Tag Archives: Wildfire

“It’s time for me to give back,” Red Cross Volunteer of the Year says

By Barbara Wood/Red Cross volunteer

Marcia Antipa interviewing a Red Cross volunteer in a shelter in Reno, Nevada during the Caldor Fire in 2021.

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.

Marcia Antipa on assignment as a public affairs volunteer during the Caldor Fire in South Lake Tahoe, California in 2021.

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.

See some of her work for the Red Cross here:

“I Want To Do That!”

Bay Area Clara Barton Honoree Uses her Journalism Skills To Tell The Red Cross Story

Barbara Wood on assignment in Bayou Gauche Island, Louisiana during Hurricane Ida in September 2021.

Barbara Wood is a longtime American Red Cross volunteer from San Mateo County.  She was recently given the Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership for the Red Cross Bay Area Chapter.  It’s the highest honor of volunteer achievement at the chapter level.

Barbara says she was inspired by her aunt Vinnie Bieberdorf, a Red Cross volunteer for more than 50 years.  “She responded after (Hurricane) Katrina, she was managing a mega-shelter. She responded after 9/11. She did all of these things and I said ‘I want to do that!’”

Barbara is a retired professional newspaper reporter, who has served in many positions with the Red Cross.  Now, she is a public affairs volunteer, reporting on the Red Cross efforts to help those affected by wildfires, floods, tornadoes and other disasters.

The Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region Communications Director Cari Dighton says, “She has 30 total deployments under her belt, and she continually brings that knowledge back to the region – co-instructing courses, mentoring our new communications volunteers … and writing multiple, heartwarming stories per year.”

Barbara and her husband raised three children in San Mateo County.  She joined the Red Cross in 2006, volunteering for work close to home.  Once her youngest child had her driver’s license, Barbara began volunteering for the Red Cross at disasters across the country.

Her first deployment was to Hurricane Ike, a powerful cyclone that hit Texas in 2008.  She remembers the camaraderie of living and working with first responders and other community partners in Texarkana and on Galveston Island. 

“There was a huge mess tent where you’d go through a cafeteria line and there was a massive amount of food because firefighters eat a lot. The National Guard was there, there were firefighters and utility workers, and the Salvation Army.”

Barbara’s deployments have taken her all over California and the U.S.

Barbara embraces wildfire shelter residents during the Oak Fire response in Central California, July 2022. Photo by Sivani Babu/American Red Cross

“I went to Santa Rosa after the Tubbs fire. I was in Oroville after the Camp Fire, and in 2018, they were looking for volunteers to go to Hawaii so I got permission from my job to go after the volcano erupted on the Big Island of Hawaii.”

Barbara says she loved working in the shelters and providing other services to those affected by disasters – but as a professional journalist, she realized her skills could be better put to use in Public Affairs.

“She proudly tells everyone she knows that her ‘volunteer job’ is being a Red Cross storyteller,” says Dighton.  “She is incredibly talented and travels all over our region and across the country to support the Red Cross mission.”

This hard working journalist and volunteer combined her two loves: professional writing and helping others. After every deployment, Barbara would write a firsthand account in the form of a column about her Red Cross experiences for her newspaper. On her deployment to Hawaii, she met a group of USGS experts from Menlo Park. “I called my editor and said, ‘Can I stay an extra three days if I write a story about this USGS geologist who is a volcano specialist and I’ll have a story for you?’ So they let me do that.”

Barbara has brought her sharp journalism skills to multiple disaster deployments, writing stories about volunteers and shelter clients. She illustrates her articles and social media posts with her own thoughtful, heartwarming photos.

Eventually, Barbara retired from journalism, but not from her volunteer job as a Red Cross storyteller.  “When I think back over my life about things I’ve done as a reporter, and things I’ve done with the Red Cross, I think the Red Cross things are in many ways more memorable.”

Barbara tears up as she remembers her experiences.

“I sometimes say I think the Red Cross is kind of like a placebo. When you show up someplace, people say “oh look, it’s the Red Cross! And they instantly feel better before we do anything. And whatever we can do to help them, we do.”

Barbara urges anyone who wants to make a difference to volunteer for the Red Cross. “It doesn’t matter what your skills or interests are; there’s a Red Cross job for everybody.”

As this article was written, Barbara was already off on her next deployment: the Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park in Central California.  Once again, she is telling the stories of the Red Cross volunteers and the people they help.

Please click on the links below to read just a handful of Barbara’s remarkable Red Cross stories:

Two Bartons: Red Cross founder inspired young relative

A First Deployment: Telling The Red Cross Story During a Wildfire

By Marcia Antipa

Marcia Antipa on assignment as a public affairs volunteer during the Caldor Fire in South Lake Tahoe, California in 2021.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to volunteer for the American Red Cross during a disaster – take a look back with me at my first deployment experience – to the Caldor Fire in California.

I am a Public Affairs volunteer with the Northern California Coastal Region. After retiring from a career in broadcast journalism, I now tell stories for the Red Cross.

Late last August, I received the call.  I would deploy the next day to the Caldor Fire.  I admit, my adrenaline spiked a bit when I got that phone call, but I was excited to put my career skills and Red Cross training to work.

My first stop was Sacramento, and the offices of the  California Gold Country Region.  This was the  headquarters for the Red Cross response to the Caldor Fire and it was a hive of activity.  Staffing Services, Public Affairs and seasoned disaster volunteers all gave me valuable advice. Then I hit the road for my assignment: a massive Red Cross shelter in Reno, Nevada.

Growing up in Northern California, I’d spent many vacations in the Sierra Nevada. But as I rounded the last turn on Highway 80 and looked across the Lake Tahoe Basin, a murky curtain of smoke blocked the usually stunning views.  

In Reno, I arrived to more smoky skies and 95-degree weather. Armed with my notebook, pen and cell phone, I stepped inside the cavernous Reno-Sparks Convention Center. It was filled with hundreds of cots, evacuees, and volunteers in red vests working nonstop to meet the needs of the shelter residents. 

In no time, one of the volunteers walked up and greeted me with a smile. I knew I had found my first story.

Walter Roberts, Junior is a volunteer from Missouri, with Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Services. Walter wears a lanyard that is covered with pins – all commemorating the disasters where he has volunteered for the Red Cross. In 2005, he deployed to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

“I have never left New Orleans in many ways,” he said. “I have worn a fleur-de-lis around my neck for 16 years in remembrance of Katrina and the difficulties, the hardships that people faced.”

This time, Walter was working with fire evacuees. His job was to help people stay calm in an extremely stressful situation, “defusing, deescalating tension. Everyone here – staff, management, has the positive right attitude, focusing on serving the residents.”

Deborah Towers, Disaster Health Services Volunteer

I then met volunteer Deborah Towers, a retired nurse who seemed to be everywhere at once: at the bedside of medically-fragile shelter residents, checking in volunteer doctors, or giving a job to a newly-arrived volunteer nurse.  Deborah joined the Red Cross four years ago. Since then she has deployed to hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters.

“We get compliment after compliment about the love that we exude during an emergency. They feel so well-cared-for and so well-provided-for, that it’s just an amazing experience.”

Sometimes it takes a village to meet the needs of a shelter resident. Take the case of Russell Barton.  In the 1960’s, Russell answered his country’s call and served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. When he arrived at the Reno shelter, his country, and the Red Cross repaid this veteran for his service. The shelter provided Russell with a cot, blankets, food, water restrooms and showers. He told me, “It reminds me of boot camp, but without the bunk beds!”

But Russell had other critical needs. That’s where a team from the Veterans Administration – including a nurse, a pharmacist and a social worker – stepped in. They arranged for supplemental oxygen and prescription medications.

Every day I witnessed acts of kindness just like that. Two veteran Red Cross volunteers who had been evacuated from their own home spent the day cleaning cots, handing out laundry bags, or simply talking with people who needed a friendly face.  Another volunteer organized a talent show among the residents to boost morale.

Then one afternoon, the good news swept through the shelter: fire officials had lifted the mandatory evacuation order for South Lake Tahoe.

Whole families quickly packed up their belongings and headed out. Those with cars were on the road within minutes.  Others lined up for a free ride home aboard a regional transit bus. Red Cross volunteers gave all the evacuees a boxed lunch and water for the trip. One bus rider was Reed Wells of South Lake Tahoe. He had a joyous reunion with his little dog, “Peepers,” who had been cared for at a local animal shelter.

Caldor Fire shelter resident, Reed Wells

Many people stopped to thank the Red Cross volunteers who gave them shelter, food and comfort during a frightening time. I heard one man say simply, “I love you,” to the workers.

The next day, a Public Affairs colleague and I drove to South Lake Tahoe to see how the Red Cross was helping those who returned home. The lake was blanketed with smoke, and teams of firefighters still headed to the front line, but people were happy to be back.

Two Red Cross volunteers handed out water, meals and snacks from a large truck and people stopped by to share their incredible stories. Jeffrey Grell said his house was in pretty good shape – except there was a bear swimming in his pool!

As we cope with another fire season, I will remember these stories, of the people who survived last summer’s fires, and the Red Cross workers who helped them. Despite those butterflies on the first day, I was not alone on this deployment. Many Red Cross staff and volunteers had my back – keeping me fed, sheltered and well-informed. But my secret weapon was the dynamic duo of Dan Halyburton of Texas, and Kim Mailes of Missouri – two seasoned, talented, Public Affairs volunteers who welcomed me onto their team. 

Now my bag is packed and I am ready to deploy again.

To find out how you can help during a disaster, visit: redcross.org.

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.

Read more
« Older Entries