Gloria Hirashima (center left) with her husband and fellow Red Cross volunteers prepare to install smoke alarms in Marysville, WA 2019

By Gordon Williams 

There are two compelling reasons why the American Red Cross serving Northwest Washington has held Heroes Breakfasts in each of the past 25 years. First, they give the Red Cross a chance to honor heroic — often life-saving — deeds by members of the community. Second, they raise funds to support the Red Cross mission of providing assistance at disaster scenes. 

The 2020 Heroes Breakfast was December 10 in Everett WA, and it unlike anything the Red Cross Northwest Region had done before. The details come from Gloria Hirashima of Marysville WA — chair of the first ever virtual Heroes Breakfast. “Instead of live presentations, everything had to be pre-recorded,” she says. Then, all the elements had to be blended together in a coherent program. “It was a big cut-and-paste job,” she says. 

In the end, it came together well. The breakfast, which honored six local heroes, drew an admiring review by Everett Herald reporter Julie Muhlstein. The headline read “4 near-tragedies that were averted by these Red Cross Heroes.” Muhlstein went on to detail the heroic acts that led to the awards, as well as a prolific pandemic mask maker and a disaster site volunteer who were celebrated at the breakfast.

The event raised more than $180,000 for the Red Cross — much needed funds in a year that coupled the Covid-19 pandemic with destructive wildfires and a record hurricane season. 

Instead of sheltering disaster victims en masse in donated schools and churches, the Red Cross must house them, one or two at a time, in rented hotel rooms. 

Gloria Hirashima counts the 2020 event as a financial success. Going virtual brought some other benefits, she says. Because anyone with internet access could log in, people from far-off locations could participate. “It was not limited to those who could drive to the event,” she says.“We got to see people we don’t see very often.” Hirashima’s mother and sister, who live in California, were part of the virtual audience that day. 

Having more people from faraway also brought in donations from far away. “We had donations coming in from all over the place,” Hirashima says. 

Watch the 2020 Heroes Breakfast on YouTube

She is quick to credit workers from the Red Cross who helped make the first virtual Heroes Breakfast both a critical and a commercial success. She cites the key roles played by Red Cross staffers Natalie Cerna and Karen Miller, and by Kelli Thode, executive director of the Red Cross Northwest Washington chapter. “Natalie and Kelli led the event, and I cheered them on,” she says. “Karen lined up sponsors for the breakfast.” 

Thode, in turn, heaps praise on Hirashima as one of her chapter’s most active board members. For one thing, Hirashima sits on the board of directors for the chapter which covers the five counties north of Seattle and will serve as board chair starting July 2021.

In her day job, she is chief administrative officer of Marysville, a city of 70,000 just north of Everett. As such, she is the city’s professional manager, working with the elected mayor and council. Born in California, she was recruited by Marysville some 30 years ago as a land use planner, fresh out of college. She has been chief administrative officer for 10 years. 

She first volunteered for the Red Cross seven years ago. Husband Gary was an active Red Cross volunteer, and he persuaded Gloria to volunteer. “I  had heard about the Red Cross all my life,” she says. “It gave me an opportunity to join a great organization that helps people.” A former member of the Red Cross chapter board then persuaded her to join the board. 

Says Thode, “She was instrumental in setting up the City of Marysville as a regular Red Cross blood drive partner.” Working with the city and the local library system, Hirashima set up a schedule of four local blood drives a year. “Once you run blood drives on a regular basis,” she says, “you get committed donors who come back every quarter.”

Hirashima has also taken part in Red Cross home fire prevention events. That is the Red Cross initiative to cut home fire deaths by installing smoke alarms in dwellings that don’t have them. In years past, she worked with the Marysville Fire Department to locate homes in need of alarms. The pandemic has put the Red Cross home fires campaign on hold. “I am looking forward to getting back to it,” she says. “We have identified a lot of mobile home parks that need smoke alarms.” 

Still further in the future is next year’s Heroes Breakfast. Having just chaired the 2020 event, Hirashima is already looking ahead to the Heroes who will be honored on a wintry morning late in 2021 — this time, in a live event if all goes well. 

American Red Cross Northwest Region

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