“I Want To Do That!”

Bay Area Clara Barton Honoree Uses her Journalism Skills To Tell The Red Cross Story

Barbara Wood on assignment in Bayou Gauche Island, Louisiana during Hurricane Ida in September 2021.

Barbara Wood is a longtime American Red Cross volunteer from San Mateo County.  She was recently given the Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership for the Red Cross Bay Area Chapter.  It’s the highest honor of volunteer achievement at the chapter level.

Barbara says she was inspired by her aunt Vinnie Bieberdorf, a Red Cross volunteer for more than 50 years.  “She responded after (Hurricane) Katrina, she was managing a mega-shelter. She responded after 9/11. She did all of these things and I said ‘I want to do that!’”

Barbara is a retired professional newspaper reporter, who has served in many positions with the Red Cross.  Now, she is a public affairs volunteer, reporting on the Red Cross efforts to help those affected by wildfires, floods, tornadoes and other disasters.

The Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region Communications Director Cari Dighton says, “She has 30 total deployments under her belt, and she continually brings that knowledge back to the region – co-instructing courses, mentoring our new communications volunteers … and writing multiple, heartwarming stories per year.”

Barbara and her husband raised three children in San Mateo County.  She joined the Red Cross in 2006, volunteering for work close to home.  Once her youngest child had her driver’s license, Barbara began volunteering for the Red Cross at disasters across the country.

Her first deployment was to Hurricane Ike, a powerful cyclone that hit Texas in 2008.  She remembers the camaraderie of living and working with first responders and other community partners in Texarkana and on Galveston Island. 

“There was a huge mess tent where you’d go through a cafeteria line and there was a massive amount of food because firefighters eat a lot. The National Guard was there, there were firefighters and utility workers, and the Salvation Army.”

Barbara’s deployments have taken her all over California and the U.S.

Barbara embraces wildfire shelter residents during the Oak Fire response in Central California, July 2022. Photo by Sivani Babu/American Red Cross

“I went to Santa Rosa after the Tubbs fire. I was in Oroville after the Camp Fire, and in 2018, they were looking for volunteers to go to Hawaii so I got permission from my job to go after the volcano erupted on the Big Island of Hawaii.”

Barbara says she loved working in the shelters and providing other services to those affected by disasters – but as a professional journalist, she realized her skills could be better put to use in Public Affairs.

“She proudly tells everyone she knows that her ‘volunteer job’ is being a Red Cross storyteller,” says Dighton.  “She is incredibly talented and travels all over our region and across the country to support the Red Cross mission.”

This hard working journalist and volunteer combined her two loves: professional writing and helping others. After every deployment, Barbara would write a firsthand account in the form of a column about her Red Cross experiences for her newspaper. On her deployment to Hawaii, she met a group of USGS experts from Menlo Park. “I called my editor and said, ‘Can I stay an extra three days if I write a story about this USGS geologist who is a volcano specialist and I’ll have a story for you?’ So they let me do that.”

Barbara has brought her sharp journalism skills to multiple disaster deployments, writing stories about volunteers and shelter clients. She illustrates her articles and social media posts with her own thoughtful, heartwarming photos.

Eventually, Barbara retired from journalism, but not from her volunteer job as a Red Cross storyteller.  “When I think back over my life about things I’ve done as a reporter, and things I’ve done with the Red Cross, I think the Red Cross things are in many ways more memorable.”

Barbara tears up as she remembers her experiences.

“I sometimes say I think the Red Cross is kind of like a placebo. When you show up someplace, people say “oh look, it’s the Red Cross! And they instantly feel better before we do anything. And whatever we can do to help them, we do.”

Barbara urges anyone who wants to make a difference to volunteer for the Red Cross. “It doesn’t matter what your skills or interests are; there’s a Red Cross job for everybody.”

As this article was written, Barbara was already off on her next deployment: the Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park in Central California.  Once again, she is telling the stories of the Red Cross volunteers and the people they help.

Please click on the links below to read just a handful of Barbara’s remarkable Red Cross stories:

Two Bartons: Red Cross founder inspired young relative