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.
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.”
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.
Central Coast Chapter Volunteer of the Year Megan Erk says love of community led her to the American Red Cross
By Marcia Antipa
“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.
After twice evacuating her home for days during major wildfires, and living through several more evacuation warnings, you’d better believe Kathryn Hecht has a plan for the upcoming fire season.
The Sonoma County resident is a Red Cross regional communications manager whose job includes informing the public about the best ways to prepare for disasters.
She practices what she preaches.
Near her front door Hecht has stashed pet carriers and a go bag that includes clothing, important papers, emergency supplies, dog and cat food and toiletries. She has planned two driving routes out of her neighborhood, and a foot route in case those two are blocked. She subscribes to her county’s emergency notification system, Nixle, has the Red Cross emergency app on her phone, and follows local sources of emergency information on Twitter. She and her husband have agreed on two emergency meeting points in case one is unavailable.
American Red Cross volunteer – and recent transplant to Fairfield – Susan Reese always planned to work with the Red Cross when she retired. When Susan finally retired from the restaurant industry last year, she became a volunteer wildfire associate. While working at a Local Assistance Center (LAC) during the North Complex fires in Yuba City, disaster response leadership called for people to join the feeding team. Susan jumped up, and said, “Feeding is what I love doing!” Just like that, Susan’s first deployment brought everything full circle.
Susan first had contact with the Red Cross in 1997 when she lived in Klamath, California. That year, the Klamath River breeched and flooded the town. Susan says that the entire area “was wiped out.” The Red Cross arrived and began to feed survivors and evacuees by bringing in food from a neighboring city.