By Sigal Sharf, Communications Volunteer
They stood huddled together against the bitter cold, holding up their signs for Red Cross volunteers to see. The messages were of simple gratitude.
For L.A. Region volunteer Francisca Herrera, the memory of those people holding their thank-you signs is the only reward she has ever needed during her 15 years as a Red Cross volunteer.
A young college student, Herrera was sent on her first deployment to New York during her winter break to assist with post 9/11 recovery efforts.
“That trip to New York was the first time I had ever, ever been on a plane,” recalls Herrera.
Assigned as an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) driver on the Brooklyn-Manhattan route, Herrera made daily deliveries of cases of water and snacks to ground zero workers. That’s when she first spotted the group. They were “regular New Yorkers, standing out in the cold, holding up signs to say thank-you,” said Herrera.
Recalling that moment, she still gets choked up. “I knew then that I would be a lifelong Red Crosser.”
Her commitment since then has only grown. Starting off as an office volunteer for the Red Cross to fulfill a high-school community service requirement, Herrera naturally thought of volunteering with the Red Cross when she started college. Initially responsible for filing and other office duties, she branched out into disaster services, becoming a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member.
Her first call was to a single-family fire at a young couple’s home. When Herrera and the team arrived at the site, she saw the couple sitting on the curb waiting for them. She realized that “if the Red Cross isn’t there, there is nobody else.” She listened to her supervisor give directions, served as a runner getting materials from the car to the couple, and learned about managing the aftermath of a house fire. But most importantly, she found her place.
A self-described active person who “always has to be doing something,” Herrera is now a biology professor at her alma mater, Cal Poly Pomona. She also continues to be a passionate Red Cross disaster volunteer. Not only does she lead monthly meetings for the disaster responder team at the Central East office, she is the Regional Situational Awareness Administrator. She spends 5-10 hours a week preparing briefings on events, supplies and other details vital to emergency logistics and preparedness. She is also a Disaster Action Team Lead and a Shelter Survey Specialist. And of course, she continues to respond to single-family fires and other disasters.
New Yorkers aren’t the only ones who are grateful.