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Red Cross honors longtime Maui shelter manager

Gloria Chee is named Maui County Volunteer of the Year

A Red Cross banner honors Gloria Chee (right) as Maui County Volunteer of the Year. Merry Tamashiro (left) was given the honor in 2018. Photos courtesy Gloria Chee

When a hurricane churns through the Pacific or a fire burns on the pali, Red Cross volunteer Gloria Chee charges up her phone and waits for the call.

As a shelter manager and Disaster Action Team captain for the Red Cross in Maui County, Chee is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, prepared to help displaced families after house fires or usher stranded residents into school gym shelters.

“It’s like every major threat or actual incident that we’ve had, Gloria’s been there,” said Michele Blair, the former Maui County Red Cross director who worked with Chee for 10 years.

This month, Chee was named the Maui County Red Cross Volunteer of the Year and recognized for her decade of service to the nonprofit. Normally, the honoree would be celebrated with a banquet, but with the pandemic and social distancing rules, the Red Cross opted instead for a surprise drive-by parade of volunteers and Maui Police Department officers at Chee’s home in Kihei on Sept. 5.

“I don’t look at getting any kind of recognition, but I’m very humbled, and I appreciate it,” Chee told The Maui News last week.

GLORIA CHEE – Volunteer of the Year

Chee also was awarded with a 10-year pin for her time with the Red Cross.

“Not everybody has money to give, but we have time to give, so I give my time,” Chee said. “I think they’re a great organization helping people in some of their darkest moments.”

When Chee first joined the Red Cross 10 years ago, she quickly impressed her instructor with how organized she was, Blair recalled. She was “one of those people that has tabs for things in their binders,” the kind that didn’t just preach preparedness but had a go kit of her own.

“If you need something, you want to hope you’re with Gloria,” Blair said, recalling how Chee’s truck would always be stocked with “clips, ties, office supplies, something for somebody to sleep on, drink out of, it doesn’t matter. She’ll be prepared.”

Blair said that serving as a shelter manager is “a big job for a volunteer to take on.” Members of the Disaster Action Team are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for potential disasters. They have to operate the shelters and handle the emotions of scared, stressed out people who may have lost their homes or don’t have access to basic needs.

Gloria Chee poses with the pin she received in honor of her 10 years of service to the Red Cross on Sept. 5. The Red Cross also organized a surprise drive-by parade of volunteers and Maui police officers to celebrate Chee as Volunteer of the Year.

“It can be a rough crowd sometimes out there, and she can stand up to that and be strong,” Blair said. “Nothing rattles her.”

Chee said she’s responded to flooding in Honokohau Valley, gone out to house fires and helped with other Red Cross initiatives, such as smoke alarm campaigns.

Setting up shelters and responding to disasters, however, have changed during the pandemic. During Hurricane Douglas in July, shelters had reduced capacity, social distancing requirements and temperature checks at the door. After house fires, volunteers no longer go out to the scene but rather meet up with displaced residents later to deliver a Red Cross assistance card that they can use to get basic supplies and lodging.

Chee said it’s different not being able to go to the scene and get a sense for how the person is feeling and the scope of the incident.

“You meet up with them, help them with what you can, but you can’t make any contact, you can’t really go to the scene,” Chee said. “You have to take people’s word. It’s different.”

When not volunteering for the Red Cross, Chee is planning programs for clients with special needs as the program manager for Arc of Maui.

Kula resident Elaine Olson, who’s been a Red Cross volunteer for six years, has gone with Chee on a number of calls and described her as “very dedicated and brilliant.” Olson said Chee has managed the Central Maui shelter several times during large responses, including a massive brush fire in recent years that shut down Honoapiilani Highway and stranded hundreds of tourists and residents.

“We depend on her for a lot of things. We depend on her dedication and judgment. She definitely deserves it,” Olson said of Chee’s award.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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