Many of us place bumper stickers on our vehicles so fellow drivers know our viewpoints. Luckily for volunteer Matthew Martinez, his favorite motto, “All American Red Cross Disaster Assistance Is Free” is already emblazoned on the side of emergency response vehicles, his mode of transport when delivering food into disaster affected communities.
Matthew’s first Red Cross experience happened in fourth grade when he took a Basic First Aid class at the Long Beach Chapter. As a Boy Scout, he was eagerly motivated to apply his scouting skills with Red Cross, and as soon as he was eligible as a first-year high school student he joined the organization’s Youth Corp. Ironically, the first-class Matthew ever taught as a Youth Corp member was in the same Long Beach Chapter classroom as his Red Cross introduction in fourth grade.
As soon as he joined, Matthew sought every opportunity to engage with active disaster responses and found Disaster Feeding among the options for high school aged students. Once trained and licensed as a food handler, it didn’t take long before he had his first chance to respond; the 2018 Grace Hotel fire generated a feeding operation for 60 people displaced from their homes.
“Disaster Feeding is a very humane effort and strengthens human connections” believes Matthew, “No matter how mad or sad someone might feel, food is a good middle ground. It’s comforting and nourishing, and on someone’s worst day it feels good to say: ‘Let’s share a meal.’”
Matthew sees himself as the second wave of a disaster response – there are the first responders who tend to the immediate emergency, and then the Red Cross who come in as second responders bringing food, shelter and comfort to those affected.
“Once a shelter opens, we are activated and figure out our feeding plan” says Matthew. “We first turn to our established accounts with local and National partners like Subway Sandwiches, El Pollo Loco and World Central Kitchen to name only a few. I order the food, pick it up, check all safety measures like temperature and allergy alerts, then sanitize, don my hat and gloves and I’m ready to serve.”
Matthew enjoys the chance to be a humanitarian in his own community, helping underserved people in low-income areas – communities that reflect his own identity. This helps to explain why the Red Cross motto “All American Red Cross Disaster Assistance Is Free” is held dear by Matthew.
“Our mission is possible from the generosity of our donors”, shared Matthew, “We receive things for free and we give them out for free. That is our gift from the donors to those in need.”