Latino Engagement Team deployment reinforces the value of community connections

By Mariana Vimbela


The author surveys damage from the Glass Fire during her two-week deployment. (Photo courtesy of Mariana Vimbela)

As is seemingly the case with every disaster deployment, there was plenty for me and other Red Crossers to learn while taking part in the organization’s humanitarian response to the Glass Fire in Northern California this past October. During this particular deployment, I was regularly reminded of the importance of making connections in the affected communities in order to maximize our relief and recovery efforts.

This was especially important during this response, as the Red Cross began to push out our Immediate Assistance Program, providing financial support to the many people who lost their home or had it damaged because of the wildfires that hit this area of Northern California so hard beginning in mid-August.

As a bilingual employee, I deployed to Napa County for two weeks as a member of the organization’s Latino Engagement Team (LET), working to ensure that Red Cross services also reached the Hispanic communities where language and other barriers might impede the delivery of disaster-related support.

One Thursday afternoon during my deployment, my Red Cross and LET partner — Martha Rosende — and I returned to the Napa County town of Angwin to do community outreach at a local supermarket. There, someone recommended we attend a food bank taking place at Pacific Union College Church in town that same evening. One of the organizers of the food bank then suggested that we talk to the representatives of a clothing donation center in the nearby town of St. Helena.

When we arrived at the donation site, Rutherford Grange Hall, we met Tish Wagner, one of the organizers of the donation center. She immediately made phone calls that helped us enroll 5 people in the IAP program. During our conversation with Tish, she also told us that there was a great need for furniture for wildfire victims and how she had recently made contact with a local representative from Adventist Health. As it turned out, Adventist Health was working in partnership with Costco to not only supply furniture, but also other essential items for affected individuals and families. The plan, I was told, was that furniture and other items would be trucked into Napa County once a month, for the next 6-12 months.

Both Adventist Health and Rutherford Grange Hall are members of Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD), so many in the community would be able to learn about and benefit from this program.

Over breakfast the following morning, we also met Nicola Chipps, an interior designer who has a friend in San Francisco that runs a furniture bank. By chance, Nicola had a client who was considering what to do with a garage full of furniture. We told Nicola that Rutherford Grange Hall planned to help victims with donated furniture. We made sure we had Nicola’s contact information.

After returning to Rutherford Grange Hall, we told Tish about our encounter with Nicola and shared Nicola’s contact info. Tish called her right away, setting up a rendezvous at the Hall later in the day that also led to a connection with the organizer of an artist mentorship program.

As I returned home to the East Coast, where I reflected on this deployment, it became clear to me that so much of what we do — as illustrated in this post — is made better when Red Cross responders make an extra effort to network with existing or potential community partners.

This Latino Engagement Team deployment also illustrated for me the importance of doing our best to ensure that our Red Cross outreach actually reaches as many different communities as possible.


About the author: Mariana Vimbela is a Regional Events Specialist in the Greater Carolinas Region of the Red Cross.

About the Latino Engagement Team: Please see this description on The Exchange about the important role the team plays in Red Cross disaster relief operations.

For other stories related to the Red Cross’ recent wildfire responses in our region, please go to this site.