Our Community and How Our Red Cross Supports Us

~“We were here before, we were here during and we will be here long after”~
Written by Michele Maki, American Red Cross Volunteer

Volunteer Dennis Lewis directing the action at Butte Fire operations center
Volunteer Dennis Lewis directing the action at Butte Fire operations center

“This has been my chance to give back, and I’ve never regretted it.” Dennis Lewis, a retired police officer and 5 year veteran of the American Red Cross does not mince his words when asked, “Why, with so many opportunities for the retired these days, why do you volunteer so many hours to the Red Cross? Lewis pauses for a moment, and thoughtfully explains, “Well, you know, when I was a Marine in Vietnam, my mom passed away. The Red Cross convinced my CO that I should attend her funeral. They actually bumped a general off the flight to get me home. I’ve never forgotten that.“

Lewis is the Mass Care Lead for Calaveras, Tuolumne, and Alpine Counties. He leads and responds to disaster calls for the Disaster Action Team too. These calls are frequently home fires. It could be a family that had a fire and has no place to go.

“We provide for their immediate needs. We make sure they have a safe place to sleep, meals, and if all was lost, a change of clothing, and emotional support. Our health services can help the family with any medicines that may have been lost to the fire too.”
Frequently though, Lewis is the only volunteer on the scene. “I could sure use some help!” Lewis said, “I like to train folks to help and I like hands on help.”

This was clearly evident during the tragic fire that ravaged his community. Known at the “Butte Fire”, more than 470 homes were lost. In the early days of the fire, many volunteers remarked how Lewis was the order in the middle of chaos.

“He has a presence, you know,” remarked one volunteer. “When he’s in the room you know it. But he has a way of making each person feel special and no matter what task you are given, you know it’s important to the mission and your own contribution is valued.”

“Some of our local Red Cross Volunteers lost their own homes in this fire. Their loss and the losses of this close community have really touched our hearts in a very personal way. It is OUR loss,” explained Sue Yoder, who flew in from Iowa to help in the relief and recovery effort.

Dennis put it succinctly, “The Red Cross was here before the fire. We were here during the fire. We will be here during and after recovery, which will take years. This is our community, our friends and neighbors, and it’s important that we take an active role in looking after each other.”

Lewis and the Red Cross encourage you to consider taking on that active role by becoming a Red Cross Volunteer. Training is free, and you will be helping your own community prevent and prepare for the unexpected. Visit redcross.org/goldcountry for more information!

A Case of Coming Home

Written by Richard Woodruff, American Red Cross

Kathy Catania has been a Red Cross volunteer for 10 years signing on right after Katrina. Her first deployment was to Biloxi Mississippi and it started a path of service that today has brought her to Northern California and the small town of San Andreas the Calaveras county seat near the hardest hit areas of the Butte Fire. That is where the Red Cross Client Assistance Center is and that is where we found her on the phone checking up on one of her clients.

As we quietly sat and talked there were a few people coming and going behind us needing assistance.  They were greeted at the door often with a hug and a bottled water as they made their way into the private cubicles. One-on-one the caseworkers would sit down discuss their situation and provide or direct them with or direct them to what they needed for their unique situation.

Kathy doing casework at the Red Cross client assistance center
Kathy doing casework at the Red Cross client assistance center

For Kathy this particular assignment is a bit of a homecoming because although she currently lives in San Diego, she used to live in nearby Sonora and in fact still owns a home there. The Butte Fire hit her especially hard because she almost lost her own home during a previous wildfire.  The fear and uncertainty of that situation gives her special empathy for the  people of Calaveras county.  After being evacuated (many to Red Cross shelters) most had no idea whether or not their homes had even survived. It took several days for the firefighters to go back up into this the burn areas to begin to document what homes had been destroyed. She knows first hand what that feels like.

Since the client assistance center started operating on September 19th, Red Cross volunteer caseworkers have opened over 375 cases and the work is just getting underway.  The road to recovery is a long one and the Red Cross will be here as long as it takes.

Kathy says even though coming back here has been bittersweet it has also been  a very rewarding experience because says that she has been able to help her former neighbors. She says “These are very close knit communities that band together in times of need and I am glad to be part of that healing process.” For Kathy it is a case of coming home to where a part of her heart will always live.

Its a Dog’s World

image1The world of the Red Cross involves many partnerships. One of those is Lend a Heart-Lend a Hand Animal Assistance who provided therapy dogs to one of the Red Cross shelters in Amador County.  The Jackson Rancheria Hotel Casino had been converted into a Red Cross shelter initially housing hundreds of people who had escaped the flames of the Butte fire.  The canine companions could be seen mingling with shelter residents offering comfort and hope.

One such dog was a poodle named Credo. They say poodles are one of the smartest breeds there are and clearly Credo represented that.  He was extremely smart and one of his tricks was to pretend that he had a cold and was sneezing. He would then grab a tissue from a box.  The novelty alone provided an entertaining diversion from the situation at hand.    Credo has a complete repertoire of tricks including putting laundry in the dryer, picking up items dropped and even retrieving medications. For this assignment he was there to just offer the unconditional love dogs are known for. Other therapy dogs could be seen visiting shelter residents exhibiting the kind of unconditional love dogs are known for.

The Red Cross also has it’s own corps of therapy dogs called the American Red Cross Canine Action Team.

Member of the American Red Cross Canine Action Team
Member of the American Red Cross Canine Action Team

It takes a whole community to make a community whole and these furry friends are part of that community.