jessica piffero

Jessica Piffero, regional director of communications for the Central California region of the American Red Cross, shows some of the supplies being provided. The Central California region in Fresno has been coordinating efforts not only to Hurricane Harvey and the incoming Hurricane Irma, but also towards the wildfires in Madera/Mariposa and Tulare Counties. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz

published on September 6, 2017 - 4:00 PM
Written by Donald A. Promnitz

With relief going to Texas after Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma expected to hit Florida this weekend, the American Red Cross has been hard at work in providing assistance where needed.

Nationwide, more than 16,000 people have to come to help in 90 Red Cross and partnering shelters across Texas. An additional 3,000 volunteers from the organization have also been sent to give their aid. In Fresno, the Central California region of the Red Cross has sent three volunteers to Harvey, with an additional two and an emergency response vehicle headed for Irma.

“And the reason why that number is a little bit low is because of the original threat that was still here in California,” said Barry Falke, executive director of Central Valley and Kern chapters. “I think that had we not been a California region, then we’d have a lot more people deployed to Harvey right now, but because of the wildfires and the threat of more disaster here in the local area, they’ve really kind of held off a little bit with some California deployments.”

Falke said that local issues are the primary focus for the Red Cross as wildfires continue to burn in Madera/Mariposa counties and Tulare County. At the height of these fires, three shelters had been open with 73 residents between them. This number has dropped down to two, but the crisis remains and dozens of volunteers are helping. At the height of the Detwiler Fire, the number of shelters was seven.

“It’s a significant operation. There’s hundreds of families who have been impacted by these wildfires,” said Jessica Piffero, regional director of communications for the Central California region. “That’s not including the wildfires burning in Oregon, in Washington, or wildfires burning in L.A. — that’s just our local chapter here in the Central Valley.”

“It’s been a particularly heavy lift for our team in the mountains,” Falke said. “I think that particularly Madera and Mariposa counties have been abnormally hit over this last year.”

With national disasters here and coming, however, Piffero said that the Red Cross is working “in overdrive” to process the new volunteers into the system, where they will be able to help locally, or to take part in the hurricane relief. Approximately 90 percent of the Red Cross’ staff is made up of volunteers.

“They’re unpaid. They do this out of the kindness of their own hearts because they’re just amazing, compassionate people,” Piffero said. “These volunteers who deploy, these are people who drop everything — they have their own homes, their own jobs, their own families — and they leave everything at a moment’s notice.”

With the processing of volunteers have also come courses on sheltering and the coordination of logistics.

“There’s so much going on behind the scenes — these operations are so huge and when we talk about these national level disasters, people see pictures of our shelter workers working in the shelters,” Piffero said, “but there’s a whole team in logistics that’s managing facilities, and managing the hundreds of vehicles that are on the ground. We have over 200 emergency response vehicles at Harvey already.

Piferro stated that families in the effected regions are going to need help for months to come.

Those wishing to donate money or volunteer in the efforts can visit, or call 559-455-1000. People are also encouraged to visit the Central California office at 1300 W. Shaw Ave. Suite 4B.

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