“I’m here to help, and I care.”
Margot Simpson, Alameda County Volunteer of the Year
By Marcia Antipa
Margot Simpson has responded to hundreds of house and apartment fires in more than a dozen years as a Red Cross volunteer. One of those Disaster Action Team (DAT) calls happened on a summer day at a 12-unit apartment building in Oakland.
“The residents were all standing outside; they were not all friendly with each other, so it was kind of a tense situation.”
Margot acted quickly, rallying her Red Cross trainees to gather information and hand out comfort kits filled with toiletries.
“It got interesting because two of the residents almost came to blows arguing out in front of the building. I had to step up to them and say ‘Look, we’ll leave and nobody gets help if you two don’t stop.’ So they did.”
Margot is a passionate responder and a Team Leader who trains and supervisors new volunteers.
“I really like being able to give people some services right then and there – being able to help people with their immediate needs right away.”
Margot responds to fires at houses, apartment buildings and, more and more frequently, to homeless encampments.
“Sometimes they have neighbors come out and offer water and blankets and take care of them until we get there. But all too often, no neighbors come out, and they’re just standing there by themselves, and they really need somebody to come up and say, ‘I’m here for you, and I’m here to help, and I care.’”
Cameron Bochman, the Disaster Program Manager for Alameda County, says “I don’t think Margot has ever said to me ‘maybe next time.’ It’s always ‘yep, when do you need me? I’m coming.’”
During the recent heavy rains and flooding, Cameron says Margot drove an hour from her home to Oakland to help four people stranded in the storm.
“Their RV was flooded up past the wheels, and they were just huddled up under the overpass in the pouring rain. It’s pretty chilly outside, and I just see Margot with her iPad, taking everybody in, entering all their information into the system and giving them the financial assistance.”
Margot also has responded to large disasters, including the devastating 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa.
“The first night, I was responsible for two shelters at the fairgrounds and the shelter at the Veterans Memorial Building across the street. I had to run back and forth between the three shelters all night long.”
Margot says she likes to get creative in the shelters, finding ways to make people feel comfortable.
“A 10-year-old was having his birthday, so I went to the local Safeway and bought a big sheet cake and had them write Happy Birthday on it and we all had a birthday party!”
Cameron Bochman calls Margot a “superhero.”
“She is so gung ho, and so willing to do whatever it takes to help people out when they need it. She goes out to DAT calls in the middle of the night probably three or four times a week, and then she goes to her full-time job after that.”
Margot is a deaf and hard of hearing specialist, working with about 70 students in the Hayward schools. Along with that “day job,” and responding to DAT calls, Margot also trains new Red Cross volunteers. She has one big piece of advice for those newbies:
“Do whatever training you can get, because you never know where you might be needed when a disaster strikes.”
Thank you, Margot, for all that you do for the Red Cross!
About the author: Marcia Antipa is a public affairs volunteer with the North Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross.