October 17, 1989, started off as an ordinary day for Patsy Gasca. But at 5:04 p.m., the Loma Prieta earthquake struck, causing widespread damage from the San Francisco metropolis to the much smaller towns in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. The 6.9-magnitude earthquake shook the ground for fifteen seconds, changing Patsy’s life forever. Before the day was done, the 28-year-old Santa Cruz mother of three would volunteer as a case worker, beginning what has become a 25-year love affair with the American Red Cross.
Within hours, Patsy and other Red Cross disaster workers began providing desperately needed help for the thousands affected by the quake. In the months that followed, 7,824 members of the Red Cross workforce housed nearly 65,000 people in 45 shelters, served 642,785 meals, delivered lifesaving medical supplies, and distributed blankets, food, and clothing to more than 69,000 individuals and 15,000 families.
“While on my first week as a volunteer, I learned that my aunt was killed in downtown Watsonville when the façade of a building came down on her and my nephew,” recalled Patsy. “She was killed instantly and my nephew was critically injured. He survived after many months in the hospital.”
Despite the personal effect on her family, Patsy never lost focus. Eventually, she would be hired by the Red Cross as a case manager to assist families in need of long term assistance. Today, as the disaster program manager for the Santa Cruz County Chapter, Patsy continues to help people prepare for the next disaster. As a bilingual Latina, she encourages other Latinos to get involved, especially in communities like Watsonville where 81% of the residents are Latino, 41% are foreign born, and one in five households are linguistically isolated (meaning no one over 14 speaks English).
“When I decided to help my community after the earthquake, it was an act of love. That remains very true today,” says Patsy.
Even after 25 years, love still matters. It’s a relationship that started with tragedy and heartache, but one that flourishes today thanks to a small town girl with a big heart.