Warehouse Volunteer Spotlight: Mike Woods

One the critical parts of our mission is moving relief goods where they’re needed most. Mike Woods is currently a one-man team in Yuba City, getting supplies ready and shipped off to areas of the state where the Red Cross is helping people affected by wildfires.

If you’d like to volunteer to help Mike, or join the Red Cross in other capacities, please visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Disaster Mental Health Worker Spotlight: Brenda Benjamin

American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health workers like Brenda Benjamin provide valuable assistance to people who have been impacted by disasters like wildfires.

If you need mental or spiritual care assistance, or any other kind of assistance because you were affected by the wildfires, please call 1-800-RED CROSS.

‘What Do We Do Now?’ Finding Answers at the Local Assistance Center

By Peg Taylor, Red Cross Volunteer

When disaster strikes, the Red Cross and partners are quick to respond by providing evacuees with motel lodging, food and other support. However, once sheltered and safe, the common concern among evacuees is, “What do we do now? What’s next?”

There are often many questions about how to take the next steps needed to rebuild their homes and their lives.

Many of those questions can be answered at a Local Assistance Center (LAC). 

LACs are opened to assist people with recovery from disasters and provide a wide variety of services in one place. County, state and federal agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations, are available to assist residents with accessing information about homeowner’s insurance, steps to rebuilding their homes, community and social services, replacing vital records that may have been lost, and a number of other services.

The American Red Cross is an active participant at LACs and provides mental health services, health services, emotional and spiritual care, plus Individual Assistance funds for clients whose homes were destroyed or damaged.

For those who are allowed to return to their property to search for belongings, we also hand out wildfire kits that include heavy work gloves, tarps, rakes shovels, masks and other items needed to search through rubble.

Evacuees lined up early on September 22 at the LAC in Oroville which was opened to assist people affected by the North Complex West Zone. Many had recently evacuated from their homes in Berry Creek, a small, isolated community in the hills about 20 miles up the mountain from Oroville.

The look of disbelief was clear on the faces of the people lined up to receive help. The Red Cross had provided motel lodging and meals to many in line, but they were housed in cities across the region and had lost contact with others from their community.

They used the time in line to catch up with neighbors from Berry Creek and shared stories and information about what was still standing in their community. They grieved the loss of their little town as they learned of destroyed buildings and businesses.

Evacuees told stories of leaving their homes in the middle of the night with little warning. One man recalled having to lie in a creek while the fire storm burned over the top of him. Others told stories of rescuing people who were stranded with no transportation.

Rickie described his hilltop home as “tranquility at its finest” and apologized for crying. He and his uncle were only alive because they took shelter in a 5,000-gallon water tank on his property while the fire burned through. His home was destroyed, and Rickie was interested in gathering information from agencies at the LAC that will help him learn how to rebuild is home and his life.

Nyda, a long-time resident, spoke of leaving the home her father had built 50 years ago and described the beautiful woodwork and stained glass in the home. The home is gone now, but Nyda is relieved to still have a water supply and is hoping to rebuild.  She was unsure if her insurance would cover the total cost of rebuilding and hoped to get some answers and guidance during her visit to the LAC.

As they left the LAC, evacuees indicated that many of their questions had been answered and they felt more at ease that they would be able to eventually get back on their feet.  They picked up wildfire kits from the Red Cross truck and returned to their motel lodging, ready to take the next steps necessary to move forward with their lives.

It is due to the generosity of donors that the Red Cross can assist people during some of their darkest days. The Red Cross and communities across northern California thank our donors for their generous support.

If you would like to support Red Cross disaster response efforts, please visit redcross.org/donate to make a donation.

A Small Celebration of Togetherness, in Emergency Lodging with So Much Lost to Fires

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Mary Ford said today’s lunch delivered by the American Red Cross to her evacuation hotel room would be a celebratory one.

Her son was alive.

And she was lucky to be able to report back to friends that she was alive, too.

“That’s the best thing that’s happened out of this whole mess,” Ford said, welling up with tears.

When fires swept through her community of Berry Creek, Calif., in early September, Ford received the alarm on her phone to evacuate. This wasn’t like the other warnings in the past weeks or even past years. These were flames scorching straight toward her home.

American Red Cross volunteer Mike Woods brings lunch to Mary Ford, who has had to evacuate her home of 40 years in Berry Creek after recent wildfires.

In the hurry to leave, she grabbed what she could for the next few days, still thinking that she’d be able to return soon to the home she built and powered off-the-grid for the past four decades. She had a new cell phone she was just getting used to and her van had enough gas to get away from the encroaching smoke and heat.

A few days in, it became clear this fire wasn’t like the others, not for Berry Creek or numerous other communities all along the West Coast. Scraps of updates on fire and damage came her way from friends, though no word of her son, also a resident of that same community. For rest and resources, Ford came to a Temporary Evacuation Center and received evacuation lodging at a hotel, like more than 2,000 other people nightly by mid-September through the Red Cross and state agencies in California.  

Ford’s move into a hotel was nearly two weeks ago. On Sept. 20, Ford – with wise eyes and a giving voice – remained unsure on the status of her home and property, where she raised her family in “a beautiful place in the woods, in the hills, by a creek but up the highway from everything you need.” With a self-professed “hippie” spirit, Ford lauded Red Cross volunteer Mike Woods for the day’s lunch delivery, macaroni and cheese with ham and a side of fruit. And she proclaimed that it was a joyous meal during an anxious time, as Butte County Sheriff’s deputies had helped her connect with her son for the first time hours prior. Between the Red Cross, first responders, the hotel staff and her neighbors, Ford said she’s felt a stronger spirit of community even as the physical structures of her own neighborhoods remain in doubt.

“Everybody’s really come together,” Ford said. “That’s something I’ve known for a long time but now it’s real to me. … It’s like faith,” she said, later adding, “All of these places, we’re in this as one.”

Mary herself was roaming after the fire. She stayed in a van for the first few days, thinking evacuation orders may be lifted, that the damage may miss her street. Meanwhile, friends were reaching out to try to find “Merry Mary,” as she’s casually known to friends. Mary, dealing with pain from her work as a home healthcare provider, found her way to a Temporary Evacuation Point opened early on in the evacuations in Butte County. From that contact, she was able to resituate into a hotel, one where many of her Berry Creek neighbors were also staying. And once there, Red Crossers were able to connect Mary with those loved ones, unsure of her whereabouts. (Find out more about our Safe & Well reconnection resources here.)

One of many roadside fire and burning warning signs in Butte County, just downhill from a Berry Creek community that has seen some of the worst from September’s deadly fires.

As for where and what is next for Berry Creek, the place she built and made her own, with family and friends since the early 1970s? Ford is buoyed by recent reconnections though she has also received difficult updates. A beloved kitten, Nickelodeon, perished, as did a rooster and chickens. In pictures shared among neighbors from a firefighter who had been into the affected community, Ford can make out a shed that was once her daughter’s playhouse and a pile of items to disposed of in winter. Other than that, from her property, she said: “As far as I know, that’s all that’s down there.”

Your generosity continues to directly help thousands of people evacuated by wildfires in northern California and all along the West Coast. Thank you for considering a gift to support people in need from the Western wildfires.

Wildfire Evacuee Thanks Red Cross Volunteers: ‘U Have No Idea’

By Stephanie Gaito, Volunteer

On Monday night, August 17, Margaret Grant received an after-hours call from her insurance agent. Evacuation warnings had been issued for the North Complex fires near Susanville, but she was waiting for more information.

Once the phone rang, Grant knew the call from her agent must be urgent, and she was correct. The agent urged her to immediately evacuate the home she shared with her fiancé and parents. Their property was in danger as the fire rapidly headed in their direction.

Grant and her fiancé, Rick Duckworth, moved six years ago to rural Susanville from Southern California to help her parents care for their family home and surrounding property. That Monday when they were evacuated, her family’s safety was the main concern. As each family member headed to a safe destination, her worries were put to rest.

“As long as my parents are safe with my brothers, Rick and I would have slept in our car and done whatever we needed to do,” Grant said.

Grant and Duckworth used their own resources to cover the expense of staying two nights at the Diamond Mountain Casino in Susanville. They didn’t want to bother anyone or use resources for others in need.

“At that point, it has been over two days, and we had pretty much run out of funds” she explained. “We didn’t know what we were going to do. Later that day, a lady called and asked if we had eaten, and at that point we hadn’t,” she explained through tears. “She called and took care of our food and she has called and checked on us every single day since.”

The woman who called Grant was a Red Cross volunteer, and she Textmade sure to take care of the family’s needs. The Red Cross assisted by covering additional nights at the hotel and by providing meal tickets and vouchers to Grant and her fiancé so their stay was as safe and hassle free as possible.

Grant and her family had made considerable efforts to protect their home from wildfire, including maintenance of defensible space and adding fire suppression tanks to the property. When asked if there was anything she would recommend to those looking to protect their homes, maintaining well equipment was high on her list. She said to make sure all equipment has been serviced and maintained to ensure sufficient water pressure, as this could save your home.

“I’m just grateful for the firefighters up here. Between the Red Cross and the firefighters, we would have lost our house if it wasn’t for them.”

If you would like to support Red Cross disaster relief efforts, visit redcross.org.

Paws-itively the purr-fect partners

Furry Friends + Red Cross raise the ruff!

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

When disaster strikes, a furry friend can afford tremendous comfort to a family, and most pet owners do consider their pets to be part of their family. Keeping them together, therefore, necessitates being able to keep owners and pets as close as possible.

For Camp Fire survivors, there was room to shelter their pets immediately across from the men’s and women’s dorms in the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds. While known for sheltering people, the American Red Cross turns to partner agencies to assist with pets.

Operating the temporary shelter and keeping the pets healthy is the responsibility of Furry Friends Pet Relief from Antioch.  Founded by Erin Piña of Oakley, California, Furry Friends began helping in mid-December and took over operation of the shelter on Christmas Eve.

A visiting veterinarian, Dr. Lauren Knobel, has been stopping in and helping set protocols to assure each animal is healthy and up to date on their shots.

Presently, the shelter is still housing over 30 pets, including dogs, cats, and birds. Assisting is shelter manager, Morgan Macy, of Yuba City, who has been here since the shelter first opened. “Thankfully, I can now say that all our dogs are happy and healthy again, and back in general population,” explains Macy.

The shelter is set up in a large A-frame building with dozens of cages of varying sizes. Birds and cats to the left and most dogs to the right. The exceptions are three pups and their mom, just to the left of the reception table.

Stealing the show are the three, fluffy, Alaskan Malamute pups, born on Halloween, shown here with (L-R) Morgan Macy, Grady Grammar and Demetra Poulos.

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If you are a cat person, then you are going to love Dinky, held here by Piña. She’s super friendly, and a crowd favorite.

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The shelter’s hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. each day and owners are encouraged to spend time with their pets whenever feasible. “If it were me,” says Macy, “I’d be spending as much time as possible with mine. They are suffering just like their owners, and they need to work together as the family members they are.”

If owners can’t walk their dogs daily, one of up to 20 volunteers takes care of walking each animal, three times each day.  Large fenced enclosures enable the dogs to play catch or run freely for exercise.

One owner, Dustin Lee, (R) enjoys playing around with his Pitbull, Hitch. “I got him about a month ago from the local humane society, and we love to horse around together,” says Lee. They enjoy having space outside where Hitch can run free in the enclosure.

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Presently seven AmeriCorps volunteers from San Jose are also assisting Piña and Macy with feeding, watering, walking and cleaning cages. Here every day, the volunteers work from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

Shelter residents, as well as Red Cross workers, have been extremely complimentary about the pet shelter, and Furry Friends hopes to work with Red Cross again on future disaster responses that include pet-sheltering operations.

“All is Not Lost”: A Carr Fire Survivor Shares Her Story

Los Angeles-based Red Cross volunteer Carmela Burke recently completed her deployment to the Carr Fire in Redding where she assisted the public affairs team. While there, she got the chance to interview Terry Zeller, a resident whose home burned in the fire.

But thanks to the help from firefighters and the support of friends and neighbors, Zeller said, “All is not lost.”

Read her story here.