Red Cross volunteers work together to produce Wildfire Relief Kits to be distributed to California residents affected by wildfires. (Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)

SOLEDAD — The efforts of the American Red Cross within South Monterey County were recognized during the March 3 Soledad City Council meeting as councilmembers declared March 2021 as the official Red Cross Month.

The organization this year will enter its 140th year in service.

Tony Virrueta accepted the proclamation on behalf of the organization, as his local volunteer work with numerous organizations has included work with the Red Cross. He also introduced Patsy Gasca, the Red Cross disaster manager for Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

“The Red Cross played a significant role last year, as we not only endured the pandemic, but also the wildfires and floods,” said Mayor Anna Velazquez. She called the month, “A special time to honor the kindness of our neighbors who aid families in need everyday in Monterey County, across the United States and around the world. Their dedication touches millions of lives each year.”

Velazquez spoke of the trying times seen in the past year, with the Covid-19 pandemic being compounded by multiple emergencies.

“Here in Monterey County, local families have relied on the Central Coast Chapter volunteers for comfort when coping with wildfires and floods,” she said. “In response to the evacuation of some 15,000 people in the Central Coast area due to dangerously wet and windy storms, Red Cross mobilized 100 disaster responders to support those in need.”

“We had some of the most disastrous wildfires here in the county, so that already compounded on the stress of the citizens who were already worried about the pandemic,” Virrueta added. “Nevertheless, we answered the call and made things happen.”

Velazquez said there were 1,200 overnight stays in hotels accommodated by the Red Cross for area locals, 2,655 meals and snacks provided to evacuees and 167 care contacts to support health and mental health of those affected.

“Volunteers also helped 20 households affected by home fires in Monterey County by addressing the urgent needs, such as food, lodging and recovery support,” she said.

Gasca added, “With all those natural disasters, the unforgotten ones are the day-to-day events, the single-family fires, where we meet our community members on their worst day. They don’t usually happen between 8 and 5 o’clock, they happen 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. That’s how dedicated our volunteers are.”

Virrueta explained the Red Cross is 90% volunteers.

“Volunteering is just a few hours and it does make a difference,” he said. “There’s 24 hours in a day. You can always find one or two hours to volunteer somewhere.”

Virrueta shared of last year, “The good news is more than 70,000 more people became volunteers. It goes to show you how we as Americans stepped up to help each other.”

In Monterey County, Red Cross trained more than 855 people in first aid and CPR, as well as checked in more than 1,300 blood donations, Virrueta noted. He urged people to not dread disasters, but be the best prepared they can be.

“They get the call, they get up and they go out there to meet the families that are left on the street,” Gasca said about volunteer emergency response. “When a disaster happens, it really does take a village.”

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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