Andrea Allman and my life lesson

By Ellis Levinson

Andrea Allman interview by Ellis LeWhen I met Andrea Allman at the Red Cross Community Assistance Center in Santa Rosa this month, I expected to learn how the Tubbs wildfire affected her emotionally. I didn’t expect to learn a personal lesson.

Andrea, 50, her boyfriend Jerry McNally, his sister Meara, and their two pugs had been renting a three-bedroom home in a nice neighborhood. The rent was reasonable, and she liked her landlord.

Then, late on Sunday, October 8, howling winds blasted the roof off the home’s sunroom. That was a portent of what was to come. By the time they realized the distant flames were headed their way, it was too late to salvage their most treasured possessions.

While I asked simple questions, Andrea answered in minute detail. She needed to have someone listen to her story. Red Cross volunteers like me know that sometimes we have to be there for others in ways we never anticipated. So I listened intently as Andrea recounted how they waited too long, and when they realized that destruction was imminent they did not know what to grab first.

“I got out with dog stuff … toys, a brush, food,” she said. Panic prevented them from triaging their priorities. Her CD and vinyl record collection; her grandmother’s dishware and kitchen tools; Jerry’s 1966 El Camino; and her most-prized heirloom, a 1973 Volkswagen Beetle her parents handed down to her — all were now gone.

The loss of things with strong emotional connections has been the most traumatic for her. Where could she find a nice home at a reasonable rent? No chance in Sonoma County. “I feel that it’s all hopeless,” she said through her tears. So I listened. Never had compassion in the wake of disaster been so profoundly personal for me.

“It will get better,” I replied, expressing what I truly believed. “You lost things, but they are only things. You still have Jerry and Meara and the dogs. And that’s what’s really important.”

When our conversation was over I reached out to shake Andrea’s hand. She would have none of it. She gave me a hug as if we were old, close friends.

The lesson I learned is that as Red Cross volunteers our mission is broader than we think; and that if we open our hearts to those in need, there’s no telling how we may help.


Beth Eurotas and Jim Burns provided editorial support for this story.