Volunteer Goes Extra Mile for Storm Victims

Oxnard resident Betty Jimenez left for a three-week stay in the Caribbean on Monday night, but she didn't even pack a bathing suit.

Instead, the 62-year-old Red Cross volunteer packed a flashlight and extra batteries.

"I brought some laundry detergent, too, in case I get a moment's break," said Jimenez, who expects to work 12- to 14-hour days helping victims of Hurricane Marilyn.

Jimenez will run an emergency care center in Puerto Rico or one of the U.S Virgin Islands, helping people with basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter.

"We provide them with whatever they need to get them back on their feet," said Jimenez, a housewife who joined the Ventura County chapter of the American Red Cross 18 years ago after taking a first-aid class.

"Disaster Betty" is no neophyte when it comes to environmental carnage. She knows firsthand of hurricanes such as Andrew and Elena, and has seen the damage caused by nearly a dozen floods.

"I was in St. Louis when the Mississippi flooded in 1993, and the floods in Montana in 1987, the floods in Wyoming in 1985, the Sacramento floods of 1995 and . . . ," Jimenez said.

Closer to home, Jimenez also provided crucial aid to victims of the La Conchita mudslide, the 1993 wildfires and the Northridge earthquake.

Jimenez says she just likes helping people.

"I don't like the disasters themselves, but I enjoy helping people in need," said Jimenez, who has lived in Oxnard with her husband since 1964. "And it's exciting to meet people from all over the country."

Jimenez remembers fondly an old man she helped in Mississippi after a tornado had struck.

"He was 103 years old, but the feistiest old man I ever met. When he introduced me to his wife, he said he was a cradle robber. She was 75."

Jimenez receives no pay for her work, which can separate her from her family for several weeks at a time.

"But they know why I'm gone," Jimenez said. And come Christmastime, they can see her souvenirs from disaster sites hanging on the Christmas tree.

"I bring back a Christmas tree ornament from each disaster," she said.

To make a contribution for the victims of Hurricane Marilyn or other disasters, call the Red Cross at (800) HELP-NOW.

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