In Her Father’s Footsteps

Central Coast Chapter Volunteer of the Year Megan Erk says love of community led her to the American Red Cross 

By Marcia Antipa 

Megan during her 2020 deployment during Hurricane Cristobal in Texas

“Showing kindness and getting help to people that need it without regard to anything else – that is how I was brought up.” 

Megan Erk – the Volunteer of the Year for the Central Coast Chapter – credits her father for inspiring her dedication to the community. He was a military man who brought his daughter along on volunteer projects.  

“I kind of grew up in that environment where people just volunteered in the community to help out.”  

Now Megan is taking on multiple roles with the American Red Cross. From hurricanes to wildfires, from blood drives to blog articles, Central Coast Chapter CEO Michele Averill says Megan has more than earned her award. 

Megan and Michele Averill at a Red Cross blood drive

“Whenever I asked Megan to support a task, she never hesitated and was always there with the most positive attitude,” said Michele. “She has our Red Cross mission in her heart.” 

Megan received what she calls a “trial by fire” in 2011 when she deployed with the Red Cross to Hurricane Irene in New York. She started in staff services but quickly received a “battlefield promotion,” feeding clients out of an Emergency Response Vehicle. 

Megan describes the scenes from that deployment as “heartbreaking.” 

“The owners of animals had placed food and water out on their front porches of their destroyed homes, hoping that their pets had survived.” 

Megan says she was touched by how the communities pulled together. 

“Some of the towns we were in were cut off for over a week,” Megan recalled “No traffic could get in or out because of really bad mudslides, and so these church groups or Rotary Clubs went in before anybody else could even get in and helped feed people.” 

Ten years later – as a seasoned Red Cross Volunteer – Megan responded to disasters once again. The August 2020 CZU Lightning Complex fires destroyed more than 86,500 acres of land and 1,500 structures in Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties. In January of 2021, potential mudslides in the burned-over area prompted new evacuations. 

Megan spent both incidents working 18-hour days with government partners in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to provide services to evacuees.  A retired forensic anthropologist, Megan says working closely with law enforcement during her career gave her skills that she used during the fires and mudslide activities. 

“You have to collect and analyze data and then get the right information to the right people to make sure that we get service to our clients.” 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, during the fires and mudslide preparations, the Red Cross placed people in hotels instead of group shelters.  

“People were scattered to the winds during the fire, so we had people from the Santa Cruz Mountains that were sheltered in hotels in San Francisco, because there just wasn’t enough capacity locally,” said Megan  “Partnering with all our governmental partners to make sure that the services got to them was a pretty big lift.” 

Now Megan is taking on another “big lift” with the Red Cross – External Relations Lead for the Pacific Division, which covers 10 regions spread across the Western U.S.  

“Right now, we’re trying to build capacity, to get people trained to be able to be ready to deploy ahead of hurricane and wildfire season.” 

As she begins this massive task, Megan says she is “just feeling so very fortunate to be in a place and a time in my life where I’m able to give back to a community that I love, and to be of service to our country is so important.” 

Thank you for your service, Megan, and congratulations on your award! 

About the author: Marcia Antipa is a public affairs volunteer with the North Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross.