By HANNAH SIEVERT
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY
Thousands of Californians have evacuated from their homes because of this year’s wildfires.
Sometimes, families can get separated when moving from their house to evacuation shelters. That’s when Michael Pritchard, of Bend, comes in to help.
“It’s a very scary situation to begin with,” Pritchard said. “You’ve lost everything more likely than not. You have no idea where other family members are.”
Pritchard has volunteered with the Red Cross for four years.
This year, he’s doing things differently. Pritchard operates a hotline that Californians can call when they’ve become separated from family during an evacuation. Pritchard verifies who they are and works to connect them with lost loved ones.
“Knowing that we are going to be getting in touch with so-and-so, you can hear the relief in the person’s voice,” Pritchard said.
Usually, his job would be done in-person, but COVID complicates things. Pritchard volunteers virtually from his home in Bend.
“The important thing is to remember you’re talking to a person on the other end,” Pritchard said. “You’re talking to someone who is probably going through one of the worst days of their lives.”
Chad Carter, with the Red Cross, said there are almost 500 Red Cross volunteers supporting relief efforts in California, both in-person and virtually.
The hotline has been busy; Pritchard had around 12 people call him on Saturday.
But the work gives him purpose.
“I find that helping people makes me feel like my life has value,” Pritchard said. “And the Red Cross is the best organization I can think of because we do so many different things.”