Volunteering with the Red Cross/Thomas Fire

by Jill Forman                To volunteer with the Red Cross: redcross.org/volunteer.

Welcome to the ‘Amazon of Hope,” says the sign above the makeshift desk in a deserted ex-bus barn in downtown Ventura, now filled with bags and boxes and pallet of donations. The community had come forward and given food, toiletries, paper goods, clothing, water and so on.

And the trucks and cars keep rolling in, with thousands more items to be downloaded, sorted, and distributed. It is an incredible sight. Red Cross personnel from all over the USA, along with community volunteers, work continually to handle this outpouring.

I had spent Saturday at Orientation the Red Cross headquarters in Camarillo, then stayed there to field phone calls, talk to folks coming in the front door, run errands, whatever needed doing. Sunday things were quieter in the office, and we heard that this collection and distribution center was open and desperately needing help. So I signed up. The Red Cross has an amazingly efficient computer system for volunteers, letting them know what is needed and allowing them to sign up online.

After a brief morning meeting, we get to work. And work we do. In addition to the donation management, clients start coming in needing items. Yours truly ended up running that end of things for the next three days. Clients come in, fill out a list, then wait for the “pickers” to find their items. We give the folks snacks and water, try to find things to entertain their children, and talk to them.

The Red Cross personnel are incredibly patient with us “newbies,” smiling, giving us positive feedback and thanks at every turn. I have never felt so valued. And the community volunteers, they are amazing; working whatever hours they can manage, taking time off from their jobs, filling their school vacations with helping others. Pretty much everyone was on their feet, walking around the warehouse, lifting, sorting, doing some hard physical labor for up to 8-9 hours at a time.

We get fed every day also by local restaurants. One day it was a gorgeous spread by Command Performance Catering, another was from Mai’s Café. I was unable to find out the names of the restaurant or group that put on the taco bar, or the one that gave us bag lunches with sandwiches and the best soup ever. And people show up with trays of cookies and bags of fruit. I was sorting a pile of donations and found a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies perched on top. Whoever you are, thanks, they were delicious (and yes, I shared them.)

I obviously could go on and on, but just trying to give an idea of what it is like to be a part of something, a little piece of helping out in this difficult time. Most of us can’t fight a fire, or rebuild a house, or give a home to a burnt-out family. But almost everyone has something to give. The people at the collection and distribution center are giving their time, their hard work and their hearts to this part of the effort. This has been a significant time in my life.

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