Red Crosser takes charge of in-kind donations at Napa Valley College shelter

By Mauri Shuler

volunteer story_tamara_jones2Every disaster response needs a Tamara Jones.

When disasters strike, Americans are generous and caring. They want to help, so they freely donate goods such as clothes and household items. Sometimes the donations are overwhelming to the evacuation shelter staff as they are focused on the residents being displaced. Shelter volunteers focus on providing comfort, getting residents settled, and ensuring they are made as comfortable as possible. The California wildfires were no exception, as the in-kind donations came pouring in from neighbors and surrounding communities.

As residents in Napa Valley were evacuated from their homes, shelters began to receive donations almost as quickly as residents. The generosity was so great that the Napa Valley Community College, which was hosting one shelter, called their coaches to determine where the donations should be sorted, stored, and distributed, turning the sports facility into an intake area.

Then a blessing named Tamara Jones showed up. With the skills of a gentle drill sergeant, she enlisted a bunch of college students to help accept the donations, sort them into rooms by category, then by subcategory. She maintained order and organization even as more and more donations arrived.

Tamara was relentless in her insistence that the items be sorted, boxed, and carefully labeled as fast as possible. On the first day she organized her volunteers. By the second day she had them all wear black T-shirts so she could identify them easily. She got walkie-talkies from the college to be able to quickly communicate throughout her operation.

“I knew,” she said, “this was going to end and we would have to move all of this stuff out of the college.” After all the shelter residents were given a chance to take what they needed, the remaining stacks of the carefully labeled boxes began to be moved out for distribution to local charities.

“My plan was to make sure that when the evacuation orders were lifted, we would be ready to send these people home with anything and everything they needed,” she said. “I have a plan to make sure all of the rest gets distributed in this community.”

Tamara hit the phone, calling animal shelters, churches, nonprofits and anyone else she and her volunteers could think of. She told them when to come with their trucks and was ready for them. As they pulled into the parking lot, her volunteers loaded the cars and trucks with what they needed and sent them on their way. It was a sight to behold in its swift, efficient distribution of supplies.

The Campus Police Chief Ken Arnold said, “How can you ask for more than that? It lifted a burden from the college and from the Red Cross, and she provided a great life lesson for those kids.”

Her “honeys,” as she called them (because she can’t remember names and just calls everyone Honey) were eager to talk about her.

Dalia Contrera said, “She’s a great role model. She’s the first one here in the morning and the last one out.”

Math and computer science major Pedro Acosta added, “Tamara is just an amazing person. She put a lot of hard work, time, and energy into helping people cope during these hard times. And, she’s helping people help others. That means a lot to me.”

Tamara is a true example of the partnership and help the Red Cross receives and welcomes from the community members in its mission to alleviate suffering.


  • Lori Wilson provided editorial support to this story.