In January, when Catherine Homer, a longtime Red Cross volunteer living in Houston but a California native, learned of the California’s Central Coast flooding, she quickly offered to join the effort to help. Upon her arrival at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, where the American Red Cross had opened a shelter, Catherine joined more than 300 residents from the local Pajaro farming community.

The Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds shelter was the latest shelter assignment since Catherine began her Red Cross volunteer journey. During the winter of 2017 and early 2018, Catherine served in a shelter when the Thomas fire burned through Ventura. This wildfire would later be known as one of the worst in California history. When thinking back on that experience, Catherine remembers the new faces continually arriving, many now homeless as their lives were forever affected by this widespread and long-running event.

Later in 2018, Catherine would be back helping again. This time on the opposite side of the country in a shelter for those affected by Hurricane Michael.

However, Catherine’s story with the Red Cross started long before these three deployments. It originated October 17, 1989, at precisely 5:04 p.m., during the World Series. While the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants waited to play baseball, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake shook Loma Prieta, California, causing catastrophic damage from the Santa Cruz mountains to San Francisco. After watching the devastation on television, Catherine decided she had to sign up to help.

At the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, Catherine served as the shelter supervisor tasked with relieving local Red Cross volunteers, many of whom traveled from nearby towns immediately after the emergency evacuation of Monterey County. Initial volunteer responders set up the shelter and prepared it for the many who would arrive by car and on foot. Of the volunteers who worked in the weeks before she came, Catherine said, “Shelter work is hard. The local DATs [disaster action teams] needed to rest and have a chance to return to their families. That’s why we were brought in.” 

As with most disasters, the recovery process for those affected by the California Central Coast flooding will not be short or easy. Many lost their homes, and many more homes could be lost due to mold. More permanent housing solutions would take time which resulted in a steady rotation of deployed Red Cross volunteers, like Catherine. Each volunteer served for 12 days, offering support, connection and care until the next group arrived.

During the Santa Cruz deployment, Catherine’s duties varied. Most days, she worked in the kitchen. Some nights she stayed up walking the faculty, ensuring no one needed anything—allowing the clients to rest easy. When she wasn’t too busy, she chatted with an old friend, also a volunteer. The pair had started with the Red Cross around the same time. Both had been members of her previous Pacific Coast Regional Red Cross Chapter.

When Catherine speaks about her deployment, she doesn’t only describe the tragedy or what clients lost through their ordeal. She also illustrates the beauty of what remained. “During the day, the kids would gather and play games with the volunteers—duck-duck-goose, red-light-green-light. There were giant Legos and chalk for them to enjoy with their new friends. One day on my rounds, I saw a little boy standing on a cot, laughing. It struck me that he was just a kid being a kid. That was a great thing to witness.”

Only through the generosity of donors can volunteers, like Catherine, be available to help others in need. Through donations, the Red Cross can provide funds to help clients replace essentials like medicines, eyeglasses, clothing, diapers, even socks. 

Catherine recalls a time in her early volunteering days when a supervisor gave her a bag of socks to distribute among the clients staying in the shelter. “They were so grateful. It’s incredible how much something like socks can mean to the someone who’s lost everything.”

When asked why she helps with the Red Cross, Catherine said “They help everyone. They don’t care about your status, if you’ve lost your home or are homeless. All they care about is helping people. Anyone affected by a disaster who needs help, the Red Cross is there.”