Paying it forward

arc 420x279On January 24, 2018, Alan Freberg and Laura Bellizzi were running errands only to return to their apartment and find that their home of twenty-five years had burned down. “There were ten fire engines…there had been an electrical surge,” remembers Laura.

Laura and Alan had no prior experience with the American Red Cross. “The Red Cross was there immediately,” explains Laura. “They gave us blankets and kept offering us food…It was kind of drizzling out, and I was shaking. I finally told them I don’t need another blanket, I’m not cold. I’m shaking because my house just burned down,” Laura recalls.

The Red Cross placed Laura and Alan in a hotel for a few nights, but the most significant impact the organization made was to provide a roadmap when the structure of their life had evaporated. “They gave us guidance when we were unable to put things together for the first forty-eight hours,” reflects Laura. “They were very calming and very efficient.”

Beyond blankets and a place to stay, what stood out most to Alan and Laura was that the Red Cross could help navigate this unknown and overwhelming situation. From minute details – like advising them to write everything down because people often forget specifics when they experience shock – to a broader look ahead, Laura says the Red Cross “gave us a lot of good advice…we did everything they told us to do…and we vowed we would try to repay them.”

Inspired by their interaction, Alan and Laura sold a family heirloom: a vintage accordion. They donated the proceeds to the Red Cross. “We’re beyond grateful,” says Laura.

In their attempt to repay the Red Cross for their support, they paid it forward. Because of their donation, the Red Cross can continue to serve as a pillar for someone else when their life is unexpectedly reduced to ash.

Sarah Ward is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.