Meals cooked from the heart give shelter residents a taste of home 

Cooking is Bertha Brewer’s talent and passion. And she put it to good use at the Smith Recreational Center in Fayetteville, N.C., when it served as a Red Cross shelter for people displaced by Hurricane Florence.

Caterer Bertha Brewer in the kitchen of Smith Recreation Center in Fayetteville, NC, which served as a Red Cross shelter. Brewer provided homestyle meals for shelter residents displaced by Hurricane Florence.   

Bertha considers herself lucky and was inspired by the resiliency of shelter residents, who numbered more than 150 at one point.

Bertha has her own catering business and a commercial kitchen at the rec center. While the shelter was operating there, she cooked meals for the residents about a couple of times a week.

“I just wished I could do something for all these people here every day,” she said. “But I did cook them dinner. I did cook them a dinner and they really appreciated that.”

One evening it was chili dogs, another time it was a chicken dinner — a choice of baked or fried — with green beans, macaroni and cheese and more.

“Just to get that little bit of home cooking was so wonderful,” said Nina Owens, a Red Cross volunteer from Alaska who managed the shelter kitchen. “It was a little something extra.”

Bertha downplays her efforts, noting that people always ask her how long it takes her to cook for a large group. “It doesn’t take any longer to cook for 50 people than to cook for 1,” she adds.

While Bertha has high standards for her cooking and enjoys seeing people eat her food, she isn’t much of an eater herself, running nearly all day on a bowl of oatmeal.

“I just enjoy doing what I do,” she said.

Story and photo by Ann Kim/American Red Cross

Veterans Find Refuge at Capital Area Stand Down          


Multiple organizations from across the Triangle united to aid local veterans at the Capital Area Veterans Stand Down, held Oct. 27 in Raleigh.Stand Down

During the event, attendees, many of whom were homeless, received employment and housing assistance information, dental and health care, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and even showers and haircuts.

Red Cross volunteers were on hand to distribute “Totes of Hope” – kits containing essential personal care items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and deodorant.

Lora Alexander, Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces manager, said the need was significant. “We had approximately 190 people who stopped by our booth,” she said.

Homeless veterans often face challenges accessing the services they need, partly because of the lack of structured collaboration among agencies. Stand Downs seek to make access to services easier by bringing multiple agencies and solutions together in one place.

The term “stand down” is borrowed from the armed forces, and refers to a period of rest and retreat given to exhausted military members in wartime. Part of the Red Cross mission is to aid members of the armed forces, veterans, and their families, and participating in veterans’ Stand Downs is a vital part of achieving that goal.

The Capital Area Stand Down was hosted by Wake County. Sponsoring organizations included Wake County Human Services, the NC Department of Commerce Division of Workforce Solutions, the Durham VA Medical Center, Consumer Education Services, Inc., the NC Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, the Raleigh Vet Center, Volunteers of America, Passage Home, Legal Aid of NC, St. John the Merciful Outreach Ministries, the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End & Prevent Homelessness, and UCB Biosciences Inc.

For more information about Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces services, visit

Story by Miranda Volborth/American Red Cross

Grateful parishioner returns the favor

By Ekland Durousseau, American Red Cross Public Affairs


From right: Maria Cardenas with her two daughters Michelle, 11 and Yaritzel, 4 and best friend Jesenia Sanchez.

It’s close to 6 o’clock and the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) feeding team is about to hand out the last meal of the day at Iglesias Pentecostal Vino Nuevo, a church along their feeding route. A car pulls up and like so many before them, a family of four get out and walk toward the ERV but this time instead of taking food they are giving.

Marcial Sanchez, pastor of Iglesias Pentecostal Vino Nuevo, sent word to his parishioners that if anyone was still in need their church was on a Red Cross feeding truck route and hot meals would be provided. Maria Cardenas got the message but had no need for the service. Her home sustained no water damage and the power had been restored to her neighborhood. She was grateful the Red Cross was helping her community and thought she could contribute in a similar way by cooking one big meal a couple of times a week and bringing it to the church as a supplemental feeding. This night however, her dishes were a little heavier. She asked the ERV team if they would walk to her car because she wanted to show them something.

Opening the trunk of her car, Maria uncovered an enormous container, releasing a cloud of aromatic steam that filled the air with a roasted corn aroma. Stuffed within the pot lay large homemade tamales.  When the oohs and ahhs died down Maria smiled and said “Because you shared with us I want to share with you. Thank you for helping my community.”

Truck drivers of the Red Cross

By Ekland Durousseau, American Red Cross Public Affairs


Robert “Spike” Dominic Ventura

During the span of a day Robert Dominic Ventura is called many names. His nametag says Robert, but he introduces himself as Dominic. His friends call him Bear but his Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) crew call him Spike. What does he prefer? “I got all sorts of nicknames,” said Ventura. “On the bus I’m Bear, on the ERV I’m Spike. Call me whatever you need to. I’ll answer to anything.”

Ventura is a bit of a free spirit. He got together with several of his friends and renovated a large school bus, christening it “The Skallywagon”. This year they decided to travel the country exploring various cities and campgrounds. When they heard about the hurricane disaster they knew they wanted to help. All of them had skills that could be useful to relief and recovery and this was a perfect opportunity to use them. They packed tree supplies to do free tree work and went to food pantries to gather food and bottled water but they had trouble finding affected areas.

One morning they happened to pass the Red Cross North Carolina Greenville chapter and thought it would be a great place to find the information they needed. By the end of the day everyone on the bus had signed up to be a Red Cross volunteer. From there they were assigned various tasks. Ventura started out in mass distribution, moved on to a warehouse assignment and when that finished, he did shelter uptake and takedown and now he is in feeding and he likes it the best.

“When you are in the warehouse you know it’s going somewhere and it’s doing something good for somebody but you don’t actually get to see it face to face. When you are out here feeding people, you get to see them appreciate it, hear the thank you and see it make an impact,” said Ventura.

Two weeks ago Ventura didn’t know anyone on the ERV team, now they all feel like family. “It’s just a hodgepodge of all different types of lifestyles and creeds just slammed into one van and we all have a good time with it, “ said Ventura.


The ERV team (left to right) Ventura, Salterella, Mendoza and Hoffman.

Michael Hoffman, Mario Mendoza and Jennifer Salterella complete the ERV family.

The crew is led by Hoffman, a former police chief from Maryland. A highlight of his Red Cross experience has been reaching out to a community that is not well represented. “I truly care about the people,” he said. “The people that can’t get the help, or won’t come out and get the help for one reason or another.” Hoffman believes his crew is more than capable of accomplishing this task and feels the atmosphere on the ERV is almost like a party, simply because everyone brings something different to the table. “Because our crew is so diverse we have the ability to reach every spectrum of client from the elderly, middle aged, educated youth, and the very young,” said Hoffman.

Mendoza deployed shortly after Hurricane Matthew made landfall driving an ERV all the way from San Antonio, Texas to North Carolina.

When he realized the Hispanic population along their route were not aware of the services the Red Cross provides he impressed upon his crew the need to educate and distribute information. “We want the Hispanic community to know that we are here,” he said “And that we will be here until the end.” Mendoza made great strides in fulfilling his mission when his crew befriended the pastor at Iglesias Pentecostal Vino Nuevo in Snow Hill, North Carolina. Mendoza believes gaining the trust of respected community leaders will prove to be vital in helping an underserved community.

Salterella, a teacher in Atlanta, has been a volunteer since 2008 but for her, the Red Cross is a family affair. Her brother is a longtime volunteer and this year her mother was awarded volunteer of the year in Atlanta.

As a teacher, Salterella is the kid connection in this crew. “I am special education teacher with a focus on autism,” she said. “I specialize in autism because I have autism. I teach kids how to cope with a disorder I have learned to cope with.” Of all the jobs she has had working on a disaster her favorite is being an ERV feeding crew member.

“Being on the ERV is a bit like being a truck driver,” Salterella said with a chuckle. “The truck drivers of the Red Cross, caravanning from place to place out in the community, free spirted and mobile. We are like a roving band of gypsies. Little family groups in our little wagons and we just roll. “

Washington Bojangles Donates Meals for Tornado Victims

By James Jarvis & Tara Humphries, Public Affairs Volunteers, American Red CrossChocowinity NC 4-27-14-9905-2

Kevin Robinson, general manager for Bojangles’ restaurants in Beaufort County, NC, calls eastern NC home.  When a number of devastating tornadoes struck the region Friday night, Robinson checked on his neighbors, family and friends, and his employees.  Soon thereafter, he received a call from the American Red Cross requesting food assistance for area residents whose homes were in the path of the devastating storms.  He couldn’t say no.

“Absolutely – [The Red Cross] had a need and gave us a call.  We wanted to do anything we could to help,” said Robinson.  “We started making preparations last night so that we could produce all the additional meals we would need to provide today.”

Robinson and his Bojangles’ team provided 500 meals, or the equivalent of a routine weekday’s volume.

“We requested an additional chicken shipment so that we could meet the need,” Robinson explained.  “By 11 a.m. the meals were prepared and packaged and our employees were loading them into the Red Cross’ emergency response vehicle for immediate distribution.”

The American Red Cross could not fulfill its mission to care for residents affected by tragedies such as this week’s tornado without the generous donations of individuals and community businesses such as Bojangles restaurant.  To learn how you can help, please visit


Wilmington Red Cross Feeds Residents with Power Outages

rco_blog_img_jamesThis story is by Public Affairs Volunteer, David Dennis.

As dawn broke Friday morning residents of Wilmington, NC again woke up to freezing temperatures and worse… No power.

Volunteer James Buckley hands a drink to Tina, a resident affected by the power outages.
Volunteer James Buckley hands a drink to Tina, a resident affected by the power outages.

Thousands were left draped in blankets or huddled by a fire as city workers scrambled to restore power as quickly as possible.  In a time of local crisis, community leaders turned to a reliable and familiar source, the American Red Cross.

James Buckley, a retired firefighter now volunteering with the Red Cross found himself spread out across the southeast the past few days. Buckley has been tasked with driving the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle- ERV for short- throughout the southeast. In times of disaster the ERV gives out critical supplies like food, water and blankets to those in need.

On this particular day the ERV helped supply a hot breakfast to senior and disabled citizens in Grover Plaza. Fifty hot meals were generously prepared and packaged by Jeff Shea and his team at Golden Corral, located at 5211 College Rd South.

Citizens of Grover Plaza showed relief on their faces when the ERV arrived. Sam Holt was one of the first residents to come up to the truck. “We were without power for about 35 hours,” he said. “It’s so good to get a hot meal.”

Scott Whisenant shared similar feelings. ” I was very relieved (to see the Red Cross). We couldn’t cook (and) we lost the stuff in our refrigerator. It’s unreal.”

James hands boxes of food to resident Raheem who helps him unload the meals.
James hands boxes of food to resident Raheem who helps him unload the meals.

Tina Baysden, a Grover Plaza resident since 2002 took a hands-on approach and helped volunteers hand out food to residents unable to walk. “I think they (Red Cross) are awesome,” she said. They are concerned about the elderly and disabled.”

Like many residents Tina decided to brave the power outage and stay at her home. “I have three service dogs and they’re like family,” she said.

While many decide to stay home the American Red Cross urges anyone, especially the sick or elderly, without power to seek proper shelter in times of disaster. For tips on how to stay prepared, stay warm or where to find shelter in your area please visit

Red Cross Donates 25,000 Heater Meals to Food Bank of the Albemarle

ELIZABETH CITY, NC, May 1, 2013 This week, the Greater Albemarle Area Chapter of the American Red Cross donated 25,000 HeaterMeals valued at $130,000 to the Food Bank of the Albemarle. The Red Cross works closely with the Food Bank to prepare for and respond to disasters.  The Food Bank generously allows the Red Cross to store disaster food supplies in their warehouse.heatermeals

“We are proud to partner with our friends at the Food Bank of the Albemarle,” said Carolyn Self, Executive Director of the Greater Albemarle Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. “Thanks to the Food Bank, we are prepared to feed our community in the event of a disaster.”

As part of local disaster preparedness planning, the Red Cross keeps an inventory of supplies including nonperishable food which can be used during emergencies. Disaster supplies are periodically replenished as they near their expiration dates and the products are donated to local partner agencies.  A new inventory of HeaterMeals will be delivered to replace the donated goods.

The Red Cross uses HeaterMeals and other food supplies to help feed volunteers and those who have been affected by disaster such as hurricanes, floods, and fires after which electricity is not available. HeaterMeals are self-heating, shelf-stable emergency food products, with a shelf-life of up to 5 years, based on the production date and storage temperature. These products offer a warm meal which can provide a small comfort during times of need.

Personal preparedness kits should include a 3-day supply of shelf-stable, non-perishable emergency food items such as HeaterMeals.  Being prepared means being equipped with the proper supplies you may need in the event of an emergency. Keep your supplies in an easy-to-carry emergency preparedness kit that you can use at home or take with you in case you must evacuate.

When emergencies happen, the Red Cross mobilizes to provide shelter, food, counseling and other lifesaving services. Contact your local Red Cross at 252-335-2185 or visit  to find out more about how you can prepare your home and family, workplace, and school.


About the American Red Cross

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies more than 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or join our blog at