For John and Julie Stone, volunteering at the American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties is a mutual labor of love.
Their first date was Valentine’s Day, 1991. They’d met at work—both were agents at State Farm Insurance. John took Julie out to hit golf balls, and then to a German restaurant.
“I don’t like German food,” Julie said. “I wasn’t sure it’d work out.”
Twenty-five years later, they’ve shared countless meaningful experiences—both as spouses and as volunteers. They raised three children and retired in North County. John then began to volunteer for the Red Cross, completing his disaster responder training, Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) training and going out on disaster action team (DAT) calls.
His first national disaster response operation was Hurricane Ike in 2008.
“It was an incredible, mind-blowing experience,” John said. He told Julie about it. She felt she was missing out on something important and decided to volunteer as well, so she and John could go on calls together.
John became a DAT lead, as well as a Canteen Driver, Shelter Manager, and Feeding On-Call Lead. Julie joined as a DAT Responder, with emphases in Feeding and Canteening.
They were deployed to assist during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, driving an ERV from San Diego to New York, where they first earned the title “The Rolling Stones.” John and Julie split the driving shifts into three hours each, and promised not to complain to each other to make it through the cross-country trip.
“She doesn’t think I’m a very good driver, and I think she tailgates,” John said.
“John is famous for stretching out a story,” Julie said.
“After three hours, your material gets old,” John admitted. “She’s heard it for 25 years.”
Both agreed that if you can drive 300 miles and still speak to your spouse, you’re doing very well.
On arrival in New York, the Stones handed out hot meals every day, getting to know the neighborhood clients. They found that their volunteering styles complimented each other. Julie preferred to remain behind the scenes, dishing up food and serving. John enjoyed talking to the disaster survivors.
“He has the silver tongue,” Julie said.
It’s clear that the Stones are aware of their differences and how each contributes in a unique way. John states that Julie is very analytical and has a lot of questions. Julie admires John’s ability to communicate with people.
“He’s very outgoing and friendly. I’ll be filling the food trays, and he’ll be having a conversation. That quality of being able to personally connect is very special,” Julie said.
Julie’s most memorable volunteering experience came when they were deployed to the Northern California Wildfires in 2015, once again where the Stones took the local ERV on the road to assist those in need. She noticed an unusual man near their fixed feeding site.
Julie described the “mountain man” in great detail. He rode a rickety bicycle to their site for dinner two nights in a row. On the third night, he didn’t come by to get his meals.
“Where’s my guy?” Julie wondered.
The next day, he showed up for lunch. Julie was relieved, and she approached him to tell him so.
“His face just lit up when I asked where he had been. I think he appreciated the fact someone missed him,” Julie said.
Throughout their volunteering, both Julie and John are moved by the client interactions and the satisfaction of helping others.
“People wouldn’t have help in many cases if it wasn’t for the Red Cross,” John said. “We don’t want someone sitting out in the cold, with no place to stay and nothing to eat. We want to start them on the path to recovery right then and there – on their worst day. That’s what I did as an insurance agent and that’s what I’m continuing to do with the Red Cross.”
“Every time we come, we feel good that it’s something we shared,” Julie said. “It’s a very humbling experience…we feel we have a lot to be thankful for.”
While their motivations for giving back are similar, their personalities are not.
“It’d be boring if we were the same,” John said. “We’re so not the same,” Julie agreed.
If you and/or your significant other would like to volunteer for Red Cross visit redcross.org/sandiego to get started.