Tag Archives: Disaster

Sticking with it for the community

Annie Schaefer - 420x279The American Red Cross named Annie Schaefer the 2018 Gene Beck Memorial Volunteer of the Year for Napa County. Though Annie shuns the limelight, her passion and belief in the Red Cross exude with every breath and action she takes on behalf of the agency. This is her story.

Ten years ago, Annie Schaefer worked for a large pharmaceutical company in Napa. The senior team set aside 100K every year to give to important causes, so it was no surprise when a board member from the American Red Cross in St. Helena made a pitch to her company’s leadership in search of additional board members. Annie’s boss recommended her for the job.

“I got a cold call, [this man] shared his experience, and I listened,” Annie reflects. “He asked me about my involvement in or knowledge of the Red Cross. I only had one distant association. My mother was a nurse in the community, and my parents were always active. But the cool thing about the Red Cross was that my Mom volunteered at the summer fair at the first aid station. So I agreed to attend a Board meeting.”

At the time, in 2009, Annie had a son overseas in Iraq. During that Board meeting, the team talked about the work of the Red Cross with military families. “I got a lump in my throat,” she says. “And it became apparent I was one of the only people with a direct link to the military. I bit, and joined the Board.”

As Annie learned more, she started taking classes. She dove into her work as part of the chapter’s Disaster Action Team. Then in 2014, when Annie had taken the helm as the Napa Valley Board Chair, American Red Cross transformed its local operations nationally to meet the growing demands for services while making the best use of donor dollars. In the new chapter design principle, a chapter must serve a minimum population of 340,000.  This led to the consolidation of many smaller Red Cross chapters into fewer larger ones, hence the birth of California Northwest. A year later, Annie was the last remaining Napa Valley Board member. “The timing couldn’t have been worse,” she says. “My primary concern was to keep the Red Cross front and center and to let people know we weren’t going anywhere.”

Annie says the timing was challenging.  In the middle of all the transitions of structures and roles, the area was hit with a couple of major disasters. The 2014 earthquake destroyed the Napa office, even though St. Helena’s survived. And then the wildfires of 2015 ravaged the northern counties. “Twelve hundred people showed up in 48 hours at the Calistoga fairgrounds,” she recalls. “And that’s when we got the hit. People said, ‘the Red Cross doesn’t know what they’re doing’ and people were left with a bad taste in their mouths. But everyone was at fault; the entire region – government, nonprofits, Red Cross, companies, residents – was unprepared and overwhelmed.”

Why did Annie stick with it in spite of challenging feedback and community misperceptions? “I thought: these are my people,” she says. “It’s the personal piece of it that makes it worthwhile. My community is what kept me coming back. Even when it became the most grim.”

Annie recalls, “When I helped open the mass care shelter in 2015, a very gentle retired fellow came up to me. It was quiet, and he smiled and said ‘ya know, I’ve always donated to the Red Cross so now I get the payback.’ And it’s because of our [donors and volunteers] that we can provide for people who need us.”

When asked what she would tell potential volunteers for the Red Cross, Annie replied “You can’t measure the warmth. When you give something, don’t look for what you get out of it, look for how it makes you feel. Get the whole story – go out on a call – you can watch and see what happens.”

For information about how you can become a volunteer with the American Red Cross, please visit this web page.

I’m still useful

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Ki Daniels poses in front of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, where she was staying in an American Red Cross evacuation shelter after flood waters from the Russian River inundated her home on February 26, 2019. (Photo: Barbara Wood)

By Barbara Wood

Ki Daniels, who has been living in an American Red Cross evacuation shelter since February 26, 2019 when forced to flee as the Russian River overtopped its banks, knows what it takes to recover from a disaster. That’s because in October 2017, Ki lost her home and all she owned in the Tubbs Fire, a loss from which she only recently had begun to feel she’d recovered.

Nonetheless, Ki, who had just recently completed renovating a home she thought would give her a fresh start on the banks of the Russian River, is upbeat about her future. She says her second loss of a home and most of her belongings in less than two years is “another opportunity for re-creation.” And she credits the Red Cross – which helped her recover after the Tubbs Fire and in the Sebastopol shelter gave her a safe, warm place to sleep, medical care, emotional support and meals – with helping to make that “re-creation” possible.

“The services that the Red Cross provides to those fleeing disaster is the foundation for their tomorrow,” Ki says. “I’ve been so well cared for.” She credits the Red Cross for helping her to manage her medical problems, as well as providing medication and medical supplies and providing a special adjustable, heavy-duty medical cot on which to sleep.

“It’s little things like that that make the world look different for someone who has medical problems,” she said.

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Ki Daniels shares the story of her recent escape from Russian River flood waters with a news reporter in front of the evacuation shelter in Sebastopol that the American Red Cross opened on February 26, 2019. (Photo: Barbara Wood)

Ki, who has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a business as a Feng Shui consultant, said she arrived at her Russian River home after an out-of-town trip only to learn the area was being evacuated. “I just grabbed a trash bag,” she recalls. She filled it with her medications, a blanket and pillow, and a few papers. A sheriff’s deputy took off his jacket and gave it to her. “I was freezing,” she remembers.

After arriving at the shelter in the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, “the Red Cross absolutely gave me all the additional support I needed,” Ki says. Red Cross volunteers helped her find a change of clothing and other necessities. “My heart’s not broken – it may be cracked, but it’s not broken,” Ki says. She also says that her attitude about the future changed while she was in the shelter, especially after she volunteered to help the Red Cross assist some of the shelter residents.

“Being here really shifted my mind. I’m still useful,” she smiled.

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About the author: Barbara Wood is a Red Cross volunteer writer with our Silicon Valley Chapter.

Giving people purpose in times of catastrophe

By Andrea Mendoza

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Ann Eichhorn is shown with her husband Bill at a Red Cross shelter in Santa Rosa in 2017. (Photo: Virginia Becker)

“The mission of the Red Cross, its reputation, and its non-biased position to help whoever needs help is what originally inspired me to volunteer,” says Ann Eichhorn, who was recognized with a Volunteer of the Year Award this past May during the annual recognition event for Marin County volunteers.

Ann’s volunteer experience with the Red Cross officially began in the early 1970s as a young adult. Back then, she might not have imagined becoming the organization’s Marin County Disaster Chair, a position she has held for the past two and one-half years. In between, her experience as an emergency room nurse and an ordained minister has also come in handy when nurturing clients during disaster responses.

Her current Disaster Chair position allows Ann to coordinate volunteers and manage the organizational goals and objectives. “I find that this is something that I like to do,” says Ann. “I love working with the volunteers and the folks who find themselves in difficulty to help bring both safety and relief to their situations when they need it.”

The recent fires in Northern California led to an increase in volunteers, people who stepped up and made themselves available to help those affected. According to Ann, volunteers have almost tripled in number, and one of her challenges is to make sure that volunteers with special skill sets get placed in the right spot where they can be engaged and comfortably give the best of themselves.

“My job is to give people a purpose and to help them find their place where they can serve with the time they have available, as well as helping people see beyond a catastrophe to see what needs to be done and how we can help,” says Ann.

In working with the Red Cross, Ann has not only helped in giving volunteers a purpose within the organization but has also directly helped those who have sought aid and comfort. One of her most memorable experiences was an 11-day deployment to the Santa Rosa Veterans Center when it became a needs shelter for over 300 people. “It was a very intense 11 days,” remembers Ann. “There were lots of good lessons learned, and we all made it out alive,” she says jokingly.

Like other volunteer leaders who exhibit endless dedication in service of others, Ann was not expecting to be honored last spring for doing what she loves. “There have been a lot of great volunteers before me, and there’s a lot of people who do a lot more than I do with the Red Cross too,” she says, reflecting on the Volunteer of the Year Award. “I was both humbled and honored.”

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About the author: Andrea Mendoza is interning with the American Red Cross in the Santa Rosa office.

Become a Red Cross Volunteer: You can make a difference in the San Francisco Bay Area by becoming a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Volunteers constitute about 94 percent of the total Red Cross workforce to carry out our humanitarian work. Red Cross volunteers are trained to meet the needs of those affected by disasters, providing food, shelter, and comfort for families affected by major disasters such as fires, floods, and earthquakes as well as helping local residents prepare for and recover from emergencies of all kinds. We’ll find the position that appeals to you and allows you to use your skills and talents. Email arcbav@redcross.org to get started.

 

 

Community togetherness in times of need

By Lindsay R. Peak

rc420 x 279Having survived the Valley Fire that decimated so much of Lake County in 2015, the mother/daughter duo of Kathleen Connors, 66, and Kelly Grimsley, 33, moved to Santa Rosa in August 2016 to make a “fresh start.” They had barely settled there when they heard the astonishing news in October 2017 of the threatening Tubbs Fire near their new home.

The two quickly fled, traveling toward Healdsburg in search of safety. A wrong turn landed them in Guerneville. Realizing their mistake, they looped back toward the freeway, eventually arriving at the emergency Red Cross shelter at Windsor High School in the early morning hours.

Remembering the feeling of being displaced with her daughter and a just a few important papers, fire survivor Connors pensively jests, “This was as ‘fresh’ as it gets.”

Night one, the pair slept on wrestling mats on the shelter’s floor. Night two, there were cots. “That was a really welcome thing. We could really rest a little bit,” says Connors.

In the days to come, community donations began to pour in. Connors and her daughter recounted the large mountain of available items piling up in the center of the gymnasium, including bedding. Padding their cots with layers of sheets, blankets, and warm comforters made their unthinkable situation feel a little more like home.

“All of our immediate needs were met,” says Connors.

Connors had limited experience with the American Red Cross prior to staying in the shelter. She recalls participating in basic training decades before while volunteering as a candy striper, but not much more.

No strangers to giving, Grimsley and Connors had regularly volunteered with local charities and non-profit organizations. Grimsley, diagnosed with autism and with other medical challenges, enjoys donating her time to help benefit others. Most of the projects Grimsley and her mother had choosen to work on are geared toward fundraising for or increasing awareness of a particular cause.

But this experience was different, as the first-time shelter clients were receivers instead of givers of volunteer services.

“What an extraordinary compassion [it is] to receive,” says Connors. “I never gave it a second thought when on the other side. It’s just what you did. Being on the receiving side, you see that these people are really extraordinary. The compassion was extraordinary. To receive that was just amazing.”

Connors further explains, “All the resources were organized. We saw everyone working with law enforcement. We had food. Medical care was available. A hug was there if we needed a hug.”

Commencing the long process of rebuilding, Grimsley took to the Internet. Online, she discovered that a beloved local chapel was among the structural fire victims. Once praised for its exquisite mosaic wall, only the tiles survived. A handful of individuals sought volunteers for an art project aimed at making trinkets from these recovered tiles.

Mother and daughter had frequently taken art classes, so the project seemed like a perfect fit.

With their spirits down, the creative process was a welcome distraction. It was a way to occupy their minds, bring them together with the community, and use their talents in a positive way while going through the many stages of grief.

Over a period of three months, this mother and daughter worked roughly 200 hours on the project. After the tiles were cleaned, tumbled, and polished, they were crafted into crosses, ornaments, garden accents, and tie tacks, among other things. In all, the pair and others involved created over 1,000 unique keepsakes.

The tile creations were given away at a variety of events aimed at community togetherness. They served as a sign of strength, symbolic rebuilding, and comfort in times of need. Some mementos were sent to the Camp Fire this past fall. Others were distributed to local churches.

By word of mouth, more and more volunteers participated in the project. And, it is not over.

“There are still projects to do. There are still tiles,” says Connors.

Connors and Grimsley presented each Red Cross volunteer with one of their masterpieces as a token of appreciation at the California Northwest Chapter’s September BBQ celebration.

Connors has many human-interest stories and positive experiences to share, including a misunderstanding about the comfort level of a standard-issue cot.

After leaving the shelter, she and her daughter were briefly displaced again. Connors marched into the local Red Cross office to seek assistance one more time. Connors asked a Red Cross representative if she could borrow one of the cots she got so familiar with over the course of a few weeks in the shelter. The Red Cross representative looked at Connors with a confused look and said, “You want to borrow… a cot?” Connors confidently replied, “Yes. We were in a shelter. We slept really good on the cots. I will bring it back. I want to borrow it just for a few days.” The woman left momentarily and returned, visibly concerned. Without saying yes or no to the request, the representative compassionately stated, “Ma’am, I think you need a pysch evaluation.”

Connors, taken aback, then explained how the community donations and experience with the Red Cross made the standard-issue cot more than a cot to her and her daughter in their time of need.

Understanding her experience more completely, the two shared a good laugh.

“It was a fun moment,” says Connors.

Rising from the ashes, this mother-daughter twosome remain positive as they continue to search for permanent housing. They have slept in numerous places including an office and at Red Cross volunteer Peggy Goebel’s home.

Uprooted twice by natural disaster, Connors has learned and shares a mantra about one’s home:

“Home and sacred ground is where you are whatever moment in time it is.

“The fire was the fire,” she says. “We have to choose to appreciate things that came out of the fire that were amazing. There were a lot of people we wouldn’t have met or known had it not been for the fire. It has its moments. There is a little silver lining.”

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About the author: Lindsay Peak is a volunteer writer for the California Northwest Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Doing what you can, when you can

By Andrea Mendoza

bob-elaine_420x279With Red Cross experience that spans more than 26 years, volunteers Robert and Elaine Florkowski are no strangers to disaster response. While their endless contributions to the Red Cross, dating to the early 1990s, have always been appreciated, the spotlight on the Benicia couple was especially bright at the most recent recognition dinner for Solano County volunteers. At the 2018 annual event, they were awarded the Clara Barton Award, recognizing their many years of volunteer leadership.

For Robert, it was an earthquake in South California that led him to a nearby Red Cross office to learn more about what to do in a future disaster. He decided then and there to volunteer and help others be better prepared in case another earthquake hit. “I liked putting together and teaching classes, as well as preparing the monthly meetings,” says Robert.

Throughout his many years as a shelter manager for the Red Cross, Robert has also deployed to other states to assist in emergency situations. Over the years, he figures he has volunteered at more than a dozen disasters, including a deployment to help with the September 11 attacks in New York. Noting how simple yet personally rewarding Red Cross service can be, Robert remembers a particular deployment in which he served as a shelter manager in Mississippi during a bad flood. “I got to go to all of the flooded areas and directly helped the people affected,” he recalls.

During her own years of Red Cross work, Elaine has put her nursing background to good use, serving as a Health Service Lead in Solano County. She was inspired by what the Red Cross could do and by the number of people she could help through the organization. “I did enjoy it when I was a Registered Nurse,” says Elaine. “I was one who took care of a lot of clients, too, and those have been memorable experiences to me.”

In addition to her assistance in the medical field, Elaine has also worked with client services — which she describes as a lot of fun — and supported the Service to the Armed Forces program at the Travis Air Force Base.

“It’s nice getting to receive an award that acknowledges the time and effort you put in to help patients and clients,” says Elaine, speaking modestly of the Clara Barton Award. Robert adds that he was completely surprised to learn about the recognition. “I didn’t think what I did was a big deal,” he says. “You just do what you can and when you can.”

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About the author: Andrea Mendoza is interning with the American Red Cross in the Santa Rosa office.

Become a Red Cross Volunteer: You can make a difference in the San Francisco Bay Area by becoming a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Volunteers constitute about 94 percent of the total Red Cross workforce to carry out our humanitarian work. Red Cross volunteers are trained to meet the needs of those affected by disasters, providing food, shelter, and comfort for families affected by major disasters such as fires, floods, and earthquakes as well as helping local residents prepare for and recover from emergencies of all kinds. We’ll find the position that appeals to you and allows you to use your skills and talents. Email arcbav@redcross.org to get started.

Red Cross volunteers support residents affected by current storm

Thursday, February 14, 10 a.m. — The series of storm systems that have pummeled California this week are causing flooding and mudslides in some of the Northern California counties that make up the American Red Cross’s Northern California Coastal Region (NCCR).

Red Cross disaster teams in our region opened two evacuation centers in the past 24 hours due to weather-related issues. Here are reports received this morning related to those incidents and other incidents:

In Marin County: A mudslide in the middle of the night caused a home in Sausalito to slide into a vacant home below it. One woman was rescued. About 50 homes are currently evacuated in the area as a precaution while officials determine the stability of the rest of the homes on the hill. Red Cross is operating the evacuation center at Sausalito Fire Station 1. Twenty-five to 30 residents are currently at the evacuation center. Red Cross volunteers are on site providing care and comfort to the residents awaiting word from officials.

In Santa Clara County: The Weather Service issued a flood warning for the portion of the Guadalupe River in the middle of the City of San Jose at 2:30 a.m.  Red Cross opened an evacuation center at Willow Glen Community Center at 3:30 a.m. An evacuation advisory was issued at 4:21 a.m.  The evacuation advisory was lifted at 6:45 a.m. today. In total 20 people, three dogs, and three cats (managed by our partners) took refuge at our evacuation center.

In Santa Cruz County: A large oak tree fell on a home in Boulder Creek this morning, displacing residents there; the home is also being deluged by water from intense rains in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The local Red Cross chapter’s Disaster Action Team has provided support (emergency lodging, food, and clothing) to a family of four (2 adults and 2 children). There were no injuries reported.

Many thanks to the dozens of amazing Red Cross volunteers from our region who answered the call overnight and this morning to help those in need of shelter in the middle of this most recent storm.

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With winter storms affecting residents in California and elsewhere in the U.S., please take a few minutes to read this Red Cross story, which includes important tips on staying safe.

Red Cross provides support following gas line explosion in San Francisco

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See full-size photo and the incident photo album.

A gas line explosion in San Francisco on Wednesday, February 6, resulted in a three-alarm fire and displaced residents and workers. The explosion occurred around 1 p.m. at the corner of Geary Blvd. and Parker Ave. in the city’s Jordan Park neighborhood; the ensuing fire was brought under control about three hour later.

Six mixed-use commercial/residential buildings have been red- or yellow-tagged as a result of the incident.

An evacuation center was opened at Saint Mary’s Cathedral at 1111 Gough St. for individuals in need of shelter or impacted by PG&E’s need to shut off power to the affected area.

Red Cross volunteers also responded with an Emergency Response Vehicle to provide water and food to first responders and evacuated residents at Mel’s Diner. Two muni buses were requested as additional warm spaces for evacuees. Dinner was ordered for first responders and residents at the evacuation site and for the shelter.

The volunteers have collected information at the evacuation site from six families whose residences were affected by the fire. All other impacted individuals or families have found their own lodging.

Red Cross personnel closed the shelter today (Thursday, February 7) and are continuing with traditional casework and referrals to our partners.

Residents displaced by the gas line explosion and fire may call 415-427-8010 to register for Red Cross assistance and referrals.

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