By Virginia Hart and Valerin Lopez, volunteer contributors, American Red Cross

Joan Jacobs, from Hidden Valley in Lake County, CA, received a phone call on Friday, July 31, advising her that Channel 7 was reporting that Hidden Valley Lake was about to be evacuated. “I went to tennis and people were packing their cars and I said in disbelief, ‘We can’t be impacted here!’ When I asked where people were going to go, they didn’t know. A friend offered their home. There was ash falling on the tennis courts and at the table where we were sitting. As the ashes fell, there was a greater concern. I chose to go to the evacuation center at Middletown High School to find out if I was being evacuated.” In her pink tennis dress, Joan walked through the door and was greeted by Red Cross volunteer and Shelter Manager, Margot Simpson.

“It’s my understanding that I’m being evacuated, and I want to confirm,” Joan said. Margot immediately dispelled the rumors. Then, looking around the shelter Joan asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Joan saw some children, who were shelter residents, and requested to read to the children since she is the author of a children’s book. When Margot agreed that this would be a good idea, Joan went home and changed out of her pink tennis dress into something more comfortable.

The children Joan was going to read to and their parents had just moved to Lake County from Rohnert Park two weeks ago and found themselves at the Red Cross Shelter after being evacuated from their new home. As she read her book to the children, Joan noticed another of the shelter residents, Lee. With his long white hair and equally long white beard, Lee more than slightly resembled one of the book’s main character’s, Gramp’Andy – a main character named after Joan’s own grandfather Andy.

Joan ran over to Lee showed him the book asking if he recognized any of the characters. As he looked through the illustrations, Lee’s face lit up with a smile – he understood immediately that he looked exactly like Gramp’Andy. Joan asked him to join her with the children and introduced him to them as Gramp’Andy. The children loved it and Lee, who had seemed tired and sad when he walked in, seemed to light up with glee. Of the experience, Joan said, “It was just an amazing experience, and I found myself in a place that truly makes a difference.”

After this experience combined with an opportunity to see the line of fire close-hand compelled Joan to become a full-fledged American Red Cross volunteer. “I’ve given blood to the Red Cross and known of the Red Cross but didn’t know what goes into this kind of work [sheltering]. I was impressed with the caliber of the staff [in the shelter] and how they take responsibility. Looking around, I realized how safe we were in the hands of these people [Red Cross staff] and the CalFire people.”

The following day, Saturday, August 1st, Joan volunteered from 7 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. She did the same thing the next day and returned to the shelter each day for a week, taking Red Cross training and assisting as the need requires. She looks forward to helping the Red Cross to build a community of volunteers here in Lake County.

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