By Megan Erk, Red Cross volunteer
As a long-time Red Cross volunteer and disaster responder, I have seen first–hand the impact disasters have on individuals, families, first responders and entire communities. Although the resulting devastation and loss are unbearable, natural disasters can also bring out the best in people who step forward to help in any way they can.
Academy Award-winning actor Casey Affleck and his friend Brian Nichols were two such people, wanting to provide assistance during the devastating CZU Lightning Complex Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
My experience with the two began when I learned that Michele Averill, CEO for the Central Coast Chapter; Kerrin Welsh, a member of the region’s Disaster Cycle Services team; and I would be hosting a VIP and his friend. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when Casey and Brian met us at the Red Barn in Aromas, a facility that had been serving as a warehouse for Red Cross disaster supplies distributed to clients in affected fire areas.
Casey could not have been more humble and gracious — no press, no entourage, no attitude. He and Brian went to work building re-entry kits for residents who were returning home. We all rolled up our sleeves, and our two guests hustled right alongside our amazing Red Cross volunteers and staff. Casey even challenged the team by suggesting we see how fast we could build 10 kits. Together, we created them in less than 60 seconds. In all, we assembled more than 500 kits that day.
The following day, we took Casey and Brian out to survey the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds site, where they met with evacuees. Casey was kind and thoughtful with everyone to which we spoke. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it was easy for him to fly under the radar, which seemed to be his preference. We all had masks on, and in addition, he was wearing a baseball hat.
In fact, no one recognized him until we had to sign in to enter the shelter. While Casey was having his temperature taken, a volunteer at the registration area asked for his first name, which he gave; then she asked for his last name, which he gave. At that point, she jumped up and exclaimed, “No way! It’s you?” He just laughed and said, “Yes.”
Our last stop that day was at the Santa Cruz County Recovery Resource Center, where Casey spoke at length with Karen Chapmen, Rep. Anna Eshoo’s chief of staff, about the roles different agencies play in helping people and communities recover from disasters of this magnitude. Casey wanted to understand what communities like ours face on the long road to recovery.
One of the most endearing parts of our two days together was that every time someone asked who Casey was, he responded simply that he was a new Red Cross volunteer. He would add that he is trying to learn about the processes and best practices behind disaster response and recovery.
Having worked with hundreds of Red Cross volunteers over the years, I can honestly say that Casey and Brian were delightful to work with and were amazing Red Cross volunteers. I would have them on my team any day of the week.
They were true VIPs — just like every other Red Cross volunteer who has supported this disaster response so heroically.
This post originally appeared on the Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region blog and can be viewed there.