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Red Cross Volunteer Reunites with Home Fire Victim One Year Later

As Karina Gonzalez looked on her Bethlehem, Pa., property, she couldn’t believe the nightmare she was living. “I really thought this cannot be real. I cannot be looking through my house. I had no roof and no walls. My home was gone,” Gonzalez said, her voice cracking.

“But you … you gave me peace and I appreciate that. Everything you do directly affects the lives of people who are in great need,” she said as she described what the help of the Red Cross meant to her.

Gonzalez detailed the tragedy of losing her home and possessions to fire. Gonzalez was in Washington, D.C., celebrating a friend’s birthday over a long weekend when she received a call from the Bethlehem Police Department stating there was a fire at her home. “I asked the police officer how bad the fire was. All he could tell me was that there was significant damage and he needed to know how soon I could be home.

“In your head, you think ‘significant damage.’ Well, my living room could be significant. My front door could be significant. Anything is significant when it’s in terms of what you call home,” she continued.

Gonzalez’s home was burned to the foundation. She was later told that the fire began at 3:00 a.m. and went undetected until seven when someone driving by saw black smoke in the woods and called the police. One of Gonzalez’s closest friends called the Red Cross to meet Gonzalez at her property. “My first reaction was that I was going to be OK. There is someone with a greater need than mine who can use the Red Cross, I told my friend.

“When the Red Cross arrives, the first feeling that you get is compassion, a sense of understanding and that immediate help. As I sat there in the Red Cross vehicle, my observations were how well they were organized, how smoothly things ran and how little burden – no, no burden – was placed on me.

Karina Gonzalez reunites with Red Cross disaster volunteer Al Ellis a year after a fire destroyed her Bethlehem, Pa. home. The front of Gonzalez’s home which was destroyed in June 2010. The second floor and roof were completely destroyed by the fire.

“I remember volunteer Al [Ellis] telling me about the hotel arrangements he made for me. He said, ‘Here’s what you are going to do: You are going to this hotel. You will give them your name. They will have a room ready for you. I have already called them and they are expecting you.’

“I cannot tell you what that means to someone like me who couldn’t believe the nightmare that I was living,” said Gonzalez. “Another volunteer gave me a debit card and explained how to use it to purchase clothes and food. And, I got a toothbrush. A toothbrush! You don’t think of that kind of stuff.”

Gonzalez thanked the Red Cross, saying: “If you only knew the lives you have touched behind the scenes. For future donors, please know that when you are watching TV and see the news about a fire or other disaster and wonder what you can do to help, this is it. Give to the Red Cross.”