Tag Archives: Wildfire

Looking back on 2021

Please join us as we say goodbye to 2021 with a look back at some of our favorite stories of the year from all of our lines of service.

Service to the Armed Forces

Lisa Ann Rohr was one of nine Red Cross SAF Mobile personnel who left the U.S. for overseas duty from August 2020 to April 2021. Lisa Ann was one of two Red Crossers initially stationed in Iraq, at the diplomatic post Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC).

She says: “My entire ‘boots on the ground’ experience providing virtual services in Emergency Communications Messaging Delivery and Service Member follow-up with my peers, to creative ‘no contact’ distribution of incoming holiday donations, gifts and personal care items, to organizing cooking classes, language classes, and cultural history classes for U.S. and Coalition military forces serving their deployment rotation at BDSC, was a dream come true!”

You can read more about Lisa’s experiences here.


Lifesaving Blood

Blood donor Jennifer Sahni credits the Red Cross for saving her life after a challenging childbirth. After delivery, Jennifer’s cesarean incision would not stop bleeding. She received two units of blood, which stabilized her. Two days later, she had to receive a second transfusion with an additional two units of blood. She was able to go home the next day.

“I am so grateful to the people who donated the blood I received,” Jennifer said. “Because of them, I was able to go home and be with my kids. You can read more about Jennifer’s story here.


Training Services

On Tuesday, March 16, two local residents were honored with American Red Cross commendations in a virtual ceremony hosted by the organization’s Central Coast Chapter.

“These two individuals exemplify the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies and are to be commended for their willingness to help others in distress.” – Michele Averill, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Central Coast Chapter. You can read more about Linda and Robert here.


International Services

Red Crossers and the public at large were invited to a speaker series to learn how the American Red Cross International Services team provides relief and hope in communities around the globe by reconnecting families separated by crises, helping rebuild communities devastated by disasters and working alongside health organizations to eliminated global disease. 

Featured panelists included Chris Losavio, Executive Director, Heart of the Valley Chapter American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region; Patrick Hamilton, Head of Delegation for the United States and Canada International Committee of the Red Cross; Koby J. Langley, Senior Vice President, Service to the Armed Forces and International Services American Red Cross; Christine Medeiros, Pacific Division Lead, Restoring Family Links American Red Cross. You can view a recording of the discussion here.


Disaster Services

Navy veteran Michael Ocaranza awoke earlier this year to flames engulfing his apartment. He had just enough time to grab his dog, Sparky, and race out the door as fire licked around his head.

American Red Cross volunteers and case managers, Betsy Witthohn and Cindy Jones, first contacted Mike during his hospitalization and began to put together resources for his welfare following his stay. During the recovery process, Mike says they became “like friends from the past that I never had before – it’s a good feeling all over.”

You can read more about Mike’s story here.


From all of us in Communications, Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year!

If you have a story lead for any one of our writers, please email us at NCCRPublicAffairs@redcross.org.

“I’m here to help, and I care.”

Margot Simpson, Alameda County Volunteer of the Year

By Marcia Antipa

Margot during the Lake County fires of 2015

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

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

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

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

Read more

Volunteer lifts morale of all around her

Deborah Torres knew she wanted to volunteer for the Red Cross even before she retired from San Mateo County, where she ended a long career in social services and public mental health in 2013. Not long before her retirement, Torres found herself partnering with the Red Cross after two large fires destroyed two apartment buildings in Redwood City. The Red Cross had opened a shelter at the armory near Red Morton Park for people displaced by the fires and was helping them figure out their paths to recovery. “I got to see [the Red Cross] in action,” Torres said.

“I told myself when I started working with Red Cross, that when I retire that’s what I’m going to do,” she said.

Just three months after her September 2013 retirement, Torres became a Red Cross volunteer.

And this year, Torres was named the Red Cross Volunteer of the Year for San Mateo County.

“I was totally surprised [to receive the award],” Torres said. However, her fellow volunteers were not surprised. Torres’s background in social services and mental health and as a bilingual Latina with decades of experience working in the county make her invaluable.

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Tirtza, Barry and Gumby help out in Gold Country shelter

Photos and reporting by Barbara Wood

Tirtza and Barry Pearl

Tirtza Pearl of San Francisco figures she has deployed nearly 60 times since she joined the Red Cross in 1991 after the devastating firestorm swept through the hills of neighboring Oakland. Only recently, however, has she convinced her husband, Barry, to join her. Both Pearls worked in a Red Cross shelter in the Cameron Park Community Center in El Dorado County after the Caldor Fire in September. It was Barry’s second deployment.

“The people who volunteer for the Red Cross are an amazing group of people, ” Barry said. “They devote heart and soul to the clients.” 

Barry says, so far, he’s only deployed with Tirtza. “I feel much more confident of all her years of experience,” he said.  “I’m still learning the ropes.” 

In addition to recruiting her husband, Tirtza has brought another special guest along on at least ten deployments – Gumby. The stretchy green figure represents the unofficial motto of the Red Cross “Semper Gumby” or “Forever Flexible.”

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The Knowles put ‘together’ in teamwork

By Debbi Behrman

Jane and Carl Knowles

On April 1, 2021, the American Red Cross Heart of the Valley Chapter honored Carl and Jane Knowles for their hard work and dedication at the annual volunteer recognition event (held virtually due to COVID-19 precautions). Located in San Joaquin County, this amazing couple collectively put in over 1,200 volunteer hours in 2020 in various locations and activities, despite a pandemic and quarantine requirements.

For Jane and Carl, 2020 was packed. They worked in disaster assessment for the Lake Berryessa area and served food during the Santa Cruz fires. Jane sewed 450 masks for family, friends, SAF (Service to Armed Forces) and a neighborhood school. Then the Knowles transported large quantities of blood donations, often working double shifts five days a week to compensate for the reduction in volunteer drivers due to COVID-19.

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In Her Father’s Footsteps

Central Coast Chapter Volunteer of the Year Megan Erk says love of community led her to the American Red Cross 

By Marcia Antipa 

Megan during her 2020 deployment during Hurricane Cristobal in Texas

“Showing kindness and getting help to people that need it without regard to anything else – that is how I was brought up.” 

Megan Erk – the Volunteer of the Year for the Central Coast Chapter – credits her father for inspiring her dedication to the community. He was a military man who brought his daughter along on volunteer projects.  

“I kind of grew up in that environment where people just volunteered in the community to help out.”  

Now Megan is taking on multiple roles with the American Red Cross. From hurricanes to wildfires, from blood drives to blog articles, Central Coast Chapter CEO Michele Averill says Megan has more than earned her award. 

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