Volunteer John Sternberg flew to California from Kentucky to help with the Red Cross response to the powerful storms and flooding. John joined other Red Crossers to help set up a shelter at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. He also welcomed new shelter clients and got them settled in with a cot and a blanket.
“We’ve met everybody in the shelter here. I’ve talked with them and dealt with them.” Volunteers are available to listen to evacuees’ experiences and help them begin to recover and process the experience they went through.
Volunteer Andy Witthohn of Santa Rosa also is working in the shelter. He and his wife Betsy first volunteered with the Red Cross in 2017 when the devastating Tubbs fire swept through Sonoma County.
“There was a disaster headquarters and we walked in and said ‘what can we do?’”
Andy sorted clothing, drove supply trucks and distributed food and cleanup kits to fire-ravaged neighborhoods.
“It was very tough. Friends of mine lost their homes. It was very difficult.”
Now during the California floods, Betsy is working at Disaster Headquarters while Andy is in the Santa Rosa shelter, serving up food with a smile and friendly conversation. The people staying in the shelter say they are thankful for people like John and Andy.
“Amazing. I’m very grateful,” says Erick Langbehn. “I just needed someplace to get out of the rain for a little bit. I can’t sleep in my car. It’s a Challenger so that’d be a little hard he says, laughing. “If this wasn’t here, then I don’t know what I’d do.”
Wajeeda Curtiss of Guerneville is staying in the shelter with her teenaged son. Her apartment building sits safely above the Russian River, but they lost power days ago. “We stayed in a hotel a couple of nights but I didn’t want to use up my money for a hotel, so I decided to just come here.”
Wajeeda says she has been homeless in the past, and that she is grateful for this temporary home with the Red Cross. “Just be thankful for what you do have. The food here’s good. I can’t complain. I like that they always have water and snacks, something available.”
Everyone is welcome to take refuge inside the Red Cross shelters, as the storms continue to pound the region.
To find a shelter, or to learn how you can help those hit hard by the rain and floods, visit redcross.org, or call 1-800-REDCROSS.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
By Martin Gagliano, Alex Keilty, Jenny Arrieta & Marcia Antipa
Home fires claim seven lives every day in the U.S. and remain one of the most frequent disasters across the region — but having working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death by half. That’s why over three weekends in May, American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region volunteers and partners installed 1,217 free smoke alarms and made 450 homes safer as part of the Sound the Alarm program.
Launched in October 2014, the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign aims to prevent deaths and injuries from home fires. Sound the Alarm is a critical part of this campaign. Working with local fire departments and other community partners, Red Cross volunteers visit high-risk neighborhoods, install free smoke alarms and provide residents with safety education on how to prevent home fires, what to do if a fire starts and how to create an evacuation plan.
“Sound the Alarm is a meaningful way to be part of a larger movement while directly helping local families,” said Ana Romero, Red Cross Regional Preparedness Manager. “In just one day, our teams could help save a neighbor’s life.”
Isabel Oliva and Julio Hernandez are two of many Richmond residents who received a visit from Red Cross volunteers and the Richmond Fire Department on a Saturday morning in early May.
With the help of local volunteer Yvette Cuellar, Isabel and Julio learned how to prevent home fires and create an evacuation plan to keep their family safe.
Volunteers like Yvette are the heart and soul of this lifesaving program. After four successful Sound the Alarm events across the Bay Area Chapter in May, 396 free smoke alarms were installed, making 132 homes and 392 residents safer in Richmond, Oakland, San Bruno and San Francisco.
Marin County sisters Angel and Alisa Zhou are two of the dozen Red Cross volunteers who gifted their time to help install smoke alarms and share safety information at the Novato Sound the Alarm event on May 21 in the North Bay Chapter.
“It’s important that for their own safety, and the safety of the children as well, that there are alarms installed,” Angel said.
Alisa chimed in, “It was so much fun meeting these people and getting to know more about our local community.”
Across the chapter in May, Red Crossers made 118 homes and 251 residents of Santa Rosa, Fairfield and Novato safer by installing 270 free smoke alarms.
On May 14, Red Cross volunteers, local Seaside High School Students and partners from the Monterey County Fire Department came together on a bright, sunny morning in Las Lomas, Calif.
After briefings by the Fire Department, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Patsy Gasca, and remarks by Monterey County Supervisor Phillips, the teams spread out into the neighborhood to install free smoke alarms and share home fire safety information.
During two weekends of Sound the Alarm events in the Central Coast Chapter, 78 homes and 339 residents from Las Lomas and Watsonville were made safer with the installation of 229 free smoke alarms by our volunteers and partners.
The Heart of the Valley Chapter had a busy Saturday morning on May 14 when Red Cross volunteers and staff gathered at the Modesto Mobile Home Park for a Sound the Alarm event alongside the Modesto Fire Department and local community partners.
In this community, Red Crossers, including long-time volunteer Tracey Singh, visited 23 homes and installed 48 free smoke alarms. Tracey is an experienced volunteer who enjoys helping equip residents like Martha Guerrero with the knowledge needed to keep her family safe in event of a home fire.
Martha is one of the 89Modesto residents that was provided with safety information and had free smoke alarms installed in their home during this Sound the Alarm event.
“I dealt with people who have been through fires or floods in their homes and these fires are really fast,” said German Barajas, who used to work at a restoration company. “With a plan in hand already, everyone gets out safely and nothing really bad happens, besides the property being damaged, and that’s always replaceable.”
German was happy to receive a visit from Red Cross volunteers at his home in San Jose on May 21 as part of the region’s signature Sound the Alarm event. In just one day, Red Cross volunteers from the Silicon Valley Chapter installed 274 free smoke alarms, making 99 homes safer and helping 329 residents.
“My stepdad has been a fireman for 27 years, so we have always talked about fire preparedness, prevention, escape plans and what to do in case of emergencies. It’s definitely been drilled into me from a young age how important these things are,” says Megan, a volunteer for the Red Cross Sound the Alarm program.
Megan was one of 297 local Red Cross volunteers that helped with the Sound the Alarm events across the Northern California Coastal Region this May.
In addition to these larger Sound the Alarm events, the Red Cross will continue this work across the region throughout the year, installing free smoke alarms and conducting home fire safety educational visits with individuals and families on an appointment basis. Residents who need assistance or would like to schedule a visit with Red Cross volunteers can sign up at SoundTheAlarm.org/NorCalCoastal.
The Red Cross Home Fire Campaign has helped save at least 1,275 lives across the U.S. since its launch, including 24 lives saved right here in the Northern California Coastal Region. As part of the campaign, the Red Cross, along with partners, has installed more than 2.3 million free smoke alarms and made 982,369 households safer nationwide.
This work is made possible thanks to generous financial donations from regional partners: Pacific Gas and Electric Company; E. & J. Gallo Winery; Arista Networks; Silicon Valley Bank; and State Farm.
For a full suite of photos from the month’s events, visit the full Northern California Coastal Region album. To watch additional videos from the month’s events, visit YouTube.
The U.S. Air Force hosted their annual Wings Over Solano Air Show at Travis Air Force Base on May 14 and 15. The show was open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both days and featured a wide range of aircraft from the Pitts Special S13, right on through to state-of-the-art aircraft such has the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber and the F-35 Lighting multirole combat aircraft.
Red Cross volunteers converged on Travis from all of the Northern California Coast Region Chapters – Silicon Valley, Bay Area, Central Coast, Heart of the Valley and North Bay. Under the leadership of Liz Dietz and Marilyn Byington, volunteers offered training, minor first aid supplies such as band aids, water and ear plugs. They also informed show goers about the Red Cross mission and spoke to service members about services the Red Cross offers to them and their families.
Volunteer Stuart Chessen managed logistics for the effort. More than a dozen additional Red Cross volunteers supported the event, and volunteer Salma Samar took great photos and videos.
Mary Ann “Stormy” Reilly and Stuart Chessen taught hands-only CPR, which is a relatively new technique introduced to help save lives through CPR where people are reluctant to give rescue breaths, especially in the COVID-19 era. On these two wonderfully warm days, there were kids aged 7-14 years old and some older adults who stopped by to observe, practice and learn about ‘Hands Only CPR’ and what to do if someone is choking on something. These people got down on their knees to practice, and worked hard to do what they needed, to help save someone’s life.
Peg Geringer taught ‘Stop the Bleed.’ If you are involved in an incident where there is a severe, bleeding wound, the first thing to do is to call ‘911’. After that, Peg explained that you use direct pressure to stop the bleeding by putting your two hands over the wound and pressing down hard with your upper body. If you have a roller gauze, take the end of it and start stuffing the injury with as much gauze as you can. Tie off the roll over the wound and if you have a tourniquet handy, apply it 2-3 inches above or below the wound, but NOT over a joint. Turn the stick or windlass as tight as you can to stop the bleeding. Tourniquets are used as a LAST resort to stop the bleeding. Cover them to prevent shock. You may put a large ‘T’ on their forehead with a Sharpie, so the medics know the person has a tourniquet on their body.
Together these two seasoned volunteers trained about 60 people during the weekend event.
The Red Cross presence at Wings over Solano was another example of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces support. The Red Cross provides the military services with emergency communications services, support to Military Hospitals and Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Facilities as well as by building strong families and resilient communities.