A Red Cross Volunteer Earns Her Wings

When Paul Royce, known to the locals as “Turtle,” lost his home in the fire that devastated Paradise, California, he was really was at a loss as to what he would do next.  “I’ve lived in communes, and I’ve lived on the road, but right now, I haven’t a clue as to where I’ll be.  I have absolutely nowhere to go.”

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Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care Volunteer, Cynthia Bellina, heard about Turtle’s dilemma at the Red Cross shelter in Chico and knew she had to act. “Turtle needed that little extra care. He’s lived the most interesting and exciting life. In listening to his stories about his life I could understand his need for independence and his zest for life. I just couldn’t say no. I knew I had to help; I just had to!”

Bellina wasted no time. Turtle wanted to relocate to the Grass Valley in California. So, she searched the internet and started making calls. After the sixth phone call, she found a hotel that was willing to help Turtle. Sierra Mountain Inn agreed to provide a month of housing for him, thus providing him with the opportunity for a new start. Turtle’s new home is on the first floor and is wheelchair accessible-just what he needed.

When asked about Bellina’s kindness, Turtle’s eyes filled with tears as he reached out to tenderly touch the volunteer’s shoulder and said, “She was my voice; she was my Angel.”  Indeed, Cynthia Bellina earned her Red Cross Angel Wings.

Photo and Story by Michele Maki, American Red Cross

Chores Take On A New Meaning

Sometimes little, ordinary things can mean a lot. Little things like getting your clothes washed.

Take Debbie Medica. Her home in Paradise, California was destroyed by the wildfire that swept through the area. She fled with little more than the clothes on her back and what few things she could grab as she ran from the house.

“We were told to get out, and we didn’t waste time,” she said. “It was nothing but chaos with the fire coming our way.”

She was able to get her dog Mollie into the car but dealing with her cat Chewy was a whole different matter. She’s finally accepted the fact that her cat probably didn’t make it but she still holds a faint hope that somehow it Chewy survived.

“I know she’s lost, but I keep thinking maybe, just maybe,” Debbie explained. “She freaked with the smell in the air and ran off.”

At the Red Cross shelter in Chico, Debbie sits on her cot, trying to come to terms with what happened.

“I try to stay cool but I do fall apart from time to time especially when small things happen, but I’m not alone. I know that,” she said.

Debbie is trying to keep her sense of humor as she talks about how before the fire she was planning to declutter the home where she had lived a dozen years.

“I was thinking how I needed to get rid of a lot of the stuff. Oh well, be careful what you wish for,” she said.

Chico, California, November 18, 2018: Debbie Medica puts her clothes in a bag so they can be taken to a laundry in Chico, California. Debbie lost her home to the wildfire that destroyed much of Paradise community. At a Red Cross shelter, she was happy to be able to get her clothes cleaned.

As Debbie talked, Red Cross volunteer Kathy Grochowski came up and told her that a local laundry service was offering to clean the clothes of residents and handed her a plastic bag to put her clothes in.

For the first time in a long time, Debbie smiled as she dropped her clothes in the bag, including her favorite jacket.

“It’ll be nice to have it clean it again,” she said. “I’d like to get that smoke smell out.”

Kathy, who’s from Owensboro, Kentucky, said that something as simple as clean clothes can mean a lot to those like Debbie who have suffered so much. Washed and folded, the clothes were returned the next day.

“Anything to make their day a little better and more normal is good for their recovery,” she said. “They’ve been through so much.”

Story and Photos by Carl Manning, American Red Cross volunteer

Local organizations to provide a one-stop safe-haven at Red Cross Shelter

Through successful collaboration between the American Red Cross and five local organizations — North Valley Animal Disaster Group, University of California Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team, Birch Valley Ranch Equestrian School, Gridley FFA, Chico FFA, County and Yuba-Sutter Amateur Radio Emergency Services — the Butte County Fair Grounds shelter in Gridley, California, has become a safe haven for families, farm animals and those with domestic pets.

The Red Cross continues to support the shelter with volunteers providing food and emotional support. Volunteers have welcomed hundreds of displaced community residents who have no place to go. The shelter, which is located south of the Camp Fire, is still open to all those seeking shelter and resources.

PARTNER_Collaboration2The North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG) continues taking in livestock and is working with the UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team, as well as the Birch Valley Ranch Equestrian School, to provide the animals with shelter and medical attention.

Holly Keller, a former resident of Paradise, brought her two horses to the livestock shelter and is also a volunteer of NVADG. Holly used her experience from the 2008 fire evacuation to act quickly in evacuating her horses from the recent fire.

Holly is very proud of the support that the livestock area of the shelter has received. She encouraged anyone seeking to make a donation, to make a financial contribution or to offer grass hay, to call 530-895-0000 to inquire about the supplies needed for the day.


John Madigan, the coordinator of the UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT), supports the NVADG by proving medical attention to the animals. Dr. Madigan is grateful for the medical supplies donated. He urges those with large animals to plan and to not take a chance with their safety.



At the request of the Red Cross and Butte County, the Butte Fair Grounds shelter information desk is being supported by the Yuba-Sutter Amateur Radio Emergency Services. Assistant Emergency Coordinator Neil “Buck” Bossard listens for live reports on the fire and maintains contacts with others radio responders.

Buck, a volunteer, recalls being guided out to safety by a radio operator when his car was surrounded in flames in the Butte/Valley fire a few years ago. When asked about his memories of that day, Buck recalled, “I remember everything. I will never forget the volunteers that helped me in my time of need.”

At the Butte County Fair Grounds Shelter, the American Red Cross is honored to work alongside NVADG, UC Davis VERT, Birch Valley Ranch Equestrian School, Californian state volunteers, and the Yuba-Sutter Amateur Radio Emergency Services to offer those fleeing the fire shelter, food, housing, and accommodations for their livestock.

The Red Cross is working hard to continue to partner with local organizations and broaden the resources available to those affect by the recent fire.

Story Written by Amy Fuente, American Red Cross volunteer

Thank You to Our Supporters, part 2

Thankfully, the deadly Camp Fire in California is now 100 percent contained. For nearly three weeks, the American Red Cross has been on the ground providing shelter, food, and comfort to those impacted by these devastating fires.

We want to recognize the following corporate partners for their significant financial support:IMG_5908

  • Citizen Vine
  • McClellan Business Park
  • Red Hawk Casino
  • Sacramento Consolidated Charities
  • Sundt Construction
  • UC Davis

These companies in addition to those previously listed (https://capitalcrosswords.com/2018/11/20/thank-you-to-our-supporters) enable our Red Cross volunteers to continue to walk side-by-side with Californians left reeling from the deadly wildfires, providing safe refuge, meals, health services, spiritual care and compassion throughout the holiday season.

Learn more, and see how you can help: https://www.redcross.org/about-us/news-and-events/news/2018/california-wildfires-red-cross-helps-as-thousands-evacuate.html

Fleeing family gets help from Red Cross

For five frantic hours, Sonya Butts worried about whether her husband and two youngsters had survived the raging wildfire that swept through Paradise, California and destroyed their home.

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Paradise, California, November 14, 2018: A wildfire went through the town of Paradise, California, destroyed hundreds of homes and leaving thousands homeless. Many residents found relief at Red Cross shelters set up to take care of them. Photo credit: Tony Briggs, American Red Cross.

She was at work when the evacuation order came to flee the approaching flames. She called husband Orin who told her he was leaving with their two dogs and that her grandmother Yvonne Tranah had her 4-year-old daughter Abby and her 3-year-old son Landyn with her.

That last thing she heard in the phone call with Orin as he pulled out of the driveway was that the house was going up in flames and there was nothing that could be saved.

Sonya, meanwhile, was stuck in traffic and cell service wasn’t working so she couldn’t reach Orin by phone and could only worry. They had agreed to meet at a store parking lot in Chico. After a couple of hours of driving, she arrived, but all she could do was wait for the rest of the family and hope they were safe and well.

Fear raced through her mind like the fire through their home. Questions repeated themselves and wouldn’t stop. Did they make it? Are they all right? Where are they?

“I didn’t know if they got out or not and all I could do was worry. However, it was so awesome when they all got there. It was so relieving,” she recalled as tears filled her eyes retelling the story at a Red Cross shelter in Chico.

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Chico, California, November 14, 2018: Sonya Butts reads to her daughter Abby, age 4, and son Landyn, age 3, at a Red Cross shelter in Chico, California. The family was reunited at the shelter after they fled the wildfire that destroyed their home in Paradise. Photo credit: Carl Manning, American Red Cross.

The family once reunited arrived at the shelter set up at a school and Sonya said they were overwhelmed by the outstretched arms of welcome they all received from the Red Cross volunteers.

They were able to get fresh clothes that had been donated, a hot meal and a safe place to sleep.

After recalling that terrible day, Sonya gathered Abby and Landyn with her on her cot and read to them as she had before the fire.

“Everything that we need is here, and the most important thing is that we’re are all here together in a safe place,” she said. “You know, after being separated for those hours, being together in a safe place is very comforting.”

Story by Carl Manning, American Red Cross volunteer

Couple Faces Sad News with Hope 

Don Vassola and Myrtle Hovey are at the Red Cross shelter located at the Church of the Nazarene in Oroville. They are dealing with loss and sadness, yet they are hopeful. Both express their concern for the many new friends they have met here at the shelter who have lost their homes to the Camp Fire. 

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A few days ago, Don learned that he lost his 89-year-old grandmother, Maria. Don said his grandmother was devastated by the loss of the home that she shared with her husband in the town of Paradise.  

Don believes that when his grandmother realized the devastation she was facing, it was too much for her to bear. With her home in ashes, Maria began to wander and was lost for a few hours.  

Eventually, Maria made her way to a shelter. No one is quite sure how she got there. Luckily, Don’s grandfather managed to reunite with her. Sadly, by then, Don says his grandmother had given up all hope. Don’s grandfather tried to encourage Maria to eat a little food, but she refused and said, “I just want to go home.”  

Not long after, Maria passed away.  

Shortly after, Don’s grandfather was able to contact Don and Myrtle with the sad news. 

Though Don and Myrtle are having challenges of their own, they are praying for the many people around them who have lost so much. And they expressed their gratitude and appreciation to the many people who keep the Oroville Red Cross shelter up and running. 

We at the Red Cross, join Don and Myrtle in thanking all volunteers from around the country who have come together to provide shelter, food, and comfort to the many people in need.

Story and photo by Marlene Stamper, American Red Cross volunteer

We’re Here to Listen and Support

To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

On Thursday, November 8, the lives of an entire community changed forever. The small town of Paradise, California, was ravaged by a wildfire that moved so quickly and aggressively, that townspeople literally were forced to run for their lives. Countless stories have already been shared of terrified residents driving through flames, some being forced to abandon their cars and flee on foot. Sadly, many never made it to safety. 

Those who did make it out safely found refuge in the homes of friends, family and in shelters scattered through the communities of Oroville, Chico, and Gridley.  

But what happens now? How in the world do people who have lost everything and survive such terrifying experiences process such a disaster? How does anyone cope with such loss? 

TIPS_Were Here To Listen And Support“What we find in those who seek refuge in our Red Cross shelters are those who have no other place to go,” explained Steve Clavere, Mental Health Lead for the American Red Cross. Clavere and his fellow mental health volunteers are serving evacuees at all of the Red Cross shelters in the area. “We see folks who are dazed, in shock and at a loss as to what to do next.”  

As the death toll climbs and the names of the victims are released, the mood at the shelter and in the community changes. Reality is sets in and the hopes that loved ones made it out alive may fade.  

The Red Cross is sensitive to these changes and moves to provide more support for the residents of the community and particularly those still residing in the shelters.  

Support is also offered for the volunteers and staff, as the emotional toll of the disaster starts to take the form of “compassion fatigue,” Clavere said.  

Many volunteers responded to the call for help after just arriving home for a short time from Hurricane Michael and Florence. For some new volunteers, this may be their first disaster response. “The gravity of the experience can be overwhelming,” Clavere added. “We have volunteers with tremendous giving hearts, but they need support too.  We’re here to take care of our clients, but also our staff. We’re here to listen and support.” 

The American Red Cross has trained mental health and spiritual care staff on hand in our shelters for those in need. All services are free and confidential.   

Please reach out for help if you bothered continually by these warning signs: 

Thinking: A person may experience trouble concentrating, a preoccupation with the event, recurring dreams or nightmares. The event may bring back memories of past traumas and events or lead one to question their own spiritual beliefs. They may experience an inability to process the event, confusion, forgetfulness and difficulty problem-solving. 

Physical: One may experience headaches, fatigue, vague physical complaints with no apparent cause or their medical problems may seem to become worse.  Continued sleep disturbances. 

Emotional: There may be intense feelings of sadness or depression, irritability, anger, resentfulness, feelings of hopelessness or despair and feelings of guilt. One may feel unsure about the future and feel fearful or experience anxiety. 

Behavior: There may be changes in appetite, disturbances in sleep patterns, and withdraw from social activities or isolating themselves from friends or family. One may feel weepy and cry easily or become easily startled. Avoiding any reference to the tragedy or repeatedly talking about it and not being able to “turn it off” may happen. There may be increased conflict with family or friends. 

Young children may experience all these reactions and need to be heard when expressing their fears. They too, may withdraw, or act out.  Reassuring them that they are safe and are loved is important.   

For teens, all these feelings may be more intense. They may feel self-conscious about their emotional reactions and may appear indifferent to the event. Teens may want to be with their friends all the time or may withdraw from them and experience changes in their relationships. Performance in school may suffer, but this is usually only temporary.  They may have difficulty sitting still feeling they need to be moving and on the go more.  Teens may feel more intense anger, become highly self-critical or reactive to “authority.”  

All these feelings and reactions to traumatic events are normal. It takes time for these emotions and feelings to get better.  But if they don’t or if they intensify ask for help.  The American Red Cross has trained staff and volunteers on hand to help. 

To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

Photo and story by Michele Maki, American Red Cross volunteer

Say Hello to Mr. and Mrs. Driver, and Their Dog Brandy 

Elizabeth and John Driver had just 15 minutes to get out of their house before it was consumed by the Camp Fire. They escaped with just the clothes on their backs, and their special little friend, their dog, Brandy. 

 CLIENT_The Drivers Oroville2Mr. Driver spoke to me as Brandy snuggled in his jacket on this chilly afternoon at the Red Cross shelter, at the Church of the Nazarene, in Oroville. Mr. Driver proudly announced that Brandy is a “working dog,” not officially trained, but still, she’s a worker. Mr. Driver has blood sugar issues and Brandy wakes him up when she senses that Mr. Driver’s sugar levels are off. 

Mrs. Driver said after they escaped they were happy to find the Red Cross shelter. They didn’t have warm clothes, in fact, they had nothing. Once they arrived at the shelter, things started to look up a little for them. “The Red Cross is fantastic!,” Mrs. Driver said, “They fed us, they clothed us, they’ve been really wonderful.”  

Sadly, the Driver family is going through a lot. Their daughter also lost her home to the fire. She and her children are at a Red Cross shelter in Chico. But the Drivers have a potential plan and they are optimistic. Their son lives in Washington state, so they are considering making the move to Washington, once they get things taken care of here. 

The Drivers have given help to many people in need over the years, but this is the first time they have been in need. Mrs. Driver says it’s been very humbling. Yet, like so many here at the shelter, the Drivers are thankful that their family (including Brandy!) is safe.

Story and photos by Marlene Stamper, American Red Cross volunteer

From Hurricane to Wildfire, disaster response become personal for one Red Cross volunteer 

It was November 8, two days after American Red Cross disaster volunteer John Crepeau of Hollister, California, had returned from spending two weeks helping to feed people in communities devastated by Hurricane Michael. Word came that a wildfire was sweeping through the community of Paradise, California, where his sister lived across the street from his family’s vacation home. 

Red Cross volunteer John Crepeau took these photos of some of the devastation he saw in Florida after Hurricane Michael, just weeks before a home he owns in Paradise, California, was destroyed in the Camp Fire.  Photo courtesy Crepeau. 

“I’d never seen such destruction,” the 70-year-old retired aerospace quality control engineer said of what he’d seen in Mexico Beach and other Florida communities he had passed through in a Red Cross emergency response vehicle equipped to serve meals on the go. “Mexico Beach was basically eliminated,” he said, with boats strewn across what had been residential streets. “Sometimes I’d see the tile floor left,” and nothing else from a home, he said. “It was pretty eye-opening.”  

Those who were there cleaning up their community after the hurricane “were overjoyed to have someone bringing them a hot meal every day,” he said. “They really depend on us.”  

Crepeau said that he at first thought what had been named the Camp Fire would be put out long before it reached his family’s and his sister’s homes on the westerly side of Paradise near Chico. “They’ll get it under control,” he remembered thinking.  

Red Cross volunteer John Crepeau poses in a Red Cross emergency response vehicle equipped to serve hot meals on the go after a disaster. Photo courtesy John Crepeau.

His sister, who was deadly afraid of wildfires, had left town quickly after learning of the fire, grabbing a plastic tub she had earlier placed by her front door filled with documents she considered important, and her cat, Crepeau said.  

Days later, however, he and his sister found out from a Pacific Gas & Electric employee working in the area that their homes were gone. A video shot by a news crew on his street confirmed “there’s nothing there,” Crepeau said. 

So, while Crepeau had seen the devastation wrought by a wildfire on some of the six Red Cross assignments he’s been on in the two years since he became a Red Cross volunteer, Crepeau now knew more about what those he’s been helping go through.  

“I’d seen that type of destruction” in this summer’s Carr Fire in Redding, Crepeau said, describing seeing former neighborhoods that were now just ash, with an occasional fireplace or the remains of a car instead of suburban streets. 

“Now I understand much, much better what it’s like,” he said. “I was there, and I saw the aftermath, but I didn’t feel it firsthand.” 

The home where Crepeau’s family had celebrated years of “good family parties and reunions and dinners” and a treasured vintage Volkswagen Beetle are gone, but Crepeau said he feels lucky. 

“I still have a home,” in Hollister, he said. “I don’t feel anywhere as bad as I do for my sister-in-law,” he added. “I’m very lucky. I have my family. I have my wife, my kids,” he said.  

“It’s bad, but it could be worse, it could be this house.”  

Crepeau said he is also following the example of his sister and placing a bin by his front door filled with his important papers. “I’m going through my files,” he said. “We do have earthquakes down here.”  

After the experience, “I’m going to be a little more cognizant of being prepared,” Crepeau said. “It’s for real and it can happen anywhere.”  

Photos and story by Barbara Wood, American Red Cross volunteer

Shelter Resident Gets More Than A Cot 

When the wildfire raced through Paradise, California, Maureen Curtis had only a few minutes to flee her home with what few possessions she could grab and her two dogs, Buddy and Sparky.  

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Paradise, California, November 13, 2018: This view show the extensive damage the Camp Fire caused the town of Paradise, California where thousands were forced to flee in the face swift moving flames. Photo credit: Tony Briggs, American Red Cross.

She was awakened by the sound of electrical transformers exploding from the fire and her peaceful life in the mountain town quickly ended.  

Maureen set out on foot with her two dogs and was picked up and driven to safety having only the clothes on her back and wondering what to do next. 

For Maureen, what was next was the Red Cross shelter in Chico where volunteers welcomed her and her dogs with open arms. For the first time since the fire destroyed her home, Maureen felt safe and comfortable and grateful for the kinds words and hugs from the volunteers staffing the shelter. 

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Chico, California, November 13, 2018: Maureen Curtis plays with her two dogs, Sparky and Buddy, at a Red Cross shelter in Chico after a massive wildfire destroyed her home and most of her hometown of Paradise. Photo credit: Carl Manning, American Red Cross

“The Red Cross has been wonderful to me. I have received everything that I need every day,” she said, sitting on her cot playing with Buddy and Sparky. “Everyone has treated me with kindness and that means the world to me.” 

Maureen is among some 200 people in the shelter where they get more than a cot and blanket.

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A Red Cross volunteer talks to Maureen Curtis who is at a Red Cross shelter in Chico, California with her two dogs after a massive wildfire swept through her hometown of Paradise, destroying her home along with hundreds of others. Photo credit: Carl Manning, American Red Cross

In Maureen’s case, the Red Cross has made sure she has received all her medications from the health services volunteers at the shelter, many of whom are nurses or paramedics. 

Additionally, for shelter residents, there are spiritual care and mental health counselors available to talk to the residents. A place to charge cell phones also is available for those trying to call friends and family.  

Walking through the shelter entrance everyone is greeted by Red Cross volunteers. A volunteer registers each person, asking if there are any immediate needs such as a medical issue, injury or dietary concerns. 

A cot is provided each resident along with blankets and pillow. A volunteer will next conduct a shelter tour, explain meals times and go over shelter general rules. Ideally, the shelter supervisor will conduct a meeting each evening to provide updates and discuss any changes or new information to shelter residents. 

Over the course of a few days, strangers become friends and often the Red Cross volunteers and residents become like a family. 

The residents share their stories of loss and the volunteers take the time to listen and offer hope and comfort. It’s a moving experience for all. 

“It will rip the heart right out of you when you hear of their suffering and loss. But that’s why we’re here, to help those in need,” said shelter volunteer Mike Woods.

Written by Pamela Harris, American Red Cross volunteer