Barbara Wood, a volunteer with the American Red Cross Silicon Valley Chapter, describes herself as a part-time Red Cross staffer and full-time volunteer. Wood responded to a call for volunteers following the gas line explosion in San Bruno, Calif., and arrived at the local area assistance center Saturday. Since then, she has been meeting with families who were displaced by the fire and helping them to get the assistance they need.
Saturday was a blur for Wood, with many people needing assistance and so many gripping stories. Several of the residents she assisted were close to the initial explosion and described images and sounds that they said would be impossible to forget. Most were grateful just to have someone listen and attend to their immediate needs. She teared up as she described how hearing their accounts of the initial blast and its aftermath literally raised the hair on her arms.
One resident came to the center still in bandages from burns on her face and arms and shared how she and her 87-year-old mother escaped the fire on foot, only to be separated when they were each taken to different hospitals for treatment. Another resident who told her “I never thought I would be coming to the Red Cross for help.” Other residents came to the center explaining that, even though their homes weren’t damaged, they couldn’t face going back home knowing the devastation that their neighbors and neighborhood had experienced.
Wood takes pride and satisfaction in being able to offer some measure of stability and comfort to those affected by the chaos and uncertainty of such a traumatic event. “The Red Cross has a system that works. Because of our extensive volunteer training and response practices, we are able to bring volunteers from different locales, with many kinds of expertise, together in an organized fashion. It really makes me feel good to realize how much people trust in the Red Cross.”
Wood related how the Red Cross provided San Bruno residents immediate assistance with food, clothing, medical needs and counseling services, along with referrals to other agencies and organizations offering ongoing recovery assistance. Before heading back to her post in the assistance center, she reflected on the tremendous outpouring of support from the surrounding communities and the many Red Cross partnerships that extend our capacity to help. She mentioned specifically that the Old Navy stores teamed with the Red Cross to provide gift cards for displaced resident to shop for clothing at their local store. Then she was off to meet with more of the families and individuals still in need of support and recovery services.