Helping communities come back together

By Debbi Behrman

John in full Red Cross attire.

The American Red Cross of the North Bay honored John McMahon with their Solano Volunteer of the Year Award at their annual recognition event on October 20, 2020. John has volunteered with the Red Cross since 2012 in many roles. He currently serves as the Solano County Red Cross Mass Care Coordinator, where his primary responsibility is to keep Solano County ready to respond to disasters.

“John has always displayed an open and helpful attitude to all volunteers, no matter if they are brand new or a veteran volunteer,” says Marcia Antipa, a communications volunteer with the Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region. “John has exhibited his leadership skills during so many of our activities. Fire, floods, hurricanes, you name it, John has seen it all!”

John’s most recent “boots on the ground” assignment found him managing the shelter at the Santa Cruz County Fair Grounds during the recent DEER Complex wildfires in Northern California. He also assisted at the Temporary Evacuation Point in Vacaville at the Ulatis Community Center when fires sent residents fleeing in the middle off the night.

“Disaster is a great equalizer,” says John. “People may be separated by socio-economics, cultural differences, etc., but when a disaster hits, everyone finds themselves at the same level.”

John’s extensive contributions go beyond managing shelters during wildfires, amid a pandemic. He logged ample time in shelter management during numerous hurricanes, beginning with Hurricane Sandy in New York, then on to others including (but not limited to!) Irma, Florence, Matthew, Dorian, and most recently, Isaias. For Isaias, John headed to Maryland. Volunteers had met the sheltering needs, but damage assessment needs had grown, so he assessed both Maryland and Delaware’s wind and water damage. “My primary [work] is in damage assessment,” John said. He helped with floods in Wisconsin and Louisiana as well.

Volunteering for the Red Cross is a family affair for John. His partner, Jody Kimbrel, is the Disaster Chair for Solano County, and together they handle a number of Disaster Action Team responses in the Vacaville area, along with other regional volunteers.

“It’s humbling to get this award because there are so many great volunteers in this region,” John explains.

What does John like most about his volunteer work with the Red Cross? “I like knowing that we are helping people and seeing the appreciation in the smiles on the clients’ faces,” he says. “It’s great to see communities come back together even stronger after a disaster.”

Debbi Behrman is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.