by Dave Wagner, Public Affairs Volunteer – Photos by Scott Dalton, Red Cross
“My husband was at work when the first warnings came in,” explained Michelle Scott. She frantically began to pack the bare necessities as the fast-moving Dixie Fire bore down on her home in Lake Almanor. She gave her son, nine-year-old Gavin, a laundry basket and told him to “pack what’s important to you.” Gavin came back with the basket full of Legos. She remembers crying as she dumped the Legos and filled the basket with more essential items. When the Scott family arrived at the Lassen College shelter, Michelle related the Lego story to Red Cross volunteer and Iraq war veteran John Van Sickle. Touched by the story, Van Sickle went to a local store and bought a new Lego set for Gavin.
“We only planned on staying a night or two,” Scott said of the shelter, wiping away the tears that streamed down her cheeks, “but the atmosphere for my family has kept us here. We have many options but this is our best option right now.”
Tears must be contagious because it was impossible not to shed a few listening to the mix of emotions that embraced this mother’s story.
I had caught up with Scott on the expansive lawn in front of Lassen College in Susanville, CA. The campus, both inside and out, was being utilized as a Red Cross shelter for residents evacuated from Crescent Mills, Chester, Greenville and the other small towns surrounding Lake Almanor high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Inside the gymnasium were accommodations for some 200 people. Outside, another 200, mostly families with their pets, camped in their RV’s or in tents scattered about the large lawn like a jamboree.
Just a few steps away, I found the Diaz family campsite. Lucy Diaz had only recently relocated her family to Lake Almanor as a respite from urban Richmond on San Francisco’s East Bay. Eldest daughter Andrea, a Lassen College student studying nursing, told me how the family evacuated with two cars filled with their four dogs, four cats and cages with their five birds. She said they were choosing to camp outside the shelter so that they can live together as a family and take care of the menagerie of house pets.
“We didn’t have much when we got here but the Red Cross has given us everything: toothpaste, towels, pillows, blankets. And the showers are really clean.” She said that school is stressful enough and the evacuation is adding to that but, “I’m hoping that everything is okay when we get home so we can get back to our lives.”
A little further on, I found Red Cross volunteer Sharron Munguia playing with the Gray-Powers family children at their campsite. Jason Gray-Powers told me his family originally stayed the first two nights in a parking lot after evacuating their home in Greenville. He found out about the shelter from a Red Cross Facebook posting. Still visibly worried about his wife and four children, he emotionally said, “we came here with just one tent. A generous community member came over and gave us two more tents. With the Red Cross showers and bathrooms, now we’re very comfortable. We’ve received so much help and donations from the community and the Red Cross we’ve been trying to spread the wealth with the other people here in the shelter.” He later added, “If it wasn’t for you guys, everyone would still be ashy and stinky. And the store shelves have been wiped clean so everyone would be hungry.”
It is difficult to convey the privilege and responsibility I feel when people open their hearts and tell me their very personal stories. And too, the gratification and joy I share with my fellow Red Cross volunteers who lend a helping hand to these resilient families in their time of need.
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