Providing Comfort in the Face of the Storm

A collection of stories from Public Affairs volunteers, Sivani Babu and Dave Wagner. Photos by Sivani Babu.

Dozens of local American Red Cross volunteers have been helping provide people with a safe place to stay, food to eat, relief supplies, emotional support and comfort throughout the tri-county Pacific Coast Chapter covering San Luis Obipso, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. They join 600 Red Crossers helping communities across California impacted by a series of nine atmospheric rivers that flooded the state.

In a two-week span, 80 shelters were opened across the state of California to help flood evacuees. The Red Cross will be there in the days and weeks to come, supporting people as they recover from the storms.

Heading home on the 101 as night fell, Brandon Guerra and Crystal Mendoza received an emergency alert on their phones that the highway ahead was closed due to the imminent danger of mudslides along the coast.

“We spent the first night sleeping in the car in a market parking lot,” recalled Guerra. “Then Crystal noticed the link to the emergency website on the alert. It said that a shelter was open” by the Red Cross in Santa Barbara.

Mendoza was very appreciative of the help they received from the Red Cross during their stay. “There was so much food,” she said. “Some really good stuff like Rusty’s Pizza and Jersey Mikes, tons of water, coffee and snacks.” Guerra happily added “the Red Cross gave us blankets and said we could take them home with us!”

Barbara Johnson was on an Amtrak train that was forced to stop in Santa Barbara when storm debris and mudslides covered the railroad tracks on the coastal route. She spent three nights with the Red Cross at the Santa Barbara City College shelter before the tracks were cleared and she could proceed on her way.

“The food has been very good,” commented Johnson. “They’re bringing in meals from some of the local restaurants. I’m grateful for what they are doing for me here.”

When Martha Hernandez Mendez and her son Carlos arrived at the Wake Center shelter in Santa Barbara, they literally arrived at the shelter with just the clothes on their backs. Turned away from local motels because of their dog, with nowhere else to go, they found shelter with the Red Cross.

The pair escaped their home as a torrent of rainwater and mud surged into their apartment. There had been no time to grab anything but the dog when they fled. With the help of the Red Cross and community partners, the grateful family was supplied with a change of clothes, personal hygiene necessities, and even a blanket and food for Estrella.

Red Cross Volunteer Greg Gunn from Connecticut gives Santa Maria resident Alfredo Mendoza a clean up kit. While at work on Monday, January 9, Mendoza received a call from his wife to come home, as their home near Marian Medical Center was beginning to flood. “It was scary,” he said. “My wife called and said, ‘I need you here.'” Seventeen years in the area, and he says he’s never seen anything like this. 

Red Cross Volunteers Jude Fledderman and Clay Phipps have been helping distribute clean up kits for residents of flood stricken neighborhoods, including Los Osos, as well as across San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. These clean up kits include a five-gallon bucket, shovels, disinfectants, brooms, sponges, gloves, masks, and other items that can be used to remove water, mud, or debris. Volunteers have also been providing comfort kits with personal hygiene items and water and snacks to those who need them.

You can help people affected by disasters like floods, wildfires and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift is a commitment to helping people in need, and every single donation matters. Consider making a gift at redcross.org/donate

If you have the time, you can make a significant impact as a Red Cross volunteer. Review our most urgently
needed volunteer positions at redcross.org/volunteer.

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