Author Archives: Barbara Wood

“It’s time for me to give back,” Red Cross Volunteer of the Year says

By Barbara Wood/Red Cross volunteer

Marcia Antipa interviewing a Red Cross volunteer in a shelter in Reno, Nevada during the Caldor Fire in 2021.

Although she became a Red Cross volunteer in November 2019, just months before COVID-19 changed everyone’s lives, Marin County’s Marcia Antipa jumped in with both feet and quickly became involved in Red Cross activities throughout the Northern California Coastal Region.

This year, Marcia, who is retired from a career in broadcast news, was named the region’s Volunteer of the Year for her contributions, which include serving as an active member of the regional communications team, acting as the emcee for volunteer award ceremonies throughout the region, and deploying to Reno for the Caldor Fire in 2021.

Her award nomination describes Marcia as, “the first person to jump in when an opportunity or a need arises. She is absolutely dedicated to telling the Red Cross story not only during blue skies, but she is also dedicated to ensuring that information about vital relief and recovery efforts is shared in a timely and accurate manner with both internal and external audiences during disasters.”

Marcia’s first volunteer experience with the Red Cross was actually more than 30 years ago, in 1991 after the Oakland Hills Fire destroyed more than 3,000 housing units, killing 25 people and injuring 150 others.

“I was in between broadcast journalism jobs and raising our baby when the Oakland Hills firestorm hit,” Marcia said. “It was one of the most terrifying things we had seen in the Bay Area, and shocking really.”

“To think about that now with some of the horrific fires that we’ve had — Paradise, Coffey Park in Santa Rosa, just whole communities going up — it doesn’t seem as shocking now. But back then, that wasn’t happening,” Marcia said.

Marcia Antipa on assignment as a public affairs volunteer during the Caldor Fire in South Lake Tahoe, California in 2021.

In the aftermath of the fire, Marcia said she noticed the Red Cross was helping. “It’s like Mr. Rogers said: His mother always told him ‘Look for the helpers. When you hear a siren, when you hear about bad news, don’t worry, look for the helpers because they’re going to be there. Well that’s the Red Cross.”

 “So I thought, OK it’s time for me to give back.”

Marcia said she was quickly trained and sent to a service center to help those affected by the fire. “To see people walk in with that glazed and frightened look on their face. It was like they were the walking dead because they had just had everything ripped out from under them. When they saw someone was listening and there to help them, they just brightened up.”

“So I thought, I can help them a little bit.”

“Jobs and children got in the way,” of further volunteering until late 2019, when Marcia rejoined the Red Cross. “I had seen all the ways the Red Cross had helped during the fires in California and I wanted to be part of that mission and bring help to people in whatever way I could.”

Marcia and her husband of 46 years, Ron, have an adult daughter and son and three grandchildren, twin 9-year-old girls and a 3-year-old boy. They live in Main County, where she spent most of her childhood, on what Marcia describes as “the knees of Mt. Tam,” part way up Mt. Tamalpais.

She has a degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley and a master’s degree from American University in Washington, D.C. She worked as a writer, reporter and news anchor during her broadcast news career, working in Washington, D.C., Sacramento and San Francisco.

Marcia also loves to sing and throughout her life has performed in choirs and musical theater.

See some of her work for the Red Cross here:

Red Cross volunteer: “This is what we do; we go where we’re needed.” 

Dawson Springs, Kentucky was just one of the communities that was severely damaged by a series of tornadoes that swept through several states on Dec. 11. Photo by Jodi Wallace/American Red Cross

It was Dec. 11, and Jodi Wallace, a 16-year veteran Red Cross volunteer from California’s Silicon Valley chapter, was already tired when she got the call to go to Kentucky after a series of tornadoes had devastated broad swaths of that state.

Wallace, 60, had spent most of August responding to California’s Gold County fires and then moved on to assist with the hurricane response in Louisiana. After that, she had helped with the flood response in Washington state. She had been home for only a little more than a week, ready for a well-deserved break, when the call came in.

She knew the scale of the disaster meant the Red Cross would be needed more than ever, so she asked her husband what he thought. “He always tells me, ‘this is what you trained for,'” Wallace says. He’s even teased her: “Would you like me to pick a better month and schedule a disaster for you?”

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Volunteer lifts morale of all around her

Deborah Torres knew she wanted to volunteer for the Red Cross even before she retired from San Mateo County, where she ended a long career in social services and public mental health in 2013. Not long before her retirement, Torres found herself partnering with the Red Cross after two large fires destroyed two apartment buildings in Redwood City. The Red Cross had opened a shelter at the armory near Red Morton Park for people displaced by the fires and was helping them figure out their paths to recovery. “I got to see [the Red Cross] in action,” Torres said.

“I told myself when I started working with Red Cross, that when I retire that’s what I’m going to do,” she said.

Just three months after her September 2013 retirement, Torres became a Red Cross volunteer.

And this year, Torres was named the Red Cross Volunteer of the Year for San Mateo County.

“I was totally surprised [to receive the award],” Torres said. However, her fellow volunteers were not surprised. Torres’s background in social services and mental health and as a bilingual Latina with decades of experience working in the county make her invaluable.

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Tirtza, Barry and Gumby help out in Gold Country shelter

Photos and reporting by Barbara Wood

Tirtza and Barry Pearl

Tirtza Pearl of San Francisco figures she has deployed nearly 60 times since she joined the Red Cross in 1991 after the devastating firestorm swept through the hills of neighboring Oakland. Only recently, however, has she convinced her husband, Barry, to join her. Both Pearls worked in a Red Cross shelter in the Cameron Park Community Center in El Dorado County after the Caldor Fire in September. It was Barry’s second deployment.

“The people who volunteer for the Red Cross are an amazing group of people, ” Barry said. “They devote heart and soul to the clients.” 

Barry says, so far, he’s only deployed with Tirtza. “I feel much more confident of all her years of experience,” he said.  “I’m still learning the ropes.” 

In addition to recruiting her husband, Tirtza has brought another special guest along on at least ten deployments – Gumby. The stretchy green figure represents the unofficial motto of the Red Cross “Semper Gumby” or “Forever Flexible.”

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Ready for the Next Wildfire: After Multiple Evacuations, Sonoma County Resident Has a Plan

Hecht’s evacuated chickens and Gertie, the family dog, safely stashed in the car.

After twice evacuating her home for days during major wildfires, and living through several more evacuation warnings, you’d better believe Kathryn Hecht has a plan for the upcoming fire season.

The Sonoma County resident is a Red Cross regional communications manager whose job includes informing the public about the best ways to prepare for disasters.

She practices what she preaches.

Near her front door Hecht has stashed pet carriers and a go bag that includes clothing, important papers, emergency supplies, dog and cat food and toiletries. She has planned two driving routes out of her neighborhood, and a foot route in case those two are blocked. She subscribes to her county’s emergency notification system, Nixle, has the Red Cross emergency app on her phone, and follows local sources of emergency information on Twitter. She and her husband have agreed on two emergency meeting points in case one is unavailable.

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11-year-old who alerted her family to a fire is honored as Red Cross hero

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Berlin Gomez-Muniz, 11, received a Red Cross “Hero” medal for alerting her family to a Dec. 19 fire in San Jose. Her mother, Frankie, and Silicon Valley Red Cross chapter board chair Terry Unter look on. Photo: Mark Butler/American Red Cross

Berlin Gomez-Muniz stood quietly as a 3-inch diameter “Hero” medal was draped around her neck at the Jan. 16 Silicon Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross board meeting, but when it was the most important, the 11-year-old says, she yelled so loud her throat hurt after she alerted her extended family to a fire just before Christmas. Read more

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