LIHU‘E — March is a time to honor the kindness of neighbors who aid families in need every day around the world. March is American Red Cross Month and acknowledged by Mayor Derek Kawakami with gratitude and appreciation to the American Red Cross, Kaua‘i Branch headed by Padric Gallagher.
Kawakami further demonstrated the appreciation of the island’s people with the presentation of special commendations to American Red Cross Kaua‘i Volunteer of the Year Jed Somit, and American Red Cross Kaua‘i Hero of the Year Steve Soltysik who has been volunteering with the Red Cross for more than 30 years.
“Your dedication touches millions of lives each year as you carry out the organization’s 140-year mission of preventing and alleviating suffering,” the special proclamation celebrating Red Cross Month states. “During these trying times of the coronavirus pandemic, people have stepped up to help others in need during this past year’s record-breaking number of disasters across the country.”
Kaua‘i marked its first COVID19 case on March 13, Kawakami said. At one point since the start of this pandemic, we were juggling between the virus and as much as five national disasters.
“There were a lot of scared people,” Gallagher said of a disaster shelter they set up during a weather event on the North Shore. “This was the first disaster shelter in the nation to set up. We knew what we had to do, but we didn’t know what to do with the novel coronavirus. Even the first responders were apprehensive about going in.”
“It was St. Patrick’s Day, and we were in the shelter,” Gallagher said. “A restaurant donated Corned Beef and Cabbage so we could celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.”
Kawakami said on Kaua‘i, local families have relied on Red Cross volunteers for comfort and hope while coping with the effects of severe storms, flooding, fires, and more.
Over the course of the year, Red Cross disaster response volunteers from Kaua‘i County deployed virtually, or in-person to help relief efforts taking place nationwide. The volunteers also helped people affected by multiple home fires on Kaua‘i by addressing their needs like food, lodging, and recovery support. This lifesaving work is vital to strengthening our community’s resilience, the proclamation states.
“We are truly blessed to have an outstanding disaster response team on Kaua‘i, headed by Padric Gallagher and our numerous Red Cross volunteers,” said Dan Giovani, the chair of the Red Cross Advisory Council.
Gallagher said selecting the “Hero” and “Volunteer” of the year was very difficult.
“I cannot express what we have all seen and lived through over the past 12 months,” Gallagher wrote to the Advisory Council, and the corps of Red Cross volunteers. “To say the very least, it has affected everyone and has changed the world, and how we work in it. Given what we have tried to do over the past year, I wanted to do something to thank every one of you that have helped out in some way. This is all to say, we all did a heroic effort just getting through last year, and everyone here did just a little bit extra by volunteering and helping out during a truly unprecedented time.”
Kaua‘i Volunteer of the Year goes to Jed Somit who has been a volunteer for more than four years, working as the Red Cross Disaster Action Team lead duty officer and scheduler, a logistics lead, and shelter worker.
“Jed helped with shelter logistics during Hurricane Douglas, and helped out in shelter set-ups,” Gallagher said. “He had an important role in helping with all the damage assessment that took place during the 2018 flooding event — not just on the North Shore, but also in Keapana and Koloa.”
Kaua‘i Hero of the Year belongs to Steve Soltysik who has been volunteering with the Red Cross for more than 30 years, spending most of that time helping out with logistics.
“He played a major part in emergency supply distribution during Hurricane Iniki when nobody had access to fuel,” Gallagher said. “In 2020, Steve stepped up again to help out with meal delivery to COVID-19 patients since March. In fact, he is currently on stand-by should the cases rise again.”
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or email@example.com.