By Lori Wilson, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Central Valley Chapter
It is hard to believe that we are already looking at the 1-year anniversary of the Creek Fire. At the time it was the single largest wildfire in California history, a record for only a short time— now broken by the Dixie Fire less than one year later.
In summer of 2021, the American Red Cross faced many challenges and hurdles. COVID-19 meant that while our mission had not changed, we needed to adapt to how we could care for communities while ensuring safety both for our team and community members needing our services. At the height of the Creek Fire disaster relief efforts, this meant we sheltered and fed more than 2,000 people spread out in 50 hotels across five counties of the Central Valley!
The Creek Fire was one of the many disasters spanning across California and the US. This meant we had a smaller footprint with nearly 100 Red Crossers boots on the ground and many across the country supporting us virtually. We stretched and flexed our Red Cross muscles and worked 24/7 to help those who had been evacuated have a safe place to stay, food to eat and emotional support during that heartbreaking time.
I was one of the team members boots on the ground and I was able to witness the Red Cross in action once again. I can’t even describe to you how special that is to me. I think back and wonder how we did it?! And the answer is simple….we did it because we have the most committed volunteers I have ever had the honor of working with. We did it because of the tireless commitment to serve and help. Many volunteers came to help right after serving communities facing other disasters, without much of a break. Volunteers and staff worked weeks upon weeks because of their heart of service and drive to serve.
As I sit in reflection, I am reminded why I LOVE this organization. The Red Cross has an incredible mission to alleviate human suffering, and fundamental principles that act as our guides. But without the commitment and dedication of our volunteers, we could not put those principles and the mission in action. I am incredibly humbled to be able to say that I get to work alongside and support each of our volunteers, and simply be in the presence of amazing people. Every day, I learn something new about what it is to have the heart of a humanitarian because of the dedication of the people that make up the Red Cross.
A year after the Creek fire, it isn’t the numbers that I reflect on or the hardships and exhaustion of that response that I remember. It is the gratitude I feel for each and every Red Cross volunteer that came from near and far to help the people in my community. People who are complete strangers, but because they were people in need, Red Crossers showed up! It is a community of people that raised their hands and jumped in to help, from individuals, to churches, to non-profits, to government agencies asking how they could help. We saw the community come together during some of our toughest times.
Thank you to each and every volunteer, staff member, community partner, elected official, church, restaurant, business and more that had a hand in helping last year. Words can’t express how incredibly proud I am to be a part of this organization and of this community.
While I hope and pray we do not experience another tragedy like the Creek Fire, I am confident that this community and the Red Cross will rise to the occasion, and for that I am thankful.