Category Archives: Homepage Posts — Other

“A powerhouse of wonderful human beings” – Meet some of our Emergency Response Vehicle drivers

Stuart Chessen delivering food and supplies to those affected by the Mountain Fire in California in 2013.
Photo courtesy of Stuart Chessen

When disaster strikes, the American Red Cross is there to help, from large-scale events, like floods and wildfires to local emergencies, like home fires. And the response to these situations is possible thanks to the combination of volunteer work and our fleet of Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) which are the keys to reaching communities in times of need.

Stuart Chessen

People like Stuart Chessen, the Specialty Vehicle Lead for the Pacific Division, oversee the maintenance of our ERVs, Mission Ready Vehicles and sheltering trailers. In particular, Stuart also handles the training of our drivers across the Northern California Coastal Region.

Stuart – a Red Cross volunteer in San Jose since 2009 – has always enjoyed volunteering. He feels that there is a special sense of purpose in it. “That is our mission in action,” he says. “I like the way we all work together to help people. We are there to ease some of their pain in this difficult situation, where they just don’t know which way to go because their world’s been turned upside down.” 

Stuart has deployed to many disaster response operations, not only in our region, but also nationwide. The longest and furthest was to New York as an ERV driver after Hurricane Sandy. “We took the vehicle here in San Jose and drove it all the way to the East Coast. We had a small delay in Pennsylvania avoiding bad weather and we reached our destination on Long Island after five days. We did mobile feeding around the neighborhoods where people had no gas or power. They were in cold homes, waiting for us to arrive with a hot meal for them.”

Art Sullivan

For Art Sullivan, being an ERV driver is a rewarding job that fits well with his skillsets. He describes ERVs as a beacon of hope — as a way to “present to communities the visual idea that they are not out there alone. That someone’s thinking about them. That there is hope.”

Art Sullivan standing outside a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle while on a disaster relief deployment.
Photo courtesy of Art Sullivan

Art started volunteering with the Red Cross in 2005, supporting the disaster relief operation after Hurricane Katrina. When asked why he became an ERV driver, he said it provided him with the perfect opportunity to see the Red Cross mission in action following disasters, because volunteers that drive and work inside ERVs are so dedicated to offering aid and service to the victims of these devasting events. After each one of his many deployments, Art has arrived home with good memories and the rewarding feeling of helping folks when they need it most. He says he is always humbled by his encounters with different people and is grateful for the chance to help.

“During floods in Texas, our ERV Team went to a donut shop and asked employees if they knew about communities that could use Red Cross help and they directed us to where they lived,” Art recalls. “We went there and found that hardly anybody was home or that could speak English. But we did find one household in the neighborhood with a resident who was at home, could speak English, and knew everybody in the neighborhood. Trust was built up and her household became the neighborhood pick-up center for disaster supplies. Turns out, almost all of that neighborhood was off working or helping others. This senior citizen re-reminded me of what can be done when you are trusted.”

Virginia and Albert Becker

Virginia Becker has been a Red Crosser for the past 10 years and since her husband Albert also signed up as a volunteer following his retirement in 2017, they have enjoyed being deployed together as a team.

Albert Becker unloading supplies from a partner truck during a disaster response.
Photo courtesy of Al & Virginia Becker

“Being with people is my oxygen.  I am not a desk person; I am a people person,” says Virginia. “With the Red Cross, I can pick assignments that are best suited for me. There is something for everyone to do in the Red Cross – plenty of work for those that want desk work or to work remotely, and plenty of work for those that want direct contact with the people we serve.”

After the Beckers started their Red Cross volunteer journey in public affairs — using their photography expertise to help tell the Red Cross story and ensure the right information reaches right people at the right time — they expanded their volunteer service to include operating ERVs and ensuring the right meals and supplies reach the right people at the right time, too.

“Without ERVs, the heartbeat of the Red Cross would be silent. Everything is moved and put in place using these vehicles. ERV drivers also see the disasters on the ground and can gather information,” Albert said, and Virginia agrees. “This is the real work. Going out into affected communities to bring food and supplies makes a positive difference in the lives of someone who has lost everything,” she said.

For Virginia and Albert, there are a lot of things to love about being ERV drivers –- the comradery of the drivers, the many opportunities to communicate directly with community members affected by disasters, and the constant change of scenery and variety in day-to-day activity that comes along with the role. “You get to meet so many community members when you’re out. You hear their stories and see how the community is doing. You also see parts of the country you otherwise may never visit,” Albert explained.

Photo courtesy of Al & Virginia Becker

“It is a fast-paced role that challenges me at times. The work is never the same. Some days I pass out cleanup supplies, some days it’s food, and some days it’s transporting goods from one Red Cross location to the next. Also, I have never met an ERV driver that I didn’t like! Such a powerhouse of wonderful human beings,” Virginia said.

Virginia and Albert both pinpoint the help ERV drivers provided to those affected by the Lightning Complex Fires in Santa Cruz in 2020 as one of their most impactful experiences yet. Because those displaced were staying in multiple hotels rather than shelters due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the planning and scheduling of routes was more challenging than ever. “No individual or family went without food during this time thanks to the impressive logistics team and the actual drivers themselves. I thought that was a herculean effort by the Red Cross. I was proud to be just a small part of such an important team,” Virginia said.

We thank all the volunteers who sit behind the wheel of our ERVs, helping to deliver comfort and hope to everyone who needs it across our region and beyond.

“It’s not just the support you bring, but the positivity that comes along with it.” – An Interview with Wyn Davies, Red Cross Disaster Action Team member

Photo courtesy of Wyn Davies

American Red Cross volunteers come from many diverse backgrounds, with different life experiences, but they all have something in common: they want to help others in their time of need.

In 2018, Wyn Davies was working for a company that made an in-kind donation to the Red Cross response during the Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties. He had the chance to meet John Ruiz, our Regional Disaster Officer. Wyn was already familiar with Red Cross disaster work because one of his friends was a Disaster Action Team (DAT) supervisor and often shared stories about how the Red Cross helped the community in times of need. Soon after, he decided to join as a volunteer.

What motivates you to dedicate your time to help others and how do you integrate this into your everyday life?
In my professional career, I help large companies with all aspects of their desktop and mobile computing needs. By digging into the issues, I work with extended teams to help alleviate issues people are having, or things that are holding them back. I feel that by being a part of DAT, I am doing the same things but with their immediate life needs. I’m always here to help.

I love to give back to the community and although I generally see people during the darkest of their days, I know what I am doing will help them and that gives me great motivation to keep moving forward.

After a disaster response, one of the residents told me that he and his family have been donating to the Red Cross for years and never thought they would be at the receiving end of our disaster services. You never know when you will need that help yourself, so I always want to make the most of what I can give and do.

Which part of the work with the Disaster Action Team do you enjoy most? What do you think is the most important thing about this role?

I enjoy being with the people we serve in their time of need. I love being able to bring them some kind of hope when they have experienced some kind of loss. It’s hard sometimes but I always have to look at it from the point of view that we are bringing them some much needed help and services. I think that being a beacon of hope for them is the most important part of the job. It’s not just the support you bring but the positivity that comes along with it.

How much time per week or month do you dedicate to your volunteer work?

I try to be on call or at least generally available several days a week, depending on my work schedule.
I also do some other volunteering outside the Red Cross, so I need to balance my time.

What are some of your favorite memories during your work with the Red Cross?  

There have been lots of things I could talk about but it’s really the everyday interaction with those affected by disasters that stand out in my mind. I have been to countless home fires of all types where someone has lost everything they own, and it’s always the interactions with the residents that sticks with me. Hugs too, I love the hugs folks want to give us.

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing that might help people understand and share the work of the Red Cross?

When I tell people what I do for the Red Cross, they immediately start asking about all the different aspects of the help we can provide. I always encourage people to reach out and start the journey themselves to become a volunteer. There are so many different ways you can help that it doesn’t really matter about your background or specific skills, there is always something that can be done to (help people) our clients. Give a little of your time or a lot, it all helps.

The Red Cross is always looking for volunteers just like Wyn. They play critical roles in their local communities making sure families don’t have to face tough times alone. For more information and to apply, visit redcross.org/volunteertoday

Note from the editor: This interview has been edited for clarity.

Full Circle: Red Cross Home Fire Campaign

Red Cross volunteers Don Powell (left) and Ron Redmond (right) install smoke alarms in Burnie Gipson’s home in Martinez, Calif. on August 2, 2022.
Photo by Marcie Wright-Powell/American Red Cross

On August 2, 2022, American Red Cross volunteers Ron Redmond and Don Powell visited the home of Martinez, California resident, Burnie Gipson, to install smoke alarms.

Burnie, who is deaf, recently moved to the area after suffering a home fire at his previous residence in San Francisco. Following the fire, which damaged multiple homes in Burnie’s residential complex, Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteers responded to provide comfort, care and financial assistance to help impacted residents meet their immediate needs.

With an average of 60,000 disaster responses a year, the majority of these home fires, the Red Cross and our partners are every bit as focused on disaster prevention as we are on disaster response.

Red Cross volunteers Don Powell (left) and Ron Redmond (right) install smoke alarms in Burnie Gipson’s home in Martinez, Calif. on August 2, 2022.
Photo by Marcie Wright-Powell/American Red Cross

Enter the Home Fire Campaign: a year-round effort aimed at home fire prevention through free smoke alarm installations and preparedness education. To date, the campaign’s efforts have saved at least 1,366 lives since 2014. 

One component of the Home Fire Campaign is the ability for the Red Cross to provide specialized smoke alarms to alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing in the event of a fire. After moving to Martinez, Burnie reached back out to the Red Cross to set up a free installation in his new home. 

People who are deaf or hard of hearing are particularly vulnerable to home fires because they may not be able to hear a traditional smoke alarm. The specialized alarm, frequently referred to as a ‘Bed Shaker,’ is typically installed next to the bed, and alerts residents using a strobe light and vibrating pad that can be placed under the mattress or pillow. It is activated when an accompanying traditional smoke alarm is triggered during a fire.

Red Cross volunteers Don Powell (left) and Ron Redmond (right) install smoke alarms in Burnie Gipson’s home in Martinez, Calif. on August 2, 2022.
Photo by Marcie Wright-Powell/American Red Cross

“Every day, people’s lives are devastated by home fires,” said Natalie Manier, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for Contra Costa County. “We are proud to play an important role in the prevention of home fire-related injuries in our communities, while at the same time, we’re also able to play an important role in the response process when a fire unfortunately does occur. Our volunteers ensure our services are available full circle if they are needed, and that we’re here for our community members – ensuring they do not have to face life’s emergencies alone.”

Burnie’s home now has an added element of protection thanks to his preparedness mindset and the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign.

All Red Cross services, including smoke alarm installations, are free of charge thanks to our generous partners. During short home visits, Red Cross volunteers and partners install free smoke alarms, and share information on common home fire causes, how to prevent them, what to do if a fire starts, and how to create an escape plan. If you or someone you know needs smoke alarms in their home, visit SoundTheAlarm.org/NorCalCoastal to schedule an installation appointment.

The Spirit of Volunteerism: Celebrating our Volunteers of the Year

The Volunteer of the Year Award is the highest honor a volunteer can achieve within our chapters, awarded annually to the individuals who best exemplify the spirit of volunteerism.

The most recent awardees have contributed significantly to the American Red Cross across all our lines of service and worked alongside staff and other volunteers in multiple roles.

Their contributions have enabled the Red Cross to fulfill our mission to the community throughout the region.   
We proudly present:

Cindy Leung
Bay Area Chapter
Alameda County

Cindy has been part of the Community Partnership outreach program in Alameda County since 2020.

Her leadership has made the program a model for similar initiatives across the region. Her professionalism and dedication has allowed the Red Cross to reengage with multiple key partners while developing new relationships.

Cindy is a passionate volunteer who believes that “we can only fulfill our mission as a team and as a community.”

“I’m motivated by the incredible selflessness and dedication of other Red Cross volunteers, the staff and our partners who all drive towards disasters instead of away from them. With climate change, I see more and more human suffering and displacement in our future, and there will be even greater need for our services, before, during and after emergencies.”

Suzanne Garrett
Bay Area Chapter
Contra Costa County

Red Crosser extraordinaire Suzanne Garrett was honored for her service, dedication and time as a large-scale disaster responder and as a Disaster Action Team member. She’s held several key roles in Contra Costa County, including Disaster Chair, Disaster Action Team Lead, Duty Officer and Caseworker.

She also serves as our county  Program Lead for The Pillowcase Project and has kept the program thriving in Contra Costa County, even through the challenging period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to thank all the many volunteers I have the pleasure to serve with, in Contra Costa and also throughout (our region.) You have made me feel like part of a true family where we all have a common purpose – Sleeves Up, Hearts Open, All In.”

Ann Bennett Young
Central Coast Chapter
Santa Cruz County

Since joining the Red Cross, Ann has supported blood drives as a Donor Ambassador and as a blood drive coordinator.

She has also been an advocate and champion of inclusion, belonging, equity, and access, and has presented on cultural intelligence on multiple occasions within our region and to regions across the U.S.

Ann has also assisted Disaster Cycle Services, working with community partners and residents to ensure they are prepared to respond to disasters.

“Volunteering with the Red Cross allows me to spend time with people who know that they can make a difference for those around them. Problem-solving and meeting needs become so much more meaningful in a context where others can benefit directly. Additionally, I learn so much and am always able to strengthen my skills by taking on new and different challenges.”

Alisa Zhou
North Bay Chapter
Marin County

Alisa is a kind and passionate volunteer, and a wonderful leader for her chapter’s Youth Executive Board.
From her position on the North Bay Board of Directors, Alisa was inspired to create a storybook that highlights Red Cross volunteers around the world. In addition to her storybook project, Alisa is always thinking of new ideas to engage chapter youth volunteers and promote Red Cross Clubs.

Furthermore, she has invited notable guest speakers to events that allow high school students to learn about the organization’s impact.

“I’m blessed to have found a family among the Red Cross community and look forward to continuing to grow — both personally and professionally — together. The Red Cross community is one that is so special…(t)his organization truly bridges the line between friends and colleagues,” she said.

Matthew Tsai
Silicon Valley Chapter
Santa Clara County

With his determination to serve communities impacted by wildfires, Matthew became an effective advocate for expanding youth engagement in disaster response within our region.

He was the first youth volunteer from our region to be deployed in the staffing function, specifically the Disaster Event Based Volunteer team.

In this role, Matthew supported community members who graciously raised their hands to join our wildfire response. He hosted new volunteer welcome sessions, managed the regional volunteer shift tool, and helped fill open shifts, all while attending school during the day. 

“I am continually inspired by how the collective power of our organization enables us to respond to major disasters and help people across the globe.”

“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:

Meet Angela Thompson Hunt: Turning Compassion into Action

Angela Thompson Hunt has always been a Red Crosser at heart, even before she started volunteering.

Growing up in the Midwest, she experienced tornado drills at school and saw the devastation caused by floods and winter ice storms. “Over the years, I’ve seen the American Red Cross assist people in their recovery from disasters,” she said. “I knew I wanted to volunteer someday.”

Angela walking next to an Emergency Response Vehicle
at Santa Rosa Parade
Photo courtesy of Angela Thompson Hunt

But it wasn’t until she and her family moved to California that she found time in her busy schedule as a full-time mom and office assistant to become a trained Disaster Action Team (DAT) member for the Red Cross.

“I loved that I could fit my Red Cross volunteering and DAT shifts around my family and work schedule,” she said.

“Volunteering, for me, is about using my skills to support my community in a way that fits in with the rest of my life. It’s also about learning new things and making myself step out of my comfort zone,” she said. “Compassionate listening, interviewing, flexible thinking, creative problem solving, pivoting and reprioritizing, public speaking, planning, data management and record keeping, new computer systems, and digital communication technologies have all been part of my volunteer experience.”

Over the years, Angela has worn many hats within the North Bay Chapter of the Red Cross, demonstrating a high level of professionalism in every project she takes on. She is the Workforce Engagement Coordinator for Napa and Sonoma counties, training and guiding new volunteers into positions that are a good fit for them. She is also a Disaster Instructor, a valued Mass Care Team member and she collaborates as a social media volunteer for the Public Affairs team.

“At the heart of my volunteer work is the satisfaction I still get in training volunteers, helping them turn their compassion into action in service of our shared Red Cross mission,” she said. 

Because of her commitment and dedication, Angela was honored in June with the North Bay Chapter’s Clara Barton Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership. This is the highest honor for chapter volunteers, highlighting their significant contributions in a series of leadership positions held over years.

“My Red Cross memories are like a bead necklace,” Angela said of her experiences during multiple deployments. “One bead for getting on an airplane not knowing what to expect (when) landing in Louisiana in 2005. One bead for my first overnight shelter shift at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds during a winter flood. Another is for helping with cots in a local church following an apartment fire and then another one is for setting up cots in the Finley Community Center for a different apartment fire. There’s a bead for the Napa earthquake, another for the Clayton Fire, the Ghost Ship Fire, the Tubbs Fire, the Kincade Fire, and the list goes on. Beads for every volunteer I assisted in training and deploying to home fires, apartment fires, wildfires, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes, as well as so many other disaster response situations where Red Cross volunteers show up to help. I’ll never forget all those wonderful people who, much to my surprise, have become such an important part of my life. My Red Cross family.”

Without a doubt, one of the precious beads in this memory necklace is dedicated to Angela’s family – her husband, daughter, and son – who have spent their time with her as both a wife, mother and Red Cross volunteer. “Over the years it has been wonderful to share this some Red Cross experiences with my children: participating in parades, organizing comfort kits or volunteer recognition pins, creating training packages, or attending a volunteer party,” she said.

“I love that the American Red Cross, founded in 1881, is such an old organization, generation to generation, volunteer to volunteer, sharing the mission, passing on training, and handing over the torch to make sure that there is always someone ready to respond,” she said.

Thank you for your priceless work, Angela and congratulations for this well-deserved recognition.

« Older Entries