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. 

CLIENT_Don and Myrtle Oroville

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

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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. 

VOLUNTEER_ARC John Crepeau2
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.  

VOLUNTEER_ARC John Crepeau1
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.  

Shelter Resident Gets More Than A Cot3
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. 

Shelter Resident Gets More Than A Cot1
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.

Shelter Resident Gets More Than A Cot2
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 

Thank you to our Supporters

Since the Camp Fire, the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California history, began on Thursday, November 8th, Red Cross volunteers along with community partners have been working around the clock to make sure evacuated families are safe and comfortable. 227001-05-CA-Wildfires-2018-Infographics-Nov19-1200x630-FINAL

We are forever grateful for everyone who has donated and those who continue to donate to support Red Cross relief efforts for the California Wildfires. These donations will help provide crucial services to those affected. We want to recognize the following corporate partners for their significant financial support:

  • Alfred Mathews Cadillac
  • AT&T
  • Bell Brothers
  • Blue Diamond Growers
  • Chase Chevrolet
  • DH Construction
  • Genovese Burford & Brothers
  • Golden 1 Credit Union
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • Markstein Beverage Company
  • Nugget Markets
  • Rabobank
  • Roseville Automall
  • Sacramento Kings
  • Sutter Health
  • Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuks, Black Oak Casino Resort
  • Wells Fargo

Thanks to all our donors, we were able to mobilize immediately and work with our remarkable partners to provide safe refuge, meals, health services, spiritual care and comfort to our fellow Californians. Our response continues. Learn more, and see how you can help: https://rdcrss.org/2yZaQ1K 

Getting to “Yes!” 

Getting to Yes
Red Cross volunteer Susan Parks continues to go above and beyond for every person seeking the help of the American Red Cross. Here, she is working in our Reunification Program, reuniting families separated by the disaster unfolding in Northern California.

When Joanne Alvis arrived at the Red Cross shelter located at the Butte County Fairgrounds, she had the clothes on her back and was understandably distraught. Alvis, a longtime resident of Paradise, had barely escaped with her life from the deadliest wildfire in California history.   

She had found safety for a few days in a local hotel but the manager wanted her out, thinking she wouldn’t be able to pay her bill. She sought help at the shelter and was then invited to register on the Red Cross Safe and Well website.  

It was after Alvis registered on the site that Red Cross volunteer Susan Park noticed Alvis becoming more upset and agitated. Park’s five years as a Red Cross caseworker and experience as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) Lead kicked in.  

She asked questions and thought about solutions. “I then realized that Ms. Alvis had no phone. As I probed further, asking if she had contacted her insurance company, she started to weep.”  

Alvis said that she didn’t know what she was going to do and didn’t know where to start. She had no phone and felt lost.  

That’s when Park took action. “As I reached for a box of tissues for her, I decided that she should use my phone.” That decision may raise some eyebrows, but to Park, this was a must. 

As Park explained, “There was no way anything was going to happen without a phone for her, and I remembered our saying in the Red Cross about working to “get to yes.” 

Little did Park realize that this simple act of kindness would transform Alvis’ world. Within hours Alvis had a conversation with her insurance company that provided her with a week and a half at a hotel and thus bringing her much needed peace and relief. 

Park beamed with contentment. “That move to ‘yes’ makes me feel so good. I could see how that small act made a big difference in someone’s life,” she said. “It brought this one person from disaster relief to the first steps in disaster recovery.”   

As Park turned to greet the next person entering the shelter, she smiled, “I really love volunteering for the Red Cross.”

Photo and story by Michele Maki, Red Cross volunteer