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Oklahoma City Red Cross volunteer makes sure needs of others come first

Olivia Dennard

 Photo Provided -
Olivia Dennard Photo Provided -

Olivia Dennard loves to smile, loves to cook and loves to be there for others.

Recently Ken Garcia, regional director of communications for the American Red Cross’ Central and Western Oklahoma Region, shared insight into a few of their numerous volunteers.

Of Dennard, he said, “She is one of our most dependable and active disaster action team members, having responded to 12 calls so far this year. Her attitude is always bright and she leads by example. She is a role model in terms of her dedication and knowledge.”

And all of that can be traced to love — a love that is at least a couple generations deep.

Dennard, 64, of Oklahoma City, was born and raised in San Antonio. She describes her parents, Dan and Tillie Chapa, as “loving and giving people, helping anyone in need, especially children.”

They raised six children, but “with a loving heart we had room for one more when they adopted my brother Rene Chapa.”

“We learned by example that our blessings were bountiful and to give of ourselves to those in need,” Dennard said. “I witnessed my mother cooking extra food because homemade tortillas would surely bring someone in the neighborhood to the table.

“Anyone who knows me will tell you I love to cook for others.”

Again, Dennard just loves to be there for others.

“I decided to become a Red Cross volunteer and use my bilingual Spanish speaking skills to help my community,” she said. “It is very important to me not only to remain a part of my culture but also my nature to pay it forward.”

Disaster action team

Dennard is a member of the Red Cross’ disaster action team. These first responders to disasters such as house fires, apartment fires, wildfires, ice storms, snowstorms, floods, tornadoes and earthquakes assist “our clients with their immediate emergency disaster-caused needs and assist through their recovery period.”

“We also ... take care of our firefighters’ with beverages, food and snacks during fires and law enforcement during a standoff,” she said.

Dennard serves as an emergency response driver for the vehicle used in a disaster for mobile feeding in neighborhoods and rural areas. She is a mass care feeding manager, shelter manager and a disaster specialty training instructor.

Dennard is certified in CPR-first aid and conducts community disaster education presentations at senior centers, public libraries, schools, community health fairs and businesses.

Since retiring from The Oklahoma Publishing Co., Dennard has deployed as an emergency response driver for the Red Cross to Louisiana hurricane relief, Colorado wildfires and Colorado floods. In Oklahoma she has helped during or after ice storms, wildfires and tornadoes.

Last year on May 20, Dennard was deployed to Shawnee as mass care feeding manager.

In the early evening on May 31, Dennard and other volunteers huddled in the basement of a hotel in Norman and watched in horror as another tornado tracked from El Reno, to Mustang and then to Oklahoma City, near Dennard’s neighborhood.

“I prayed for my husband who was at home,” she said. “I contacted him by cell, he was safe in the storm shelter, and we lost contact until hours later when the storm had passed. He gave me the bad news that our mobile home had been hit, ‘All power is out we have a lot of damage it looks like a war zone.’ I knew my husband would be OK because he was ‘Red Cross Ready,’ shook up, but OK.

“Our home was habitable.”

Dennard was able to get home the next day and assess the damage on their home and found the tree in the back yard caused damage to the rear of the house, a broken window and roof damage.

“Compared to our neighbors it was minor,” she said. “I brought him with me to the hotel and explained that I would continue to volunteer for our neighborhood with feeding and he said he will help our neighbors with the clean up.

“When we would have power back in our home was not important at this point.”

So, Dennard changed gears from feeding manager to mass care emergency response vehicle driver, taking care of her neighbors and the surrounding area.

“It was important to me to fulfill my voluntary service, which is a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain,” she said. “A week later power was restored and our lives started to get back to normal. We packed our camper and we went on a much-needed vacation.

“As a volunteer I love what I do for the Red Cross, but I love more what I get back from my community. I get blessings in return because we helped someone in need of a safe, warm place to sleep; food; clothing.”

Bryan Painter

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