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.

Published by

American Red Cross Gold Country Region

The American Red Cross Gold Country Region serves the Sierra-Delta Chapter as well as the Northeastern California Chapter, a total of 24 Counties from Stanislaus to Siskiyou. We are happy to serve the 4.4 million residents in the state.

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