Volunteer’s story reflects heart of Red Cross

The compassion and caring of Red Cross volunteers is without question. These folks give much of themselves without expecting or asking for anything in return. And they go to great lengths and distances to do so.

Hawaii has dodged hurricanes, a tsunami and now Mauna Loa is rumbling. But other areas across the country have taken direct hits. The American Red Cross recently deployed three Hawaii volunteers to the California wildfires. Oahu disaster mental health volunteer Tina Doty shared this story of traveling to her hometown and finding it destroyed. Now, we share it with you.

“It was an ordinary trip from Honolulu to our Napa Valley home located on Howell Mountain above a small town named Angwin on Saturday, Sept. 19. Little did my husband and I know that one of the most destructive wildfires in the area was about to take hold on the other side of the mountain.

I remember looking out my window at the vineyards surrounding our house and noticing the wind had picked up. I got an ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach. By the next morning, my sister-in-law, who lived in Calistoga, called to inform me that many people she knew living in Middletown had lost their homes and beloved pets. Eventually, the number grew to 1,000 homes and over 100 square miles burned.

I hastily made my way to the Red Cross shelter located at the Calistoga fairgrounds to offer my assistance. I was introduced to Pat Morales, a Red Cross volunteer from the Greater Northern California Chapter, who was amazed I was a Red Cross volunteer from Oahu. He quickly set me up with a Red Cross vest, hat, and T-shirt and put me to work.

As I made my way into the cafeteria, I saw people sitting at tables, some eating, some not, others staring into space, or their heads hung low. One woman was busy nursing her young infant, and children were occupied in a corner with coloring books and related activities. ‘Gosh,’ I thought, ‘Where do I start?’

I saw people covered in soot, a look of shock, despair, and hopelessness etched upon their faces. Others sat on cots outside with their pets, mostly dogs. Larger animals such as horses and llamas were in a nearby field. Calistoga residents made sure all animals were provided water and food.

I spoke with several people who told horror stories of barely making it out alive with what little belongings or pets they could. Many people only had the clothing on their backs. One man mentioned that he could not start his car because he realized that he was holding his house keys then turned around to see his house burning. He walked out of the area and eventually made it to the shelter. A woman came into the shelter crying and stated, ‘What do I do now? Everything’s gone!’ The Red Cross offered shelter, food, and emotional support.

Other people in the shelter told stories of getting in their vehicles with family members and speeding through fireballs. Many houses were completely destroyed and turned to piles of ash or unrecognizable debris. One woman came up to me at the shelter to tearfully announce that she learned her house was still standing, at least for now. I gave her a big hug.

The residents of Calistoga responded with an outpour of donations which included food, pet food, clothing, and most of all much needed support. Residents from as far away as Marin County responded with various donations including rooms for people and their pets. A notification board was set-up to inform about other resources available.

I realized that this was my very first large scale community disaster as a Red Cross volunteer. Kudos goes out to the many area firefighters who are still fighting the blaze. We were lucky that our house was unaffected. Although I was definitely not anticipating this terrible event, I took away from it that even with all the global problems taking place around us, human caring and compassion still rules.

I am very proud to be a Red Cross volunteer.”

Thank you to Tina Doty, and all Red Cross volunteers, for all you do. We encourage those who can afford it to donate to Red Cross so it can continue its great work. And we hope we all take to heart her concluding words and do our best to live lives that reflect caring and compassion for all.

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