by Sigal Sharf
She may stand a mere five feet tall and be over eighty years old, but Raymunda Santos is a force to be reckoned with.
A Red Cross volunteer for more than thirty years, Santos travels by bus every Tuesday and Thursday to the Santa Monica Red Cross chapter to work at the front desk. There, she directs callers from as far away as the Antelope Valley, San Fernando and South Bay to ensure they are connected to the appropriate channels for the information or help they need.
She also helps prepare blood drives, sets up booths at local events, organizes and shops for meals for chapter meetings, and maintains the office kitchen.
Not bad for an octogenarian.
But that’s just the beginning.
A certified Red Cross Disaster Services Human Resources (DSHR) member with training in shelter, mass care, feeding and bulk distribution services, Santos has helped countless disaster victims recover from floods, fires, mudslides and hurricanes. She has been deployed to Puerto Rico, North Dakota, Iowa, and Texas.
And just over a year ago, she went with the Red Cross team to aid in the Hurricane Sandy Recovery efforts, supervising a state-run shelter.
“I had never been a supervisor before, but I told him to tell me what to do, and I’ll do it,” explained Santos about her initial response when asked to run the shelter along with two fellow Red Cross volunteers.
Her deployments have entailed being stationed at a soda headquarters where “all night long we could drink Coca-Cola”, sleeping in a warm-house, and even spending a night in a Texas jail once as all the hotel rooms were book by residents affected by the disaster.
Through all her experiences, though, Santos mostly relishes the opportunity to serve others.
“In my insides, I like to help,” she said, adding that working with feeding others is a particular passion.
A native Brazilian with a hardy spirit and a gentle voice, Santos recalls childhood experiences as her earliest inspiration.
Tagging along with her mother, a Red Cross nurse, a young Santos traveled to distant towns delivering aid to sick, poor and needy villagers. Santos quickly developed deep friendships with the local village children and a desire to connect to others.
Decades later, she immigrated to the United States, initially landing in Washington, D.C. and then New York before settling in California.
In the midst of raising two children, running a Laundromat in Silverlake, living in Burbank, temporarily returning to Brazil and finally moving to Culver City, Santos managed to take Red Cross courses and become certified as both a Disaster Action Team member and a first-responder.
“Whenever there was a disaster, she was always eager to get deployed to wherever…to lend a hand,” noted Jun Kim, of the WLA Community Outreach and Volunteer Engagement.
After decades of volunteering, Santos continues to offer valuable suggestions and insights to improve services to those in need.
“She’s a great resource…I continue to learn from her every day,” says Julie Thomas, CEO of the Santa Monica office, adding, “If my life were in her hands, I’d feel comfortable.”