Turning Heartbreak into Hope

By Cindy Huge, Red Cross Public Affairs

Every eight minutes the American Red Cross responds to emergencies both locally and nationally. On August 18, 2021, the American Red Cross of Kern County and Eastern Sierra Chapter was activated to help shelter residents evacuated from the French Fire. Volunteers and staff set up a shelter at the Kern River Valley Veterans and Senior Center in Lake Isabella. With the size of the fire rapidly growing, more room was needed. For the last two weeks now, Red Cross has established a shelter at Woodrow Wallace Elementary school to provide a safe place for residents to evacuate to. As the number of residents seeking shelter continued to increase, an additional shelter was set up at Kern Valley High School.

Kern County & Eastern Sierras Board Members and Community Volunteer Leaders tour the Red Cross disaster relief operations. American Red Cross photos by Taylor Poisall

This past weekend, Board members of the American Red Cross of Kern County and Eastern Sierra Chapter had the opportunity to tour the shelters. Isabel Bravo, Ashley Bonnoitt, Mitchall Patel and Cindy Huge, along with Community Volunteer Leader Jose Perez, were eager to connect with residents who have been evacuated, as well as volunteers and staff working to provide comfort and care 24/7.

They were able to speak with and share their gratitude with Kern County Animal Services and Central California Animal Disaster Team who are tasked with housing and taking care of more than 50 animals. Board Members also thanked Victims Chaplains who is providing a four-stall shower unit and Salvation Army who are preparing and feeding the residents.

Bravo was impressed with the many community partners who are assisting the Red Cross in the sheltering operation. She shared it was “incredible to see all these organizations come together to provide these services to our community.”

The tour ended with Executive Director Eddie Zamora and the board members providing an ice cream party for a shelter couple who were celebrating their 35-wedding anniversary.

Don and Diann celebrated their 35th anniversary at the Red Cross shelter. They would soon find out that they could return to their home in Wofford Heights. American Red Cross photos by Taylor Poisall

“It was a true testament to the work of the Red Cross by turning heartbreak into hope. The experience was touching to see and photograph. A shelter resident, staff, volunteers, and Board Members came together to plan, decorate, and celebrate with the rest of the shelter clients a very special 35th anniversary. I am sure those who witnessed the celebration will never forget the generosity and the love that was felt. Of course, the Red Cross is known for responding to large scale disasters, but there are so many small but very significant moments when lives are touched. Those ‘small moments’ may come in words of comfort, a hot meal or by celebrating an anniversary but I have no doubt that moments such as these are replicated each day across the nation for those we come in contact with.” From Eddie Zamora, Executive Director of the Kern County & Eastern Sierra Chapter.

After returning home, the couple emailed the local Red Cross, “Thank you for making a difficult time into one of security and fun!! We will never forget our time spent with the Red Cross and new friends! The party went above and beyond your duties, it was such a sweet thing for you to do for us!”

Russ Huge, outgoing Board Member stated “It’s important that board members become engaged with the operations conducted in the field like sheltering, disaster action team response and smoke alarm installations. The more informed they are about the Red Cross Mission, the better ambassadors they can be to the community.”

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