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Reflections on Paradise Lost

By LeeAnn Woodward

Tuesday, September 10 was a day I will never forget.  I had the chance to visit the town of Paradise with some of our donors, 11 months after the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, devastated this community.  It took the lives of 86 people, destroyed almost 19,000 structures, and covered over 153,000 acres.


As we drove through the ridge, we saw charred trees, the signs of where a hospital used to be, the local salon, a grocery store, even a McDonald’s with only the golden arches left standing – it was not only emotional but also strangely inspiring to see the rebuilding that’s starting to happen.

Amanda Ree, our Deputy Director of Wildfire Recovery and Executive Director of the area during this disaster, is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met!  Amanda brought in her friend and Paradise Chief of Police, Eric Reinbold.  He spoke personally about how he started the day dropping off his kids at school and then walked us through how rapidly his life and the lives of others changed that day.  While dropping off his last kid at school, he got a call and had to have a friend meet him to take his family to a safe place.  He talked about how his team of a little over 20 deputies, and nine dispatchers were solving one challenge at a time. There’s only one road in and one road out of town; so they were moving quickly to get people out.  He said at one point, “I don’t think anyone can ever be prepared to evacuate an entire town.”

Eric then shared how the response efforts changed by the minute.  He even pulled over to direct the traffic at one point, with fire being on both sides of the road.  He talked about realizing his dogs were still at home. At around midnight, when they thought things were a bit more under control, he went home to get their pets.  He said, he just stared at all of the things in his home, not really knowing what to grab because he was so overwhelmed.  Then he quietly said, “I’m a police officer. We are trained to never be overwhelmed, and it just hit me.  I grabbed some papers and a few clothes…”  And yes, we learned later in his story, he also lost his home to the fires.  We heard the stories of so many heroes on Tuesday and Eric and Amanda, in my book, are two of them!

We all know about the severity of this fire and the impact it had on this town.  I think what people learned on Tuesday though, was the depth of Red Cross and what we also do as part of recovery.  Amanda did a fantastic job sharing the work that is continuing to happen to support individuals and families.  She talked about the additional financial assistance that the Red Cross has been able to give out to families, the grants the Red Cross is now making to local partners who are also supporting the community’s recovery, and so much more.


Our donors, on the car ride back, asked endless questions about this.  They didn’t realize that when we are working to raise funds during a disaster, the money not only funds the immediate disaster needs (sheltering, food, etc.) but impacts our ability to provide additional support, such as financial assistance for the hardest-hit households or grants to other community organizations with expertise in certain specialized recovery services. No matter the size of the disaster, the Red Cross is involved from start to finish. Even as the Red Cross delivers emergency relief, such as food and shelter, we’re looking to the future and planning how to help affected communities and families recover in the months and years ahead. This is a part of our story that people often don’t know about, and damn if it isn’t a critical piece!!

Because of what YOU – our donors and volunteers – did, we not only were able to respond to this tragic event, but we continue to play a significant role in the recovery efforts.  What we do everyday matters to so many people we never get the chance to meet.  It’s so much more than emails, phone calls, letters, meetings, etc..  Tuesday, I was reminded of this, and also reminded about how crucial mission moments are to our work!

I’m going to leave you with this beautiful quote I found recently: The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others, remain as your legacy.  – Kalu Ndukwe Kalu

Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Supports 129th Rescue Wing

The 129th Rescue Wing is part of the California Air National Guard, and is based at Moffett Field, California. “That others may live.” Is the motto of Air Rescue and typifies the wartime mission of combat search and rescue and the peacetime missions of finding and rescuing distressed people on shifts, lost or injured hikers and medical evacuations. The unit consists of over 1,000 members, 700 of whom are part time California Air Guard Members.

Pavehawk Helicopter

A Pavehawk Helicopter takes to the sky, its occupants’ legs dangling in the air.

The unit is in high demand and has a very upbeat operational tempo. Portions of the unit are mobilized for missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Djibouti and around the world. The Defense Department (DOD) has recognized that it is critical that family members are prepared for service member deployments. The DOD Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program is a DOD-wide effort to foster the well-being of National Guard and Reserve members, their families and communities by connecting them with key resources and providing important information both before deployment and after.

C130 Search and Rescue Aircraft

A helicopter is dwarfed by a mammoth C130 Search and Rescue Aircraft on the tarmac.

The Silicon Valley Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces is a vital partner in this effort. On August 24, 2019 Go Funai, Liz Dietz, Larry Dietz, Kay Ammon, and Theresa Godines supported the 129th’s Yellow Ribbon Event at the Fremont Marriott attended by over 200 service members and their families. Liz provided service members and their families with a briefing of how Red Cross is the only authorized emergency communications organization able to help bring a service member home for family emergencies. Liz also talked about the Red Cross services available to family members while their service member is deployed. The SAF also provided information at a resource table during the event. Kay conducted an Effective Communication Reconnection Workshop for 29 service members and their families. This workshop helps participants build strong communication skills to better manage the challenges and transitions often faced by service members, veterans and military families.

129 Yellow Ribbon
Liz Dietz delivers a briefing to servicemen and their families, discussing Red Cross services available for active military, veterans and their families. 

The military believes in having a bit of fun as well. On September 7, 2019 the 129th hosted their annual Family Day. This included a BBQ, children’s games and a number of resource providers. Liz Dietz, Larry Dietz and Theresa Godines represented SAF at this gathering of over 700 people. Liz gave a short overview and the team manned a resource table during the event.

Liz and Larry 129th ARW Family Day
Liz and Larry Dietz are all smiles during the 129th Air Rescue Wing’s Family Day on 9/7/19.

Service to the Armed Forces is a core mission of the Red Cross. Most people do not realize that almost half of America’s military force is either National Guard or Reserve. While the number of active duty bases in the Northern California Coast Region may have declined, there are still a substantial number of National Guard and Reserve personnel in the region who appreciate the support provided by the Red Cross and Service to the Armed Forces.

To learn more about Red Cross services in the Northern California Coastal Region, visit



Red Cross Support to Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting Relief Operation

Family Assistance Center welcome sign

On Sunday, July 29, 2019, a tragic mass casualty event occurred at about 5:30 PM, in the closing hours of the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Shortly after midnight that evening, the City of Gilroy Fire Department and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) formally requested American Red Cross support for a city shelter providing refuge for people who were not able to retrieve their personal belongings, vehicles and or identification. The Red Cross opened a shelter at Christopher High School in Gilroy and operated that shelter until Thursday, August 1 during which time Red Cross volunteers and community partners provided health, mental health, feeding and recovery planning services.

Santa Clara County asked the Red Cross to support a Family Assistance Center (FAC) at Rucker Elementary School in Gilroy starting Monday, July 30, 2019. Red Cross provided disaster health services, disaster mental health, caseworkers, feeding, and logistical support to the facility while it was opened. The Red Cross also arranged child-care services at the FAC in partnership with Children’s Disaster Services.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Victim Services Department and the FBI’s Victim Services Unit managed the center and provided support to those affected by the Disaster.

The Red Cross is still supporting the Disaster Relief Operation which has evolved into the Recovery Phase.  Assistance is continuing for people who lost family members or who were injured or otherwise adversely affected when they fled from the scene of the shooting.

Red Cross workers enjoy donated lunch

Many local eateries and businesses came forward to provide the Red Cross, first responders and impacted residents with donated meals. Pictured here is a donated hot lunch from Noah’s Bar and Bistro in Morgan Hill.

The Red Cross effort was truly part of a team effort with key partners including the Santa Clara County District Attorney, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the City of Gilroy, the City of Gilroy Unified School District, Morgan Hill Emergency Manager and Children’s Disaster Services.

To learn more about Red Cross services in the Northern California Coastal Region, please visit



Caring donors make Santa Cruz blood drive a special success


Zoë Brouillet is following in her father’s footsteps as a regular Red Cross blood donor.

You could almost say that helping others is in Zoë Brouillet‘s blood.

That’s why the 19-year-old Santa Cruz resident shifted gears halfway through a “Gap Year” program last year, deciding that her time between finishing high school and beginning college would be better spent in Asia helping the disadvantaged, rather than in Italy studying opera. “I decided part way through the year that I wanted to change locations so the experience could be about something greater than me,” Zoë said. “I ended up helping build water-filtration systems in Cambodia, treat Agent Orange victims in Vietnam, and conserve elephants in Thailand.”

That’s also why Zoë was one of the first people in the Santa Cruz office of the American Red Cross yesterday morning for a blood drive event.

“I have just started to give blood, and this is only my second time doing it,” Zoë said enthusiastically. While talking to her, it quickly became apparent that her natural tendency to help others is only one of the reasons Zoë signed up to give at yesterday’s blood drive. “My father was a longtime donor, but he can’t give blood anymore because of medicine he’s now taking. So I have decided that I’m going to fill in for him and do this regularly on behalf of our family.”

If case you need more insight into this civil engineering student’s character, Zoë is also training to be a member of the Central Coast Chapter’s Disaster Action Team (DAT) in her spare time. “I’m figuring out that helping people is a great concept for me,” she said.



John Crepeau is assisted by Christina Casner, a Donor Technician for the American Red Cross.

Unlike Zoe, John Crepeau has already completed his career in engineering. However, like Zoë, John also came early to the Santa Cruz office to give blood yesterday morning.

“I just really believe in the Red Cross mission,” John said. “It didn’t take me that long to drive here from my home in Hollister, and it just felt like the right thing to do.”

Talking with John, one gets the impression that he’d step forward to help with almost any Red Cross need. He’s a regular in Disaster Cycle Services, having deployed seven times in 2 1/2 years of volunteering; he’s now the Fleet Lead for the local chapter; and he’s learning the ropes in Logistics.

“I really admire the Red Cross as an organization for all that it does,” he said. “And I like that the Red Cross works in such an impartial and non-discriminatory way. Our efforts have just one goal: to help people in need.”



Sue Gochis says she’s a favorite at Red Cross blood drives because she is “Be Positive.”

Sue Gochis is the Vice President of Student Services at Cabrillo College in nearby Aptos. So — like Zoe and John — helping people comes naturally to her.

“I give blood regularly, and this local drive seemed like an easy way for me to donate,” she said. Sue also said she had a second reason for signing up to give at the Santa Cruz office yesterday: She is an active member of a local Rotary International club, and giving blood is a priority of that organization as well.

“We have a blood drive challenge going on right now in Rotary, and I’m a competitive person,” she said, laughing.

Turning serious, Sue said she volunteered for the Red Cross during some of the years she and her family lived in Kansas. “That state still feels like home to me, and they have some very serious tornadoes there, so I have had a longtime appreciation for the Red Cross.”

Sue apologizes for having to cut the conversation short, saying she is expected back on campus for a 1 o’clock meeting. However, before leaving, she shares a light-hearted — but revealing — joke that comes as quickly to her as does helping others: “The Red Cross likes it when I donate at these drives because I’m ‘Be Positive.'”


Being positive while helping others — it’s a practice that Zoe, John, and Sue share in spades. In fact, the same “helping gene” was present in all 36 of the people who completely filled the schedule for yesterday’s blood drive in the Central Coast Chapter.

“Every one of the people who came to our office to make a blood donation may have his or her own unique reason for being here,” said Michele Averill, CEO for the Central Coast Chapter. “But each one of their stories also has a common theme: Giving blood is just one of the many ways they make helping others a priority in their lives.”

“We couldn’t be more thankful for the effort that they all made to get here to make our blood drive so successful,” she added.

You too can help: Right now, the Red Cross is experiencing an emergency blood shortage. So you too can join Zoe, John, and Sue as blood donors. Schedule your next blood donation today by using the Blood Donor App, by visiting, or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Blood and platelet donors can save time at their next donation by using RapidPass® to complete their pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of their donation, before arriving at the blood drive. To get started, follow the instructions at or use the Blood Donor App.