Red Cross ready to help family left homeless by fire

July 20, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

The Heber family that lost its home and everything inside to a fire Tuesday afternoon could have received immediate assistance from the Imperial Valley chapter of the American Red Cross.

Because of a possible misunderstanding, the family initially turned down the offer of help and as of this morning, had not been in touch with Red Cross officials.

As firefighters were getting ready to leave the fire scene near the corner of Highway 111 and Heber Road on Tuesday evening, family members were asked if they needed help from the Red Cross, according to Capt. Lon Hettinger of the Imperial County Fire Department.

He said Daniel Martinez, husband of Berenice Martinez and father to daughter Berenice and sons Daniel Jr. and Joel, told firefighters the family was going to stay with his wife's sister.


Later in the week, a cousin of the Martinezes contacted the department to find out how to get in touch with the Red Cross because the family could use some help after all. Hettinger said there has been no contact with the Martinezes since then.

Sylvia Preciado, director of the local Red Cross chapter, hasn't heard from the family either.

She wants to help families victimized by fire or natural disasters but said the Red Cross can't help those who don't want their help.

She also can't seek out the family to offer assistance. The family has to call her.

She is not sure why the family turned down an offer of help but said if a family does need assistance, the Red Cross is happy to provide new shoes, clothing, medical supplies and food vouchers.

She said the Martinezes and others in the Imperial Valley might wrongly think there is a charge for the Red Cross' services.

"Some families say, ‘We can't pay you back.' but we don't want them to pay us back," Preciado said.

"We have a family that we are helping right now, getting them self-sufficient. After an emergency, you can't come up with thousands of dollars at a moment's notice. We just want to be able to assist the family and help provide the most immediate needs we can," she said.

Preciado stressed the Red Cross does not receive any money from the government and exists solely on the generosity of volunteers and benefactors.

She said the Red Cross situation in the Imperial Valley is a good one for those who might need help after an emergency.

"There are dollars available that have not been used as much as they are needed in our community," she said.

In addition to the Red Cross' work with families, the agency is looking to set up partnerships with the various fire departments throughout the county.

"We want to be there so that we can keep the firefighters hydrated and help at emergency scenes," she said.

To accomplish this goal, she is looking for volunteers and nurses to go on ride-alongs with fire crews.

Hettinger said that sounds like a great and noble idea.

"Anyone with skills would be welcome to come along. You're helping the community and you're helping yourself," he said.

To help manage any new assistance programs, Liz Montes was recently promoted to be the first full-time program services coordinator for the Imperial Valley chapter.

Montes, who had been the chapter's part-time office assistant, will be working with Preciado to tell the community about services offered by the Red Cross and coordinate the chapter's efforts with fire departments.

For more information about the nature of services offered by the Red Cross, log on to or call 352-4541.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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