During this holiday season, hundreds of Red Cross volunteers will be lending support and comfort to victims of the California wildfires throughout the Thanksgiving week. It’s been nearly two weeks since the fires began and the American Red Cross is still there, providing shelter, food and comfort for people in need as the fires continue to burn.
Hundreds of people are still seeking refuge from the fires in Red Cross and community shelters. People are welcome to come to shelters for help even if they don’t stay overnight. Red Cross disaster mental health and spiritual care volunteers are meeting with families to provide support and comfort as they cope with the effects of the fires. Volunteers are also supporting efforts to reconnect families when possible. The Red Cross is also working closely with government and community partners, such as the Salvation Army and World Central Kitchen, to coordinate relief efforts.
HOW YOU CAN HELP Entire communities and families have been left reeling from these deadly wildfires. Help people affected by the California wildfires by visiting redcross.org, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS or texting the word CAWILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters.
RECOVERY TEAMS REMOVING ROADBLOCKS
When Dawn Heaton showed up at the Red Cross shelter, she didn’t know the address of her home that had been engulfed by the wildfire that roared through Paradise, California. She’d been living at her house only a couple of days and hadn’t fully memorized the address. When Dawn couldn’t provide the location, the volunteer helping her went online and found the address.
“The whole entire hill behind us came down with flames and all,” Dawn explained to Red Cross volunteers helping shelter residents at the Butte County Fairgrounds. “All I could do was grab the grandbaby and run. We were lucky to make it.”
Left behind was much of what defined Dawn -- her personal papers and documents. She fled with 13-month old granddaughter Aeriel and little more than the clothes on her back and what few things she could grab.
Helping find her address is the kind of non-traditional assistance the Red Cross Recovery and Planning Team is providing shelter residents who have lost their home or are waiting to find out if they still have one. David Penny, the Red Cross volunteer overseeing the team, explained it’s not a one-size-fits-all operation because everyone has different needs. Rather, the idea is to find out what a person needs and see what can be done to develop a suitable recovery plan.
“We’re trying to help them to get to a more permanent place to live. When they’re in a position to leave we will give them some transition assistance,” said Penny explained. He is from Peterborough, New Hampshire. For one person, it might be getting a tank full of gas to drive to a relative’s place, or maybe a bus ticket. For another, it might be replacing a set of dentures or a wheel chair lost in the fire.
“We are trying to figure how to remove the roadblocks to their recovery,” Penny said.
FINDING LOVED ONES People continue to search for missing loved ones and Red Cross reunification services are helping reconnect them as quickly as possible. These services include helping people communicate through the Red Cross Safe and Well website, as well as helping with urgent requests involving unaccompanied minors and separated children, reestablishing contact with family members who have been separated within the disaster area and working with partners to resolve reunification-related inquiries. There have been almost 9,000 Safe and Well registrations for the wildfires, as many as 82,000 searches, and more than 2,000 matches through Safe and Well.
If someone is looking for loved ones they can visit the Red Cross Safe and Well website at http://www.redcross.org/safeandwell. The site allows individuals and organizations to register and post messages to indicate that they are safe, or to search for loved ones. The site is always available, open to the public and available in Spanish. Registrations and searches can be done directly on the website.
People can also use the “I’m Safe” feature of the Red Cross Emergency App to let loved ones know their status. The Emergency App is available in app stores by searching for the American Red Cross or going to redcross.org/apps.
HELP IN TRYING TIMES Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved—especially when they cause such massive devastation so close to the holidays. This is a time for people to come together and support one another.
- Mental health experts recommend finding a balance with regard to media coverage. It’s important to stay informed while also limiting exposure, especially for children.
- Also, be patient with yourself and others. It’s common to have any number of temporary stress reactions such as anger, frustration and anxiety.
- To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746