Red Cross is Music to My Ears

Written by Patricia Friedman

Dennis at his house. Photo | Dennis Patterson

Dennis Patterson’s first love is playing music, but his second is helping others, so he was “blown away” by the American Red Cross’ response to the California Wildfires.

A Santa Cruz local since 1952, 72-year old Dennis, and many in his small community of Ben Lomond, didn’t realize the size of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, which to-date has consumed more than 86,000 acres. Dennis was already overwhelmed and in shock from a horizontal tornado that days earlier, had swept through his neck of the woods, knocking a 100-foot Sycamore tree onto his tiny house. “I can’t describe it. I couldn’t even breathe when I got out the door,” Dennis told friends who came to help at daylight.

Unable to do much until he found a tree removal service, Dennis decided to keep busy and focus on his work as a chauffeur for a children’s hospice organization driving infants with leukemia and their caregivers to doctor’s appointments in San Francisco. Three days later, his 80-year old neighbor and an emergency mobile app alerted Dennis that it was time to evacuate.

His neighbor took her cats and headed to the Red Cross Shelter at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, but Dennis pitched a tent in a friend’s backyard near the beach. However, he quickly realized that as a person with diabetes, it was challenging to keep his insulin and food chilled safely. Three days later, with no end to the fires, Dennis moved again to a temporary house farther south in Aptos. He only had four days of hospitality there before he would need to find a place to pitch his tent again if he couldn’t go home.

When you get evacuated, “You don’t have any idea how long it’s going to be,” he said, “That was nerve-racking.”

It was then that Dennis heard some good news from a friend about the Red Cross’ protocol for the pandemic. He told Dennis, “They (Red Cross) have everything you need: water, food, tents. We even got a hotel room.” That was music to his ears!

Dennis said, “I was blown away by the organization and quality of service. I have more respect for the Red Cross (now) than I have in my life. When you hear about it, you don’t know until you experience it. They were amazing.”

From a warehouse full of emergency supplies to showers, food, water, and toiletries, the Red Cross provided Dennis with everything he needed. Services included specialty food to match his diet, referrals for other services, and, most importantly, a hotel room with a fridge for his medicine. As a high-risk candidate for COVID 19, this was what Dennis needed the most.

“All I can say is THANK YOU!” Dennis repeated over and over again. “What Red Cross offered me I thought was phenomenal,” he gushed, “I was lacking for nothing.”

Six days after sheltering with the Red Cross and over 2-1/2 weeks of being displaced, Dennis was finally able to return home. The good news is that he found his tiny house still standing, complete with the Sycamore tree on top. All there is to do now is fix the roof. He said that the Red Cross helped with everything else.

Dennis knew the American Red Cross was an organization for people in need during national disasters, yet he never imagined he would see it up close and personal. “I am glad I did. I can’t say enough good things about the Red Cross. Every volunteer I met was amazing. Every time I look and read those words, ‘Red Cross,’ it has a golden shimmer.”

Patricia Friedman is a volunteer with the American Red Cross from NW Washington.