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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.   

Red Cross Responds as Severe Winter Weather Impacts California

This information was last updated on Friday, March 24 at 9:30 a.m. Please check back regularly for updates.

March 22, 2023. Red Cross Warehouse, Alameda, California. American Red Cross volunteers, Lisa Wright-Bishop and Vicki McNeil, load cleanup supplies to be distributed to residents affected by the California Atmospheric River Event. Photo by Jaka Vinsek/American Red Cross

Much of California continues its recovery from yet another round of intense rain and wind earlier this week.

Thursday night 732 people took refuge in 17 Red Cross and partner shelters statewide. Within our region, 530 people were supported in 11 shelters.

The American Red Cross has been helping in California since the atmospheric river onslaught began in late December of last year and is currently responding all over the state alongside local and state officials to help ensure people get the assistance they need.

For an updated map of road/lane closures, please visit the CalTrans QuickMap. Check your route before heading out!


The following shelters are open in anticipation of forecast weather and potential for flooding. Open shelters may also be found online at

Monterey County

Santa Cruz County

San Joaquin County

  • Manteca Senior Center, 295 Cherry Lane, Manteca CA 95337

Stanislaus County:

  • Salvation Army, Red Shield Community Center, 1649 Las Vegas St, Modesto, CA 95358
  • Stanislaus Fairgrounds–RV Grounds Outdoor Shelter, 800 N. Broadway Ave, Turlock, CA 95380

Everyone is welcome at Red Cross shelters, and anyone affected by the extreme weather can always stop by the shelter to access Red Cross services, warm up, and contact loved ones regardless of whether or not they choose to stay overnight at the shelter.

Donating Items at Shelters

Please do not drop off items like blankets, toys, food, etc. at Red Cross shelters. We appreciate everyone’s desire to help during a disaster, but the Red Cross does not have the capacity to accept, process, clean, organize or distribute these items. We work with our partners to procure items for our shelters and ensure everyone who comes to our shelters has everything they need.

Stay Up-to-Date on Social Media

Updated information on the Red Cross response to this storm, and preparedness information is updated regularly on our regional social media channels:

Sign up to volunteer

While trained Red Cross volunteers and staff continue to manage the response efforts, we are looking for additional volunteers to help with disaster response and recovery activities. Apply online to become a Red Cross volunteer by visiting if you are interested in helping with this response or responses like this in the future.

Blood During Disasters

The Red Cross is working to maintain a stable blood supply amid the threat of storms and winter weather across the country, as severe weather often causes widespread blood drive cancellations. Where it is safe to do so, we encourage donors to make and keep blood donation appointments by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Disaster Mental Health Team: tips to improve coping skills after repeat disasters

photo by Barbara Wood / American Red Cross

American Red Crosser Jeff Roediger has some tips for coping with the anxiety and other effects of stress caused by the series of severe atmospheric river storms (currently 11 and counting) that have slammed California this winter. 

Roediger says that events such as disasters and evacuations, especially those that occur more than once, “are mentally, physically and spiritually draining.” Such events can create a sense of loss or grief over things already lost, fear for life or safety, even hopelessness, he says.

Among the thoughts and behaviors that can appear, Roediger says, are anger, cognitive difficulties such as not being able to think clearly, racing thoughts, the desire to isolate ones self, or bad coping skills such as using drugs or alcohol or risky behavior.

Here are some of Roediger’s tips:

1  –  Keep in touch with family and friends.  
“Talk to somebody about the event. Don’t bottle it up,” Roediger, a professional counselor from South Carolina on his 30th disaster response assignment, says.

“The more we talk about it, the more we normalize it,” he says.  “It becomes part of our life and it no longer it has power over us.”  

2 -If you know someone who has suffered from a disaster Listen to what the person has to say.
”Just let them talk,” Roediger says. “People want to be heard.”  

3  – Distract yourself 
If you find yourself unable to stop thinking about the disaster, find something else to do Roediger says.  Listen to music, draw, write, go for a walk, make a gratitude list.

4 – If you have suffered a loss in a disaster, make a list of things you must do to recover.
“Let the list sit for a time and then prioritize each item. Lists help move focus to the future, not the past,” he says. 

5 – Anyone stressed by a disaster can ask to speak to a Red Cross counselor, free of charge.
The Red Cross also partners with the free SAMHSA Disaster Distress helpline, where a trained counselor is available 24 hours a day at (800) 985-5990. 

The Heart of the Mission: Red Cross Volunteers Assess California Storm Damage

Story and Photos by Marcia Antipa, Public Affairs Volunteer

Joe Baldi and Dianna Soula inspect damaged Marin County building
Photo by Marcia Antipa / American Red Cross volunteer

After weeks of heavy rain and high winds, the sun has come out again in California. However, the American Red Cross disaster response continues. More than 800 trained Red Cross volunteers from nearly all 50 states have been supporting people in the affected communities. Eighty shelters were opened during the disaster, and the Red Cross, working with community partners, distributed thousands of meals and relief items such as comfort kits and cleaning supplies. Now, as people slowly move toward recovery, volunteer Red Cross Disaster Assessment Teams are spreading out through storm-ravaged communities, taking stock of damage to homes.

“The assessment gives us information on the homes that were destroyed or had major damage,” says DA volunteer Joe Baldi of Sacramento.

Baldi and fellow volunteer Dianna Soula of Lancaster, Ohio recently visited an apartment complex in Marin County, California.  During the heavy rains, a mud-soaked hillside slammed into one of the buildings, making it uninhabitable. The two walked through thick mud to view the home, then documented the damage using guidelines from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That information helps the Red Cross and its partner agencies provide assistance for those displaced by the disaster.

Al Gharibian and Howard Wilkens doing Disaster Assessment in Guerneville
Photo by Marcia Antipa /
American Red Cross

Right now, more than a dozen of Disaster Assessment teams have “boots on the ground” in California. Volunteers Howard Wilkens of Kansas City, MO and Alan Gharibian of Glendale, CA, took a preliminary Disaster Assessment tour of the Sonoma County town of Guerneville along the Russian River. After days of heavy rain, the river was swollen, muddy and threatening to crest its banks. The two men visited the Guerneville Fire Department to get information on which neighborhoods were hardest hit. Wilkens, who has deployed for the Red Cross to 30 disasters across the country in five years, explains just some of the damage they look for after a storm.

“For example, we look for water lines on the side of the house, broken joists on the roof decking, or homes where the winds have blown off the siding or the roof shingles.”

Alan Gharibian recently deployed to Hurricanes Nicole and Ian in Florida. He says the devastation and the suffering in the wake of the hurricanes was “heartbreaking, to say the least.” But he says he is happy to volunteer again, using his 37 years of experience in the insurance business to help assess the damage in California.

Ultimately, Disaster Assessment volunteers are the heart of the Red Cross mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

“It’s the Red Cross’s goal to assist them in any way they can,” says Dianna Soula, “to get them into a recovery state, someplace where they’re safe, have comforts and feeding, and medication that they needed, and just try to get their life back on track as quickly as we can.”

To find out how you can help those hit by the California storms, visit

When they needed shelter, the Red Cross was there 

Photos and reporting by Barbara Wood/Red Cross volunteer 

Red Cross volunteer Debbie Torres of San Mateo, California, talks to Jose Galvan Alvarez and his grandson Kingston in a Red Cross shelter.
Photo by Barbara Wood/Red Cross volunteer 

The Galvan Alvarez family was sound asleep in their South San Francisco apartment in the early hours of January 10 when they were jolted awake as the entire roof blew off their apartment building.  

“At first we thought it was an earthquake,” Jose Galvan Alvarez said, holding his nine-month-old grandson, Kingston, in a Red Cross shelter at the San Mateo County Event Center. Water from one of the series of major storms that have been pounding California started pouring in through ceiling light fixtures, he said. 

The family called the fire department, which quickly responded and referred them to the nearby Red Cross shelter that had been opened to provide refuge from the storm for all who needed it. The family arrived at about 4 a.m. and were provided supplies, such as diapers, food and toiletries, as well as a portable cot for Kingston and warm beds for the rest of the family. In the morning they had warm showers and breakfast.  

“The Red Cross has been excellent,” Jose said. “I’ve got nothing but nice things to say about the Red Cross.” Jose said he had also been helped by the Red Cross years ago, when he had a fire in his apartment. Jose then excused himself to grab a broom and dustpan and clean up around his family’s cots. “The Red Cross is helping, so I can help, too,” he said. 

The atmospheric rivers that pounded California for weeks, with floodwaters and damage remaining long after the storms have subsided. At one point there were as many as 100,000 people in California under evacuation orders or warnings.

Now that the skies have cleared, individuals and families are returning home to evaluate their path back towards recovery. Hundreds of Red Cross disaster workers are continuing to safely shelter those in need, deliver hot food and relief supplies to impacted neighborhoods, and provide much-needed emotional support.

For many, the road to recovery will be long – and the Red Cross will stand with survivors in the weeks and months ahead as they begin to rebuild their lives. You can help people by:

  • Making a financial gift to California Storms and Floods. Donations for Disaster Relief enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
  • Sharing Red Cross updates through your social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn).
  • Becoming a Red Cross volunteer:

Red Cross Responds as Bomb Cyclone Impacts California

This information was last updated on Tuesday, January 31 at 11:00 a.m. Please check back regularly for updates.

American Red Cross volunteer Diana giving an update to Shelter Supervisor Peggy at the Seven Trees shelter in San Jose. Photo by Alex Keilty / American Red Cross

As Californians continue cleaning up after the weeks of severe weather at the beginning of January, the American Red Cross is helping and will also be there in the days and weeks to come, supporting people as they move towards recovery.

This online story map offers a look at the ongoing response to the California floods. Since New Year’s eve:

  • Almost 800 trained Red Cross disaster workers are supporting people in California.
  • The Red Cross and partners have provided more than 9,300 stays in more than 80 shelters, more than 62,400 meals and snacks, and distributed more than 14,700 relief items such as comfort kits and other relief supplies.
  • Trained Red Cross volunteers are helping families cope during this challenging time and replacing prescription medications, eyeglasses or critical medical equipment like canes and wheelchairs.
  • Teams on the ground are also conducting damage assessments to determine the impact of these storms and which communities will need additional support moving forward. Preliminary damage reports indicate that of the 5879 total assessments done to date, 134 homes were either destroyed or suffered major damage.

We Need You!

  • While trained Red Cross volunteers and staff continue to manage the response efforts, we are looking for additional volunteers to help with disaster response and recovery activities, including feeding, supply distribution, clean-up kit building and more. Apply online to become a Red Cross volunteer by visiting if you are interested in helping with this response or responses like this in the future.

Blood During Disasters

  • The Red Cross is working to maintain a stable blood supply amid the threat of storms and winter weather across the country, as severe weather often causes widespread blood drive cancellations. Where it is safe to do so, we encourage donors to make and keep blood donation appointments by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Help Those in Need

  • You can help people affected by disasters like floods, fires and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief.Donations for Disaster Relief enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation..

Stay Up-to-Date on Social Media

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