Newly minted volunteer pays kindness forward

By Bob Zamalin, American Red Cross Communications Dept.

The Red Cross gave Kathi Smith assistance, shelter, and a feeling of security during the October 2003 wildfires in Lytle Creek in San Bernardino County. She paid that feeling back during the August 2016 Blue Cut Fire in Lytle Creek, by becoming a Red Cross volunteer and assisting the evacuees at the Jessie Turner Center in Fontana.

kathi-smith
American Red Cross serving San Bernardino County volunteer Kathi Smith

During the last week of October 2003, a wildfire blazed through the San Bernardino National Forest. Living in a rental cottage, Kathi could smell the smoke and observed that the animals were acting restless and sketchy. The electrical lines were down and her well water pumps failed.

An emergency helicopter using a loudspeaker told Lytle Creek residents to evacuate immediately, and they were told to go the shelter at the Jessie Turner Center. When she arrived, the shelter volunteers were setting up cots, handing out pillows, blankets, food and drinks and comfort kits which included a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, brush, comb, lotion, and soap. Kathi remembered, “The Red Cross gave me comfort and a sense of security. They made me feel so cared for. I knew I wasn’t alone,”

At her second day at the shelter, Kathi was informed that her cottage had burned down.  She was in shock knowing everything was gone. She had nothing but the clothes on her back. The Red Cross immediately stepped in to assist her. They gave her a debit card to help her with her immediate needs, and when the shelter closed, she bought a tent, sleeping bags, a camp stove, lantern, camp shower, Porta Potty, propane and canned goods. When the Lytle Creek area was reopened, and the residents could go home, she cleared a spot nearby where her cottage once stood, and next to the creek, she set up her tent.

“Living like that for a few months while struggling to survive the cold, floods, and mudslides was insane” explained Kathi. She knew that God was protecting her. She still can’t believe that she survived such a devastating time. After a few months she knew she had to find other accommodations. She called the Red Cross and told them what she was going through and how she was living. The Red Cross sent out a volunteer and he said he would keep in touch. A few weeks later, he delivered a trailer through the help of a partner organization for her at the Mountain Streams Residential Trailer Park.  She now had a roof over her head, and the modern comforts that comes with it. The support that she got from the Red Cross enabled her to find a job and get her life back in order.

When Kathi heard that the Blue Cut Fire caused an evacuation of Lytle Creek once again, she immediately ran to the Jessie Tuner Center and offered to help. She asked the evacuees what they needed. They said any meal that isn’t pizza. So Kathi bought chicken and side dishes. She was able to feed 9 people that day.

“It felt so good to give back, even if it was in such a small way”, explained Kathi. One of the evacuees suggested that she should become a Red Cross volunteer.

Following that suggestion she went to the Red Cross office and signed up to become a volunteer. They immediately sent her back to the Jessie Turner Center – with a name badge and vest. She assisted the evacuees by serving food, snacks, comfort kits, distributing bedding.  One woman even asked her for a back massage. “I gladly rubbed her back,” she said. “Anything I could do to make them comfortable, cared for and loved. I did this with my whole heart.”

Kathy was a caregiver for over 15 years, and raised two daughters.  “I guess caring for and nurturing others is just in my blood.  My heart has always been very tender when it comes to caring for those in need.  Being a Red Cross volunteer means a lot to me.  It is my true passion, and I look forward to serving many Red Cross missions to come” she vowed.

Kathy is now taking her basic Red Cross courses, and focusing on Mass Care, sheltering, feeding, and bulk distribution.

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