Lending a Heart and a Helping Hand for the Holidays

By Los Angeles Region CEO, Jarrett Barrios

In Los Angeles, we are quite relieved to have the Rye, Creek and Skirball wildfires in our rearview mirror. At the height of our response efforts, we opened and staffed five shelters, providing nearly 350 overnight stays and over 3,800 meals and snacks for affected residents. After it was safe to return home, our teams of volunteers headed out into the most heavily impacted neighborhoods, distributing clean-up kits, comfort-kits and more than 1,700 recovery items to help people with the daunting task of beginning the clean-up process. With 86 homes destroyed and another 12 with major damage, there are many left suffering—but all of us know it could have been far worse.

Our efforts did not end there. On December 14, we teamed up with CBS Studios in Studio City, where more than 40 Los Angeles Region volunteers stood ready at the phone lines during a full-day telethon in support of Red Cross wildfire relief efforts. CBSLA on-air television personalities, celebrity guests, the California Highway Patrol, the Los Angeles Rams Cheerleaders and the owners of the Los Angeles Chargers all joined our volunteers—and the results were astonishing. To date, kicked-off by a generous $250,000 donation from the Los Angeles Chargers, the amount raised with these efforts has toppled over $417,000. On behalf of the victims we are working to assist, I couldn’t be more grateful!

Unfortunately, our friends to the north aren’t out of the woods yet.  In Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where the Thomas Fire continues to burn, we are still staffing shelters—where almost 500 people are still waiting to go home—with warm cots, hot meals, comfort and the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones. By now it’s clear that, even if the shelters are able to close before the holidays, the recovery work will continue through to the New Year in order to ensure those affected have what they need for, what might be, the most challenging time of their lives.

Recovery. It’s not always obvious what this means, especially since it’s what happens when the TV cameras leave, the shelters begin to close and the relief items and clean-ups kits have all been handed out. It is during the recovery phase that case work volunteers begin to reach out to those affected—to those who have lost or had major damage to their homes.  Our trained casework volunteers will help people create recovery plans and connect individuals affected to the services and resources they will need to start down a road to recovery. And of course, the Red Cross also provides financial assistance to families with need.

Recovering from a disaster can be confusing, emotionally draining and a complicated process. In these fires, we anticipate more than 700 families will seek recovery assistance.  In fact, volunteers have already opened more than 300 cases. Even throughout the holiday season, Red Cross volunteers will continue to help Southern Californians move through the recovery process by connecting one-on-one with affected families and individuals, providing an opportunity to share their needs, ask questions, and—for those who qualify—help them apply to obtain financial assistance.

One last note.  The holidays are the toughest of times to experience disasters. Our hearts go out to all who’ve lost their homes.  But, for a volunteer-driven organization, it is also the toughest time to do the work because so many of us have made plans to be with family. For this reason, I am especially thankful for those volunteers and staff who have chosen to dedicate their time to helping people in need. We have seven volunteers from the Los Angeles Region currently deployed or planning to deploy through the holidays to assist with relief efforts in Ventura. A special thank you to John Luong, Kat Shamoo, Alyx Flatley, Christina Zee, Lorainne Voelker, Abionca Jones and Anat Habani. Plus, here at home, nine staff and volunteers will continue their work through the holidays from our Emergency Operations Center in Los Angeles, to virtually support case-work efforts. This group includes: Chiamaka Okeke, Heidi Ziegler, Ramzi Ben-Yelles, Selenne Hernandez, Mariana Moualem, Eylin Cerritos, Nancy Hall, Jim Topping and Arlene McCormick. All 16 of you are my holiday heroes, and it warms my heart to know you have sacrificed your own time with friends and family this year, to help others in need.

If you would like to join our team as a Red Cross volunteer in any of these vital disaster relief roles, please go to http://redcross.org/volunteer  to begin the application process. Happy Holidays everyone, and here’s to a safe and wildfire-free 2018!

Jarrett Barrios is the Chief Executive Officer at the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region. But, above all, Jarrett Barrios is a humanitarian with more than 20 years of experience helping people in need throughout the United States and Cuba.

To learn more about Jarrett Barrios or the America Red Cross Los Angeles Region, visit RedCrossLA.org.



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