The Red Cross opened a shelter at Barnes Park and Recreation Center in Monterey Park the weekend of June 23, 2013 to assist a dozen people displaced by a Monterey Park home fire.
On Sat., June 23, a Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) arrived at the fire scene and quickly determined the residents could not return to their homes because of major structural damage.
Yiwei Chen, a volunteer DAT leader was among the first to arrive on-scene: “Many people were not home when the fire started and came back to find everything gone.”
Chen, who wasn’t even on-call as a volunteer that Saturday, said she was eager to help in the shelter because she speaks Mandarin, the same language as many of the residents who were displaced.
A total of 12 people spent the night at the Red Cross shelter on Saturday and were provided food to eat, a safe place to stay and emotional support.
“The Red Cross not only provides physical assistance like shelter and food, but we are also there for emotional support,” explained Chen. “Because I can speak their language and know their community well, many people were able to open up to me that much more.”
Chen spoke of a man she met who was left with nothing but one possession: his passport.
“I was able to sit down and listen to his story,” said Chen. “Eventually he felt better and we were able to give him what he needed to start rebuilding what he had lost.”
That assistance included money for food, clothes, a storage container for his belongings and lodging at a hotel for three nights after the shelter was closed.
The Red Cross also teamed up with the non-profit Tzu Chi, which provided the resident with medical care at its free clinic.
Over the course of the weekend Tzu Chi also provided translators, several amenities, and assisted the Red Cross in serving culturally appropriate food and establishing plans for recovery.
By Sunday night, three people spent the night, and on June 24, the shelter was closed.
“By the end of the weekend many people told me how grateful they were,” said Chen. “As a volunteer my reward is that feedback. It’s not money, it’s not anything physical. It’s simply when someone says, ‘I feel much better’.”