to load into her car. She stood there looking at me with bewildered eyes. “Who does all that belong to?” she asked.

When I told her it was hers and her neighbors, she started to cry. She was so grateful.

But best of all, she and her neighbor had been sharing the small amount of food they had left in their cupboards since neither of their families had come to bring them shopping in about six weeks due to Covid-19.

 Someone told them they could go to the food bank for groceries, but she told me they still had some canned food and powdered milk left and we didn’t want to take away from those who really needed it.

My heart swelled and we both had tears in our eyes. To watch as we loaded bag after bag into the trunk, the tears falling down her cheeks were priceless to me.

I was bringing joy, and much needed food to two wonderful ladies.

So to me, seeing the need, the gratitude, and overwhelming joy from receiving food was more than words could express.

Every person who has come when I have been there has so much appreciation. You cannot help but enjoy being there and be a part of a community that helps those less fortunate and  especially, our senior population.

The work is priceless. It will fill your heart and soul.

Working as a team with others and the staff at the food bank to accomplish this task is amazing. They are the best. I am grateful to help.

 I greatly appreciate everyone who will, has, and have been supporting this important mission.

Thank you all!