Tag Archives: Regional

Sound the Alarm: Red Crossers make hundreds of local homes safer throughout the month of May

By Martin Gagliano, Alex Keilty, Jenny Arrieta & Marcia Antipa

Photo by Jenny Arrieta/American Red Cross

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.”  

Richmond, Calif. 05.07.22.
Photo by Brenda Dawson Dove/American Red Cross

Bay Area Chapter

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.

Oakland, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Kane Wong/American Red Cross

North Bay Chapter

Novato, Calif. 05.21.22 – Photo by Marcia Antipa/American Red Cross

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.

Fairfield, Calif. 05.14.22 – Video produced by Nanette Shamieh/American Red Cross

Central Coast Chapter

Las Lomas, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Jenny Arrieta/American Red Cross
Las Lomas, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Jenny Arrieta/American Red Cross

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.

Heart of the Valley Chapter

Modesto, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Martin Gagliano/American Red Cross

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 89 Modesto residents that was provided with safety information and had free smoke alarms installed in their home during this Sound the Alarm event.

Silicon Valley Chapter

“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.

San Jose, Calif. 05.21.22 – Video produced by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross

“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.

San Jose, Calif. 05.21.22
Photo by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross

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.

Missing But Never Forgotten: Red Cross Program Reconnects Families

By Alex Keilty

After retiring, some people play golf and some people play bridge, but Christine Medeiros plays amateur detective. 

Christine is a volunteer caseworker and Pacific Division Lead for Restoring Family Links – a program of the Red Cross and Red Crescent networks that reconnects loved ones separated by international crises. Tracking down missing people here and overseas takes lots of old fashioned detective work plus some technical savvy – and Christine has both.

Christine started volunteering for the American Red Cross in 2018. Her first case (before the COVID-19 pandemic) called for her and a teammate to go door to door in San Francisco searching for an elderly gentleman whose last known address was in the Tenderloin neighborhood and whose family in Ukraine had no word from him.

“We found him!” she says. And that’s a pretty typical result for Christine. After working 40 cases locally and consulting on approximately 30 cases in other Red Cross regions around the country, she is confident about her ability to find people whose last known whereabouts is the West Coast of the United States. As she says, “When they are here [on the West Coast], I can usually find them.”

Once COVID-19 hit, all her work went remote and she became “an online detective,” as she calls it. Nowadays she works from home in Marin County at any time of the day, evening or weekend that suits her schedule. 

Although it may seem unrelated, her professional background (she retired from the technology industry where she worked in marketing and partnerships) has actually been an asset to her part-time sleuthing work as a Restoring Family Links caseworker. Being comfortable doing computer searches, completing online forms, writing letters, being organized, speaking in front of audiences – these are all skills she honed in her previous work life. She says speaking languages in addition to English can be an asset to the role as well. Caseworkers must also be compassionate and offer comfort to family members who may be distressed.

“It takes a little bit of social work because people can be very upset, even angry,” she says.

Christine Medeiros

Families seeking a missing relative can submit requests to the Restoring Family Links program online or by phone. When a Red Cross caseworker is assigned, they gather as much information as possible about the sought person – including full name, date of birth, names of parents, last known address, last known contact location, past telephone numbers, email addresses, any languages spoken, occupation, religion, and a photograph. This information is uploaded to an international case management system that is accessible to the Red Cross and Red Crescent network worldwide. And then the case will be assigned to another volunteer caseworker who is in the country where the individual is being sought.

So Christine may be gathering information from a family member who lives here, or she may be looking for a missing individual who was last seen in this area. 

When the missing person’s last known location is here, Christine will use the information provided by the family overseas to begin a search. She will call all previous phone numbers, send letters to all previous addresses, reach out to former employers, and connect with religious and immigrant groups to see if they know this person. She will also look for Facebook accounts and use Google Earth maps to look for and eliminate addresses and mailboxes. The Red Cross also has access to databases which can provide consumer information and public records. Caseworkers may also do some cultural and historical research to put the missing person’s experience in context and provide more leads as to their current whereabouts.

So who are these missing people? Some cases go back as far as World War II. A majority of the cases come from Central America and Africa, though globally there are 100 armed conflicts and 90 million people displaced due to war, climate change, persecution, violence and poverty.

To protect these vulnerable people, the program is totally confidential and the only people who can initiate requests are family members, not government or other organizations. Once the individual is located by a Red Cross caseworker, they can choose if they want to reconnect with their family or provide no information at all – not even a message that they were found. The American Red Cross respects their privacy. 

To access the Restoring Family Links program, the family member must have been separated internationally as a result of conflict, disaster, migration or other humanitarian emergency; must have already tried normal channels of communication to reconnect; be able to provide essential information about the sought person, and must have been in direct contact with the sought person before the crisis occurred.

Some cases are resolved quickly and happily; perhaps an individual in a war zone is able to send word to family overseas, or the person is located through the dogged investigative work of the caseworkers. But sometimes the result is sad news that the person has died or is unable to be found.

“Searches can go on for years,” says Christine. And while all cases are important, some haunt her and can’t be forgotten. Like one case she had years ago where she was seeking a person who had fled from South Vietnam.

“The Canadian Red Cross could not find him, but I still look every once in awhile,” she says.  To learn more about the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program visit your local Red Cross chapter, call 844-782-9441 or complete the online form at https://www.redcross.org/about-us/our-work/international-services/reconnecting-families.html.

The Cost of War

Red Cross teen volunteers spread awareness about the impact of armed conflict

By Marcia Antipa

“It’s just better for humanity that everyone knows about it.”

IHL In the Bay, a Youth Action Campaign team from the East Bay.

Bay Area teen Janaki Rakesh is talking about International Humanitarian Law (IHL), a set of rules developed under the Geneva Conventions designed to limit the impacts of armed conflict.

Rakesh and 40 other students in the Northern California Coastal Region are studying IHL through the Red Cross Youth Action Campaign (YAC).   

Kimberly Cui says she signed up for YAC because  “I just wanted to explore more about what other people in the world were facing.”

In past years, the campaign has focused on the effects of war on healthcare workers and on education. This year’s theme is cultural property.

“The destruction of cultural property’s permanent, so when it’s damaged or when it’s destroyed it has a direct impact on that particular community,” says Sarina Vij, Coordinator for the Bay Area YAC.

Vij says cultural property “is something that is of great importance to a particular community. It could be a statue; it could be a monument. “

For example, she cites the Taliban’s destruction in 2001 of two giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan that were 1600 years old.  

Some teens are surprised to learn that the Red Cross is involved in International Humanitarian Law.

Harshita Gabri says, “Initially when I heard about Red Cross I thought of it as an organization that was in charge of blood donations.”

Priyanka Supraja Balaji

“Before I knew anything about the details about Red Cross, I always thought of it as an organization that provides humanitarian aid,” says Priyanka Supraja Balaji. “I wanted to be a part of spreading that mission and really being one of the people who is helping others.”

And Rubikka Satchidanantham says, “I thought this campaign was the perfect opportunity. Not only am I able to learn more about IHL, but I’m also able to educate others.”

Janaki Rakesh said she is passionate about teaching others about IHL, because she has followed the story of Malala Yousafzai. Malala is an outspoken advocate for girls’ education who survived being shot by the Taliban, and won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17.

“I read all of Malala’s books. She’s a girl from Pakistan. Her life was destroyed by war.”

The YAC teams spread awareness about IHL through Instagram posts and Zoom game nights, where participants answer questions about war and cultural property.

Sreekrishna Gelle posted on the group’s Instagram feed about a firebombing during World War Two, “where American and British bombers basically flattened the entire city of Dresden in Germany which was a center of cultural, architectural and artistic history.”

 “I have never seen a more creative group of individuals,” says Sarina Vij. “They are very good at coming up with different ways to navigate and problem-solve. “

One team held an online scavenger hunt, sharing food, clothing, and souvenirs from other countries. Victoria Liu says that made her appreciate her own Chinese heritage – and what cultural property means to others. “It represents a lot about people and if you destroy these properties, you’re destroying peoples’ identities.”

And the work doesn’t end when the games do. “We used feedback forms and heard back from people that they want to make it more engaging,” says Shivani Ravindra. “So we’re working on improving those for the next event.”

YAC presentations are all virtual for now,  but team member Tejasvini Ramesh says that is their secret weapon.

“We’re able to spread awareness about it a lot quicker than we would through in-person events because with the power of social media we can reach lots of people from different parts of the world.”

Beyond teaching their classmates about IHL, several teens say they find the concepts comforting.

“During war, we think it’s all chaotic,” says Charisse Zou, “but I found it really fascinating how there were actually laws to protect the people and cultural property.”

“It gives me a really safe feeling,” says  Priyanka Supraja Balaji. “Things that have such a personal attachment to you like a place of worship or anything like that won’t get targeted.”

Anyone can learn about IHL and take part in the teams’ online events.  Just visit:

https://ihlinthebay.wixsite.com/ihlinthebay

https://www.redcross.org/humanityinwar/international-humanitarian-law-youth-action-campaign.html

Two Bartons: Red Cross founder inspired young relative

Many Red Cross volunteers and employees say they are inspired by the values and actions of founder Clara Barton, born 200 years ago and known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” after she provided medical services to soldiers on the front lines of the Civil War.

Athena Barton, in her fourth year as a Red Cross volunteer in Northern California’s San Mateo County, says she has an additional reason to be inspired by Clara Barton: they are related. Athena Barton’s great-great grandfather was Clara Barton’s cousin, making Athena a first cousin four times removed.

Left: Athena Barton, shown here in her high school senior portrait, is a first cousin four generations removed from Red Cross founder Clara Barton. Courtesy of Athena Barton.
Right: Oil painting of Red Cross founder Clara Barton by Mathilde M. Leisenring, painted in 1937. Courtesy of American Red Cross Photo Library.

Athena Barton was a sophomore at Burlingame High School in 2018 when a flyer asking for volunteers to work in San Mateo County’s Red Cross youth program caught her eye. The county has had youth programs for more than 30 years, working with high school Red Cross clubs in a wide range of Red Cross activities.

“I remembered my dad used to talk about Clara Barton,” the San Bruno resident said, including the fact that he volunteered for the Red Cross in high school.

“My dad was always interested in Clara and her life and legacy,” Athena Barton said, and “I was looking for volunteer opportunities. “

After taking some basic training from San Mateo County’s volunteer youth advisors, Betty Fleming and Mary Lee, Athena Barton jumped right in. She helped at a food bank, raised money for campaigns to end rubella and measles, helped put together disaster kits at the Red Cross offices, worked at disaster preparation events, blood drives and smoke alarm installation events, “helping with whatever I could,” Athena Barton said.

Youth advisor Mary Lee said Athena Barton was “very conscientious and learned quickly” and was “very good at teaching young children about disaster preparedness.”

Athena Barton said she loves working with kids. “Seeing all their faces light up, that made me happy,” she said. She also loves teaching academics to younger students by tutoring them in math and English.

Clara Barton also loved teaching, beginning her professional career as a teacher at a time when almost all teachers were men. She established the first free public school in New Jersey in 1853.

For Athena Barton, the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of Red Cross volunteer opportunities. But even after graduating from high school in 2021, Athena Barton continued to be interested in giving time to the Red Cross. That’s when she found out about the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces and International Services programs. Athena Barton joined a team headed by Chandni Khetrapal and Nikki Rowe that works to engage and motivate new and existing volunteers in those two Red Cross fields.

“From the very first day, (Athena) was eager to learn and know more about the ways she can support,” Chandni Khetrapal said. “She is very enthusiastic and always willing to help.”

Athena Barton said she is especially happy to work in these two areas of the Red Cross because these activities were especially important to Clara Barton.

During the Civil War Clara Clara Barton provided clothing, food and other supplies to sick and wounded soldiers on behalf of several then-existing organizations, and then pressed government officials to give her passes to field hospitals and battle scenes, where she volunteered her nursing skills. After learning about the International Red Cross in 1869, Clara Barton volunteered in the battle zone during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. She went on to found the American Red Cross in 1881, when she was 59.

Today, Service to the Armed Forces helps both active duty soldiers and veterans, their families and caregivers prepare for, manage and respond to the challenges of service.

While the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was mostly devoted to providing humanitarian aid on the field of battle, Clara Barton pressed the ICRC to adopt an amendment in 1864 to provide aid to those affected by natural disasters.

Today, the American Red Cross International Services workers help the International Committee of the Red Cross respond to disasters and prepare communities to respond to crisis around the world. Programs include The Measles and Rubella Initiative working to eliminate measles and rubella, and “Restoring Family Links,” reconnecting those separated by natural disasters, conflict or forced migration.

Athena Barton says she has learned a lot from her Red Cross work. “I was very shy,” Athena Barton says, and could have a hard time connecting with her peers, but through her Red Cross work has learned “not to be as nervous when I’m talking to people.”

Those character traits would be very recognizable to Clara Barton.

Famed photographer Matthew Brady took this portrait of Red Cross founder Clara Barton circa 1865. Courtesy of American Red Cross Photo Library.

Clara Barton (whose full name was Clarissa Harlowe Barton) was herself shy and somewhat socially awkward as a child, according to her 1907 autobiography, “The Story of My Childhood.”

 “In the earliest years of my life, I remember nothing but fear,” Clara Barton wrote in the book.

As the youngest of five children, a dozen years removed from her next oldest sibling, Clara Barton was coddled but also taught everything from reading to mathematics and horseback riding by her older brothers and sisters. “I have no knowledge of ever learning to read,” she wrote, “or of a time I did not do my own story reading.” Her brother had her riding bareback on a barely-broken horse at age five, and her father loved to tell her stories of his years of military service.

But she had a lisp and “I was what is known as a bashful child, timid in the presence of other persons,” Clara Barton wrote. “To this day, I would rather stand behind the lines of artillery at Antietam, or cross the pontoon bridge under fire at Fredericksburg, than to be expected to preside at a public meeting.”

That didn’t keep her from leading the Red Cross for 23 years, until she was in her 80s.

To learn more about Clara Barton, go to https://www.redcross.org/about-us/who-we-are/history/clara-barton.html .

To learn more about volunteering for the Red Cross go to https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.html .

Find Clara Barton’s autobiography at https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Story_of_My_Childhood/wqcCAAAAYAAJ?hl=en .

A mother’s motivation

By John Lindner

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood for surgeries, cancer treatments, chronic illnesses or traumatic injuries. Because less than 38 percent of the population is eligible to give blood or platelets, hospitals in the U.S. are very dependent on donations from those that are eligible to donate.

Elizabeth Crisafulli with her daughter, born prematurely at 28 weeks.

Every blood donor is motivated to do so for different reasons. Elizabeth Crisafulli discovered her personal motivation 22 years ago, when her daughter was born very prematurely at 28 weeks. The baby weighed just 2.5 pounds and needed an emergency blood transfusion. In addition to tapping into the blood products the hospital had on hand, some of Elizabeth’s friends donated blood. Her daughter is now a healthy 22-year-old.

When you speak with her, you get the impression that Elizabeth is on a mission. She has battled cancer twice, which temporarily postponed her ability to donate blood. Once she was cleared to do so, however, she was right back at it. She got frustrated once when she couldn’t donate because “something was too low.”

Like many of us, Elizabeth receives email notifications for blood donations which remind her to schedule her next donation. She goes to the same San Jose red Cross Blood Donation Center each time and sometimes brings her daughter along (her husband is not eligible to donate). Needles don’t bother her but she says, “I don’t watch it going in.”

Elizabeth praises the American Red Cross Blood Donor mobile app, stating that she “loves it,” adding that “it makes donating so simple.” The mobile app is extremely user friendly and helps you find local blood drives and donation centers, schedule and reschedule appointments and keep track of your donation history. “It even tells you where your blood went and how many lives it impacted,” Elizabeth said. “I’ve shared the app with my friends who have used it to donate.”

This writer was unfamiliar with the mobile app (called “Blood Donor American Red Cross” in the App Store and “Blood Donor” in Google Play). I downloaded the app after speaking with Elizabeth and have a feeling I will be donating more frequently, much like the others Elizabeth has influenced to do the same.

The impact of donating blood is huge – one donation can potentially save more than one life. Unfortunately, today the Red Cross is experiencing the worst blood shortage in over a decade. The blood supply is dangerously low, which has forced some hospitals to defer patients from major surgeries, including organ transplants.

It’s hard to say how many lives Elizabeth Crisafulli’s donations have impacted over the past 22 years, but it’s clear she will positively affect many more in the years to come. Thank you for your life saving donations, Elizabeth!

About the author: John Lindner is a Public Affairs volunteer with the Bay Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Red Cross: National blood crisis may put patients at risk

The American Red Cross is facing a national blood crisis – its worst blood shortage in more than a decade. Dangerously low blood inventory levels are posing a concerning risk to patient care and forcing doctors to make difficult decisions about who receives blood transfusions and who must wait until more blood products become available. The Red Cross has issued a plea for blood and platelet donors to give now to help prevent further delays in vital medical treatments.

In recent weeks, the Red Cross had less than a one-day supply of critical blood types and has had to limit blood product distributions to hospitals as a result of the shortage. At times, as much as one-quarter of hospital blood needs are not being met.

When there’s not enough blood

Blood recipient Kala Breder and family.

Kala Breder knows all too well how dire a blood shortage can be. In July 2020, hours after the birth of her son by emergency Cesarean section, Kala developed a complication and began hemorrhaging. As doctors fought to control her bleeding, the blood supply was exhausted at the hospital and those within a 45-mile radius. Ultimately, she was air lifted to another hospital because there wasn’t enough blood locally.

Kala credits the 58 different blood products she received with helping save her life. “Without one of those, I probably wouldn’t be here,” she said. “I needed every last unit.”

Don’t wait – make your appointment to donate 

Please schedule an appointment now by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).If there is not an immediate opportunity to donate, please make an appointment in the days and weeks ahead to ensure the Red Cross can replenish and then maintain a sufficient blood supply.

Rush in to give blood or platelets Jan. 1-31 and you’ll automatically get a chance to score an exciting Super Bowl LVI getaway in LA for you and a guest! Plus, the Red Cross will give you a shot at a home theater package and $500 e-gift card in January. Terms apply; visit RedCrossBlood.org/SuperBowl for more information.

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