Tag Archives: Disaster Response

“I’m here to help, and I care.”

Margot Simpson, Alameda County Volunteer of the Year

By Marcia Antipa

Margot during the Lake County fires of 2015

Margot Simpson has responded to hundreds of house and apartment fires in more than a dozen years as a Red Cross volunteer. One of those Disaster Action Team (DAT) calls happened on a summer day at a 12-unit apartment building in Oakland.

“The residents were all standing outside; they were not all friendly with each other, so it was kind of a tense situation.”

Margot acted quickly, rallying her Red Cross trainees to gather information and hand out comfort kits filled with toiletries.

“It got interesting because two of the residents almost came to blows arguing out in front of the building. I had to step up to them and say ‘Look, we’ll leave and nobody gets help if you two don’t stop.’ So they did.”

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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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Red Cross responds as atmospheric river impacts California

This information was last updated on Monday October 25, at 11 a.m

In response to evacuation orders in Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties, and flooding and potential debris flow across the region, regional Red Cross teams mobilized over the weekend to support those in need.

The Red Cross assisted county and local officials to support evacuation centers and overnight emergency shelters in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. All evacuation centers and shelters in both counties have now closed.

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Stan Massie keeps the Red Cross connected

Stan Massie — recipient of the Contra Costa Volunteer of the Year Award — still has the buttons he received from completing swimming lessons with the Red Cross as a young child in San Rafael. So when he retired from the banking world in 2016, he wanted to do something that “added value to the world.” Inspired by the work done by volunteers during the 2017 Tubbs fire, he signed up to volunteer through the Red Cross website. Now he is as busy — if not busier in retirement as in his professional career.

Stan’s intake coordinator at the Red Cross pegged him for External Relations based on his corporate background. Briana Taylor, Regional Disaster Chair for the Northern California Coastal Region, served as the External Relations Lead at the time and met with Stan to discuss the commitment. Over coffee, Briana described the role with a “broad brush.” Stan said yes.

He’s been in action ever since.

“Once I got in, they pulled me into multiple positions,” Stan says. “First it was the External Relations Committee, then the Contra Costa Leadership Council, the Government Relations Committee, and then the Bay Area Board of Directors.”

Stan now sits as chairman of Contra Costa Leadership Council and still works in External Relations with elected officials and County partners.

“Last fall, I deployed for the first time and was assigned to Monterrey County to work in the Office of Emergency Services (OES),” Stan says. “My main job today is to work with partners throughout the county, fire, health, the Board of Supervisors, etc., so that when disaster strikes, we can get services quickly where needed.”

Stan is busy outside of his Red Cross work, looking after two grandchildren from time to time and attending to other family needs. And then there is the occasional game of golf.

“I like to tell people ‘just be realistic and honest about the time commitment,’” Stan says. “If you want to do [this] well, you’ll need to put in the time.

Stan hopes to recruit for the leadership positions he’s filled over the last several years. “All volunteer positions take time to fill and succession is very important to keep the continuity with our partners.

Stan says he sticks close to the Red Cross work for the same reason he signed up. “I thought volunteering would be showing up at an event or shelter. I didn’t want to do something that mimics my corporate world. But now I know I can do both.”

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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The “girl from high tech” finds renewed purpose with the Red Cross

Suzie Hall

The American Red Cross honored Suzie Hall with the Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership in Sonoma County for her extensive volunteer efforts. Named after the founder of the American Red Cross, this award recognizes a volunteer for service in a series of leadership positions held over several years.

The top-honor recipient joined the Red Cross back in 2014 through San Jose’s local chapter. Following her departure from a career in Silicon Valley at Apple Inc., Suzie searched for a new community to call home. Hall sought a slower pace of life and desired to be closer to friends and family, so she put down new roots in Oakmont in Santa Rosa. She quickly dedicated her time and energy to a volunteer leadership position within the Red Cross using her IT and seasoned management experience to serve the needs of the organization.

Her current focus is on the Volunteer Connection Tech Team and she works with two other volunteers – Linnea Dunn and Ayman Baydoun. Hall’s expertise and strong leadership help manage and streamline the system. If volunteers have an issue or question, they can write in for support. “It’s a huge system that runs the lifeblood of how we communicate with everyone.” Volunteers update their availability and accept shifts, among other things.

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