Volunteering for the Red Cross: a life-changing experience

Volunteers from all over the country are working together, providing food, shelter and relief supplies to those affected by severe weather across California. Many are experienced volunteers and have deployed several times. But some joined the Red Cross not so long ago and are on their first deployment. This experience can be both challenging and  life-changing, and it’s a great opportunity to find mentorship and build camaraderie. 

Here are some of their stories: 

Photo by Barbara Wood / American Red Cross

Kevin Wiramihardja: “I want to make the world better” 
Kevin Wiramihardja started volunteering for the American Red Cross in Boston in January, but by mid-March he had already found himself in California, ready to go to work in a shelter for those displaced by the series of storms that have been slamming the state.   
As he waited to be assigned to a shelter Kevin, who is in his 30’s, explained his real passion is to try to figure out how organizations and businesses can improve their communications.  To that end, he has taken a year off work to research and volunteer for the Red Cross. He is signed up as a “volunteer services feedback specialist,” trying to help the Boston chapter with things like volunteer surveys and what is done with the information gathered.   

To help him in that work, Kevin said he wants to learn as much about the Red Cross as he can, taking classes and working as a local responder to home fires, as well as volunteering to work 12-hour shifts in a shelter.  “I want to make the world better,” he said.   

On Wednesday, Kevin was hard at work on his second day of working in the Seven Trees Community Center shelter in San Jose. He said he appreciated that shelter manager Patrick McKenna is a good supervisor and “answers all my questions. I am grateful for that.”

So far, Kevin said, he found the work a “very life-changing experience.”   

Aidin, Juana and Cody: Help comes from the heart 

Photo by Barbara Wood / American Red Cross

Aidin Shahi is a true believer in the mission of the Red Cross. He isn’t yet 40, but he’s been a Red Cross volunteer for 19 years, at first as part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent in his native Iran and for the past 10 years as part of the American Red Cross. 
Aidin, a resident of the Winnetka neighborhood of Los Angeles, is one of over a dozen Red Cross volunteers helping Monterey County in the evacuation shelter at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville. That number of volunteers has swelled since Aidin arrived because he’s signed up at least four new Red Cross volunteers in less than four days at the shelter.   

Aiden helped those who told him they’d like to join the Red Cross by shepherding them through the process online. “I cannot help everyone in the entire world, but I can help the people in need,” Aidin says.  “The best organization for helping people in need is the Red Cross. And it’s free and it comes heart to heart.”   

At least two of the volunteers Aiden helped sign up are already hard at work helping the residents of the shelter. Juana Uribe, a Watsonville resident who speaks fluent Spanish as well as English, helped serve food, clean up and whatever else was needed until the Shelter Resident Transition team asked her to help translate for Spanish speaking shelter residents the team is helping to figure out what they’ll do once they leave the shelter.   

Juana, a former office manager for a church who is currently looking for a new job, says she asked Aiden about joining the Red Cross because “I like the labor the Red Cross does.”   

“I love customer service,” she said. “I love to help people and bring hope to someone, even with a friendly face. Sometimes a child needs someone to approach them and smile at them. I just like to help those in need.”  

A second new volunteer, Cody Mortensen, has a unique perspective because he is staying in the evacuation shelter after the tent he had been living in was destroyed in the storm. The bar/restaurant he works at has also been shut down because of storm damage. Cody has helped with everything in the shelter from emptying garbage to setting up cots and serving food to the residents.   

Lucy Aita, a new volunteer that is ‘all in’ 

Photo by Barbara Wood / American Red Cross

American Red Cross volunteer Lucy Aita says she will never forget helping the family of a 93-year-old Florida woman who hadn’t been heard from for two weeks following Hurricane Ian last year. Lucy, a resident of Monroe, New Jersey, and fellow members of the Red Cross reunification team found the woman at her home, but without electricity or a working phone. The Red Crossers lent her a phone and helped her make calls. “We stayed with her for three hours while she called people,” Lucy said. The woman’s friends and relatives “were in tears on the phone. They thought she was gone,” Lucy said. “That was very touching.”   

Lucy, who has been a Red Cross volunteer for only 11 months, is currently on her fifth national deployment, working in an evacuation shelter in California helping those affected by the current series of storms slamming the state. She is trained to help with sheltering, feeding, and driving a Red Cross emergency response vehicle as well as reunification. At home, Lucy heads up the local teams who respond to home fires, and in her region, she oversees feeding.   

“I wanted to join the Red Cross since I was a teenager,” Lucy said.  But busy with life, school and as an only child with older parents who needed her help, Lucy put it off until after her mother passed away at the age of 97. Covid and health problems delayed Lucy for a bit longer, but last year she was finally able to realize her teen dream. “That was it – I was in there full time,” she said.