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.
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.
“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.
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