Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 8:43 pm | Fair 56º


Essay: Facebook Helps Reunite Family During Jesusita Fire

Stories of hope emerge while working the phones as a Red Cross volunteer

“Hello Alissa, I am glad to tell you we found Mimi (not real name). She quietly arranged to go to a hotel in Montecito and has been staying there. Thank you for your time and effort — very much appreciated, especially as I know it must have been a busy time. Thanks again, Jules.”

This was the message I received in my Facebook inbox from a man in New Zealand looking for his aunt in Santa Barbara. I had no address, no phone number, just this man’s name. After tirelessly surfing the Internet, making calls to anyone who could be connected with this woman, and using the resources of the American Red Cross, I turned to Facebook. Within a day, I got his much-anticipated message. On Facebook. I still can’t believe it.

Hot line volunteers, at times, are detectives using any tool, offline and online, to find people. When families and friends are reunited, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Working the phones during a disaster, a person hears many stories. One woman e-mailed and called us desperately trying to find her best friend. He wasn’t answering his phone or e-mails. She turned to us, and we again exhausted any resources possible. Later, a sheriff’s deputy was called to check on him at his home. The man was fine, and the woman was elated. He had a cold, took his phone off the hook and wasn’t checking his e-mail.

The man called me and told me he “didn’t think anyone else cared if he was alive or dead.” I told him of course we cared, we are Santa Barbarans, we are a community. He was stunned that so much effort was made to make sure he was safe.

Another story involved a group of nuns who went missing. With one piece of information from a concerned family and figuring out which monasteries the nuns could be at, I found the nuns safe and sound several hours south of Santa Barbara.

I was in touch with a daughter who hadn’t talked to her mother in eight years. The mother wanted to make sure her daughter was OK. I can only make sure people are safe. I can’t get into any personal stories, but I hope that if any good could come out of this fire that this mother and daughter were able to talk again and maybe renew a relationship.

All of the people I spoke with were grateful that someone cared whether they were safe and well. With only a last name, I was able to locate one family surprised that anyone was looking for them, and that I was able to track them down. The power of the Internet, I told them.

Speaking of the Internet and safe and well, the Red Cross has a Safe and Well site. Click here. Search for people on the site, but most importantly, list yourself as safe and well. It’s an incredible tool to help put people’s minds at ease.

— Santa Barbara native, sports nut and former TV reporter Alissa Jesle writes the AlissainWonderland Blog.

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