Cold, Wet Winter Night

I remember it was right before Christmas when I received a call for a house fire. It was cold, late at night, and it had just finished sprinkling, so it was very wet out. I hesitated to go, however I knew that I had signed on so I decided to get up and answer the call.

Floods in North Dakota and Minnesota 2011
Red Cross volunteers often carry Mickey Mouse dolls, donated by Disney, to give to children impacted by disasters.

I met another Disaster Action Team responder at the office and we picked up the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV). He immediately told me to turn the heater on in the back and make sure we had plenty of blankets, comfort kits and Mickey’s. On the way I was instructed that there were at least four small children that were affected by this fire so our focus will be on them first and then we will focus on the parents.

We arrived at this house that was in total darkness and it looked as if it had been hit by a tornado. There was debris everywhere, with furniture in the yard and the roof was gone. Even with the ERV’s lights there was a glooming darkness over the scene.

We got out and approached the front door with flashlights, and as we peeked inside the front door there was a sight that I will never forget.

I shined my light on a mother, grandmother, and four kids huddled on a wet mattress sitting in the middle of the living room wrapped in some blankets that were also wet. As we identified ourselves all the children immediately got up and ran towards us. All these kids had on were pajamas with no socks and they too were soaking wet and shivering.

We both quickly picked them up and carried them over to the ERV and wrapped them up in warm blankets and handed each one of them a Mickey Mouse. The mother was outside on the phone trying to figure out what to do next so the scene was a bit chaotic for the children. We decided to give the kids some snacks and close the doors to the ERV with the Grandmother inside with them.

Local Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteers respond to a disaster in an Emergency Response Vehicle.

We turned our attention to the mother who was distraught and had no idea what to do next. As a team we calmed her down and let her know we were there to help. Once she heard her children laughing and playing inside the ERV she understood that we were already trying to make things better. She calmed down enough for us to receive the information that we needed in order to assist her and her children.

Apartment Fire
Red Cross volunteers provide relief and comfort to a woman impacted by an apartment fire.

As soon as we gave the mother her financial assistance, she started to cry, hugging us both not knowing what to say. She continued to hug us over and over with joy and finally muddled words telling us that we were angels that were sent to help her when no one else would. We decided to wait with her until a family friend came to pick them all up, so we knew the children and the grandmother could stay warm and continue to play.

This was one of the many times that volunteering with the Red Cross has allowed me to see that the work we do as volunteers is not only needed but very well appreciated.

Joaquin (Jake) Gonzales
Red Cross Volunteer

Give With Meaning This Holiday Season
Stories just like this one happen across our Central California Region every single day. Red Cross volunteers like Jake respond 24 hours a day, seven days week, to provide relief and comfort to families that have lost everything due to home fires or other disasters.

This holiday season, it’s your turn to be a part of this incredible Red Cross story of hope and compassion. You can #GiveWithMeaning and support the many urgent needs of families facing disasters big and small by making a donation to the Red Cross. Visit to learn more.


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