The call to their Granada Hills home came just before midnight on July 4, 2020 as David Aks and his wife, Ann Baltz, were asleep. It was their Red Cross Disaster Action Team social worker who wanted to know if they could respond to a building fire on Parthenia Avenue, not far from the station. from Northridge subway.
Ten families had lost their homes and all of their possessions because “some idiot set off illegal fireworks which landed on one of the balconies and started a fire,” David told Ann as he hung up the phone.
They looked at each other with the same thought. They were in a nice warm bed, enjoying a restful sleep they would like to return to. It would be nice if disasters worked on the days, but most of them seem to like the night shift.
That’s what they signed up for, however, after retiring and finding themselves “living in a cocoon,” as David called it. Beautiful house, beautiful yard with pool – and plenty of time to think maybe it’s time to get out of their comfort zone.
After 32 years as a music teacher at CSUN and Ann’s long career as artistic director of OperaWorks, a national training center for opera singers, they weren’t exactly sitting in the back- yard all day and watched the clouds pass in front of people. They needed a meaningful challenge, and the Red Cross provided it.
It was David’s first call as a member of the disaster response team, and Ann’s second. He was nervous when they arrived at the scene an hour later to find stunned families sitting on the sidewalk with their children, crying in sheer disbelief that this could happen to them.
“Traumatic”, David would call the scene. All of his training at the Red Cross had insisted that he had to stay focused and do his job – seeing to their immediate needs, and comforting and supporting those people who were going through the worst day of their lives.
Provide them with a bottle of water and snacks, their children with a small toy, and tell them that shelter, food, clothing, and links to recovery programs would be made available to them. .
Put an arm around their shoulders and give them psychological first aid.
“You must be their rock,” David said. “Being able to say that the Red Cross was here was good for me and them. »
Ann had seen the same look of pure disbelief on the faces of five families who had been displaced in a fire at a mobile home park a few weeks earlier. She went with a supervisor because she was new to the team.
“I was excited and thought I was ready, but I was unprepared for the overpowering smell of charred, damp wood, all the water in the streets and all the destruction,” she says. . “When I got back in the car later, I collapsed. I wasn’t ready for that.”
The next day, her duty officer called and asked how she was doing. “I told him that I didn’t handle the emotional side very well. She told me the Red Cross had someone to talk to, a mental health counsellor. I thought how great it was that they also take care of their volunteers.
That night of July 4 changed everything for them. “Once you’ve been through many of these disasters and realize that these people are in desperate need of help and don’t know where to turn, it takes into account that I’m already in my pajamas and I don’t don’t want to get out of bed’ seem pretty insignificant when you can give them that help,” says David.
In the Los Angeles area, there are 8,000 men and women volunteers who make up 90% of the Red Cross workforce. Without them, there would be no Red Cross. But finding enough volunteers for all the work of the Red Cross is an endless battle.
“We’re constantly encouraging people to get involved,” says David. “I think the stumbling block for a lot of people is that they think they don’t have the time. They think it’s a full time job, but it’s not.
“You can volunteer an hour a week or whatever you want. They will take it. Ann and I go out maybe one call a month.
“We can’t stress that enough,” says Ann. “This work is incredibly rewarding. It has made our lives so much richer.
Outside the comfort zone.
For more information on becoming an American Red Cross volunteer, go to redcross.org/volunteertoday
Dennis McCarthy’s column airs Sunday. He can be reached at [email protected]