Photos and reporting by Barbara Wood/Red Cross volunteer
The Galvan Alvarez family was sound asleep in their South San Francisco apartment in the early hours of January 10 when they were jolted awake as the entire roof blew off their apartment building.
“At first we thought it was an earthquake,” Jose Galvan Alvarez said, holding his nine-month-old grandson, Kingston, in a Red Cross shelter at the San Mateo County Event Center. Water from one of the series of major storms that have been pounding California started pouring in through ceiling light fixtures, he said.
The family called the fire department, which quickly responded and referred them to the nearby Red Cross shelter that had been opened to provide refuge from the storm for all who needed it. The family arrived at about 4 a.m. and were provided supplies, such as diapers, food and toiletries, as well as a portable cot for Kingston and warm beds for the rest of the family. In the morning they had warm showers and breakfast.
“The Red Cross has been excellent,” Jose said. “I’ve got nothing but nice things to say about the Red Cross.” Jose said he had also been helped by the Red Cross years ago, when he had a fire in his apartment. Jose then excused himself to grab a broom and dustpan and clean up around his family’s cots. “The Red Cross is helping, so I can help, too,” he said.
The atmospheric rivers that pounded California for weeks, with floodwaters and damage remaining long after the storms have subsided. At one point there were as many as 100,000 people in California under evacuation orders or warnings.
Now that the skies have cleared, individuals and families are returning home to evaluate their path back towards recovery. Hundreds of Red Cross disaster workers are continuing to safely shelter those in need, deliver hot food and relief supplies to impacted neighborhoods, and provide much-needed emotional support.
For many, the road to recovery will be long – and the Red Cross will stand with survivors in the weeks and months ahead as they begin to rebuild their lives. You can help people by:
Making a financial gift to California Storms and Floods. Donations for Disaster Relief enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
This information was last updated on Thursday, January 26 at 7:00 a.m.Please check back regularly for updates.
Californians have begun the monumental task of cleaning up after the recent weeks of severe weather, an undertaking that could take months to complete. The American Red Cross is helping them now and will also be there in the days and weeks to come, supporting people as they recover from the storms.
Since the New Year’s Eve, more than 700 American Red Cross disaster workers are helping people impacted by this stretch of back-to-back severe weather, providing them with a safe place to stay, food to eat, relief supplies, emotional support and comfort. The Red Cross and partners have provided more than 9,100 shelter stays in 82 shelters, more than 58,200 meals and snacks, and distributed more than 14,700 relief items such as comfort kits and other relief supplies.
This online story map offers a look at the ongoing response to the California floods; this map is updated as more information and stories from the ground are available.
Supply Distribution Sites: Wednesday, Jan. 25
The Red Cross is out in impacted areas distributing emergency supplies and clean-up kits to help residents recover.
While trained Red Cross volunteers and staff continue to manage the response efforts, we are looking for additional volunteers to help with disaster response and recovery activities, including feeding, supply distribution, clean-up kit building and more. Apply online to become a Red Cross volunteer by visiting tinyurl.com/ARC2023FloodsApplication if you are interested in helping with this response or responses like this in the future.
Statewide Red Cross, County and Partner Shelter Information by County:
Everyone is welcome at a Red Cross shelter. All Red Cross disaster assistance is free.Current list denotes open shelters managed and/or supported by the Red Cross, county or community partners.
Merced County Fairgrounds – Yosemite Hall
900 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Merced, CA 95341.MAP
Blood During Disasters
The Red Cross is working to maintain a stable blood supply amid the threat of storms and winter weather across the country, as severe weather often causes widespread blood drive cancellations. Where it is safe to do so, we encourage donors to make and keep blood donation appointments by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
Help Those in Need
You can help people affected by disasters like floods, fires and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief.Donations for Disaster Relief enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation..
Stay Up-to-Date on Social Media
Updated information on the Red Cross response to this storm, and preparedness information is continually updated on regional social media channels:
Story and photos by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross
Do you want to give blood but don’t know how? Are you curious about donating blood but aren’t sure what is involved? Join Emmanuel as he goes through the five simple steps of donating whole blood.
1. Book it
The best way to make an appointment is on the American Red Cross Blood Donor app. That is how Emmanuel made his appointment the day before. “It’s too easy with the app,” he says.
You can also make an appointment online at redcrossblood.org or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS.
Pro tip: “Hydrate the day before your appointment,” says Eric Magalued, Team Supervisor at the San Fransisco Blood Center. “The day of the donation: EAT! Have something in your stomach.” Eric has been taking blood donations at the Red Cross for five years. He knows that drinking lots of water the day before and eating before you donate will lesson the chances you will feel dizzy.
2. Check in
The Blood Donor Ambassador at the front desk asks for your donor card and identification (such as a driver’s license). They scan the QR code on your phone if you have a RapidPass. The Ambassador also gives you some material to read about donating blood.
Pro tip: “Complete the RapidPass,” says Eric. Donors can save time by completing a RapidPass which allows them to complete the pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of the donation, from a mobile device or computer.
3. Health history
Complete a private and confidential questionnaire with a trained technician in a separate room or a cubicle. The questionnaire covers topics like travel, medications and health.
The technician gives you a brief physical exam, checking your vital signs, blood pressure, temperature and pulse. They also look at your arm veins to see if they appear suitable for donation and prick your finger for a drop of blood to check your hemoglobin levels.
4. Give blood
Lay down on a reclining chair in the blood collection area and a Phlebotomist will disinfect your inner elbow and insert a brand new, sterile needle there. The needle will draw blood through a tube and into a collection bag. Once the bag is full for a whole blood donation – which is one pint in about 10 minutes – the Phlebotomist will remove the needle and bandage your arm. Other types of donations, like plasma, platelets and Power Red can take up to two hours to complete.
Many people wonder if the needle will hurt. The Red Cross recommends you pinch the fleshy underside of your arm to experience a similar feeling. Emmanuel agrees with that description. He says, “It feels like a pinch, just a split-second pinch.”
Pro tip: If you feel faint, Eric recommends squeezing your legs together to force the blood from your legs back to your heart. Tell the Phlebotomist you are feeling dizzy and then cross your legs, squeeze your inner thigh and stomach muscles, stretch your ankles and hold for five seconds. Repeat five times then switch legs.
5. Snack time
Remain for 10 to 15 minutes longer to ensure you are feeling well after your donation. Get refreshed with a free snack and a drink.
Please don’t forget to make your next donation appointment on the app before you leave.
Emmanuel will be back for sure. He says, “It’s a wonder to think the blood is going to someone who I will never meet, but it’s going to help them.”
Thank you to blood donors like Emmanuel who show up to provide life-saving blood!
A veteran’s transition to civilian life can be tough and sometimes it becomes hard to find a purpose in serving after leaving the U.S. military. But for many veterans, volunteering and responding to community needs is a way to share comradery and apply their unique skills and talents to the needs of their local neighborhood.
On this Veterans Day, we’d like to recognize all the Red Crossers who continue their service after service across the Northern California Coastal Region.
We are honored to have all of them on our team – across counties and lines of service, and we proudly present some of their unique stories:
Daniella Zapata Regional Business Operations Coordinator
At 17 years old, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps to serve our country. It was my first experience doing something for the greater good and it taught me to think beyond myself and to look out for those around me. On my first day of bootcamp, I was introduced to the Red Cross and its services to our armed forces. A Red Cross card was handed to me to fill out with all the contact information for my unit. This tool would be used by my family if they needed to contact me. The Red Cross would quickly pass on information in case of emergency. Military training was intense, but I had the comfort of knowing that my family could find me if needed.
While in the fleet, I had the pleasure of working as an embark and logistics specialist where I learned valuable skills that continued to be of use after my military service – discipline, hard work and the importance of integrity.
In 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit our nation and I felt an overwhelming need to help. The news showed immense devastation and volunteers from the Red Cross were already on-site providing comfort and relief. I immediately checked in with our local Red Cross office, which was buzzing with community members taking various trainings, ready to lend a hand. This was my calling; I knew my experience moving resources in the Marine Corps could be used to help with disaster relief efforts. Within a few weeks, I had taken all the classes needed and was deployed to Texas. The service I was able to provide alongside thousands of other volunteers was immeasurable. We looked into the eyes of those who lost so much and through generous donations from across the nation, we were able to provide hope.
Those moments sparked something in me that has continued to fuel my passion for service through the Red Cross for the past 17 years. Every day I get to work alongside community members who volunteer their time and talents to support our military personnel, assist families after a disaster, provide lifesaving blood, and so much more. I am honored to have the opportunity to continue serving our beloved country.
Diane St. Denis Pacific Division Disaster Health Services Advisor
I spent 3 years in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and it was there that I realized how little I knew about the world. I also saw discrimination and limitations on what I, as a young woman, could expect as far as deployment opportunities, but also made lifelong friends, saw the Blue Angels up close and personal, and met the love of my life, my partner in crime, my Marine, my husband.
As a naive 18-year-old (who thought I was very worldly), I joined the Navy with no idea what to expect – I only knew that I wasn’t ready to do the college thing. After a battery of tests, I was told I was going to Air Traffic Controller “A” school after bootcamp.
I was promoted to AC3, learned how to handle a stressful but exciting job, and how to live on a minuscule paycheck. To this day, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is a meal near and dear to my heart. All of the experiences I had in the Navy molded much of my future and made me realize how blessed I am to have learned the value of service to others.
After my discharge from the Navy and getting married, I found a job as a police dispatcher, utilizing the skills I learned in my time in service, but I finally recognized that my life was really meant to be in healthcare. Parenthood delayed my nursing education, and it took many years before I finally obtained my nursing license, but it was worth the wait. Nursing is what I was meant to do all along. I joined the Red Cross while I was in Nursing School, and I haven’t looked back.
I have seen many changes in Red Cross over the years. My training in the Navy taught me to deal with adversity, change direction on a dime, value friendships, the importance of organization, and believing in the mission.
I eventually became the Disaster Health Services Lead for my Red Cross Chapter and was later appointed the advisor for the Pacific Division. At some point, I will relinquish the advisor role, and when I do, hope to have more time so that I can become more active in Service to the Armed Forces and serve our military community.
Reflecting on early my life, I learned the value of giving to others from my parents, particularly my mother. The Red Cross allowed me to utilize my nursing skills while helping others in need.
I have devoted myself to a life of service, including volunteering for organizations outside the Red Cross. It all started by serving my country and I continue to do that through my service in the Red Cross. And, like most of us that volunteer, I couldn’t do it without the support of my family. Their support of the mission and my passion allow me to do all that I do.
Kathleen Lenihan Services to the Armed Force Volunteer Partner
I joined the Army Nurse program in 1970 when I was still in nursing school. After graduation I was lucky to be stationed stateside at Fort Ord, California, for a year and then at Letterman Army Medical Center in San Francisco. I was the first army nurse to have a baby and stay on active duty at the Letterman Army Medical Center.
After I was released from active duty, I joined the Army Reserve and provided medical support to the active duty who were in training. We also set up a combat support hospital in various areas of the U.S. and provided medical care for those who were ill or injured during their time in the field.
While I was on one of these training missions, we had a briefing from a Red Cross volunteer who gave us the number for the Hero Care Center to give to our family members. My son was 17 at the time and staying home alone, having this number was a relief. If he needed to get a message to me, he was able to do it through the Hero Care Center, so in my personal experience, it does work.
One of the highlights of my Army Reserve training was going on a medical mission to a small town in the northern Andes mountains, called Cajamarca (Perú), at 9,000ft height. We went there for two and a half weeks and provided medical care to the local residents. We also brought along our veterinary team to provide veterinary care to the animals. Most people don’t realize the number of medical missions that the U.S. military provides throughout the years to countries that have very little medical or veterinary care.
Kathleen is now the Volunteer Partner for the region’s Service to the Armed Forces team, she is a Red Cross representative at the VA Hospital in San Francisco, and she is a member of the Disaster Health Services team, deploying to support people affected by disasters big and small.
Larry Dietz Regional Public Affairs Volunteer Partner
I began my military service in September 1963 when I joined Reserve Officers Training Corps at Northeastern University, Boston. It was either ROTC or gym class, and I hated going to the gym, so it was an easy decision.
I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, Military Intelligence, US Army on August 1, 1968. In April 1969 I was assigned to the 509th Radio Research Group in the Republic of Viet Nam, where my first assignment was as a Radio Research Platoon leader in support of the 1st Infantry Division in Quan Loi, Dau Tieng, and Xian.
September 1969 found me reassigned as a Communications Security (COMSEC) Officer and responsible for Crypto Facility inspections. My tour in the Republic of Viet Nam was over in April 1969 and I was released from active duty in September 1970. I served four years in the inactive Army Reserve and was discharged in September 1974.
In 1980 I decided that I wanted to go back into the Reserve and was reappointed as a Captain and commanded the 519th ASA Company, providing support to warfighters such as the Marines and the 7th Infantry Division. Subsequent assignments in the Reserve took me to Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia.
In August 1989, I joined the Strategic Intelligence section. From July 1997 to February 1998, I served as the Deputy Commander of the Joint Information Campaign Task Force, Sarajevo, Bosnia, and I was promoted to Colonel in November 1998.
After my retirement, in April 2002, I graduated from the US Army War College. I served as a volunteer instructor for deploying personnel at Fort Hunter Liggett in December 2003 and April 2005, and was elected Honorary Colonel of the US Army in 2003, and served in that position until 2010.
In the summer of 1999, I attended a Red Cross Northern California Coast Region Training Symposium in Pebble Beach, Calif. where I was certified as a Public Affairs Associate. I volunteered sporadically until December 2016 when I was assigned as the Volunteer Partner to the Regional Communications Director.
In addition to Public Affairs, I am active in Service to the Armed Forces and serve as an International Humanitarian Law Instructor. I have deployed for the San Jose Flood, numerous wildfires and two mass casualty events.
Being a Red Crosser has certainly afforded me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s very refreshing to work for an organization that has a universal humanitarian cause. It feels that you’re actually helping others and Red Cross volunteers are genuinely nice people – they just want to help out and do good.
To learn more about how the Red Cross supports active military, veterans and their families or volunteer to work alongside them to make our communities stronger, visit redcross.org/SAF.
By Sharon J. Alfred, Red Cross, Senior Journalist Volunteer
Edmund Tang started volunteering with the American Red Cross at an early age. He was just 16 years old when he became heavily involved with the Red Cross Youth Corps. During his high school years, Tang was a dual volunteer in both Northern and Southern California regions. Then he went to the University of California – Santa Cruz.
Settling in the Northern California Coastal Red Cross Region (NCCR), Tang found out there were no formal youth programs there so he met with his Red Cross chapter and region team and AmeriCorps representatives to start official youth programs. This four-year project was one of his favorites. Tang proudly asserted that “by the time I left my position in 2021, we had a small Youth Corps in our chapter that was linked to the region’s Youth Corps.”
Now, Tang identifies his main volunteer region as the NCCR, though he sometimes volunteers in the Los Angeles area. He said, “I spend a lot of my other time volunteering in NCCR as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) Administrator and Information & Planning (I&P) Coordinator. I am also a medical responder, assistant station leader for the First Aid Stations team in the LA Region for the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA. I deploy nationally in Disaster Health Services (DHS) as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Shelter Associate.”
Tang continues to volunteer with the Red Cross because of the valued connections he makes in the communities. Even as a busy medical student, he keeps up his Red Cross volunteer activities. “On my breaks from school, I schedule myself available to volunteer at any capacity from tabling events, chapter logistics to community events in both the LA region and NCCR, and I also spent some time virtually as a DAT Dispatcher, taking information and sending DAT responders to calls,” he remarked.
Tang plans to remain a Red Cross volunteer for a long time. He loves to hear disaster victims’ stories of recuperation, progress and recovery, such as: “I am fully recovered from the hospital”; or, “my insurance got everything handled”; or, “I finally got my house rebuilt.”
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.
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.”
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 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.
“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.
“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.