Local volunteer gives of himself both locally and nationally

Tens of thousands of volunteers and donors comprise the work of the American Red Cross. While they’re all amazing individuals, occasionally there’s a person who presents a challenge to us all when considering just how much we really are capable of giving.

Southern California’s Desert to the Sea Chapter has one such financial donor and volunteer serving on its local Board. Shishir Shah became a donor to the American Red Cross many years ago for one simple reason.

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American Red Cross serving Orange County board member Shashir Shah as smoke rises from the Blue Cut Fire in San Bernardino (American Red Cross photo by Ricardo Tomboc)

“I found that time and time again, whenever there’s a disaster anywhere in the world, the Red Cross is always the first to respond,” said Shah.

After retirement, he did not have to look hard for meaningful work to occupy some of his newly found time. As a USC graduate with a masters in computer engineering, he considered ‘getting dirty’ with the Red Cross. It didn’t take long for Shah to find himself deployed as a disaster relief volunteer, working a two week stint in the middle of a hot and humid Texas summer.

“I was assigned to work in distribution after the Houston floods.  It was 116 degrees, no air conditioning combined with Texas-sized humidity. We were working 12 hour shifts, distributing needed cleanup items throughout the impacted communities. It was hot, heavy, and hard work.  But no one complained. Our experience was great. The rewards were huge. And, we actually had some fun!” said Shah, “It was actually very touching to help out regular, hard-working people and to visibly see the relief in their eyes.  People came to give us hugs. Our reward was serving the people. They were so thankful.”

Shashir has also volunteered during the Blue Cut Fire in San Bernardino. He worked a shelter, organizing the feeding program and was once again struck by the thankfulness of the evacuated families.

Once a month, Shah becomes the Orange County Red Cross Disaster Duty Officer .  Throughout a full weekend, and for the non-office hours of the week, he is the ‘go to’ person on-call for any home fire call. When that call comes, it’s his responsibility is to mobilize the appropriate levels of Red Cross assistance.

Shah recounts one experience in Santa Ana when two apartments burned to the ground.  A man who had lost everything but the clothes on his back came to talk with him. The man explained he worked in a nearby nursery, and shared an intimate moment with Shah.

“He told me that he had lost his 17 year old son in 2005,” said Shah. “Even though he now had absolutely nothing left, he felt that if he could survive the loss of his son, he could survive anything. People around the world turn to the Red Cross first in a time of extreme need. So if we don’t support the work of the Red Cross, who exactly are we counting on to do that?  It’s up to us.”

Volunteers like Shashir is what allows the Red Cross to respond to disasters both big and small. For more information on becoming a volunteer click redcross.org/volunteer.

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