The American Red Cross of Orange County is pleased to announce its 2021 Orange County Heroes Awards honorees. Each year, the Orange County Heroes Awards recognizes local individuals for acts of great bravery, dedication, and humanitarian service. This year’s event is hosted by KTLA’s Doug Kolk.
“Not all heroes wear capes,” said Becky Firey, Executive Director of the American Red Cross of Orange County. “In fact, we’re surrounded by unsung heroes every day. We encourage the public to join us at this year’s virtual Orange County Heroes Awards as we meet incredible local heroes and hear their stories of courage, compassion, and community impact.”
2021 Orange County Heroes Awards Honorees:
Animal Welfare Hero: OC Animal Care Field Services Team (Tustin)
In January 2020, over the course of two days, a team of OC Animal Care Animal Control Officers safely rescued over 300 rabbits from the home of their owner, who could no longer care for them. While on scene, each rabbit was photographed, documented, and fully examined to assess their physical condition and triage their medical needs. Some had fighting injuries that required immediate medical attention and many needed a prolonged treatment plan. After several months, all the rabbits were given a clean bill of health and new lease on life thanks to the team at OC Animal Care.
Corporate Hero: Wing Lam, Wahoo’s Fish Taco (Tustin)
What started as a single delivery of 300 meals from Wahoo’s Fish Taco to Hoag Hospital last year, has turned into an astounding collaboration known as the California Love Drop. Since its founding, California Love Drop has delivered over 17,500 meals to frontline workers, first responders and those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is all thanks to the humanitarian efforts of Wing Lam and his California Love Drop co-founders and partnering businesses.
Disaster Services Hero: Orange County Fire Authority (Irvine)
In 2020, Orange County witnessed one of its worst wildfire seasons. Thanks to the Orange County Fire Authority, no lives were lost during any of the devastating fires – including the Blue Ridge Fire, Bond Fire and Silverado Fire. In a time of uncertainty amid the pandemic, OCFA firefighters continued to adapt with new COVID-19 protocols and a steadfast determination to save life and property. In addition to responding to fires and medical calls, OCFA assisted the Orange County Health Care Agency with the rollout of Super Point of Dispensing (POD) sites, capable of administering 7,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per eight-hour day.
Gift of Life Heroes: Jackie and Victor Miller (Orange)
Jackie and Victor Miller are regular platelet donors and are on a first name basis with the staff at the American Red Cross Santa Ana Red Cross Blood Donation Center. Jackie and Victor book their platelet donation appointments together for every other Sunday morning at 7:00 a.m. Combined, they have donated over 1,000 units. They never miss an appointment and book well in advance to make sure the units are available for those undergoing cancer treatment. Despite juggling work and family, even a pandemic has not stopped them from their commitment to give. Their dedication is the perfect example that everyday heroes can make a world of difference for people with cancer.
First Responder Heroes: Long Term Care Facility Team & Expert Stewardship (Santa Ana)
When COVID-19 outbreaks started occurring in skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities in Orange County, the amount of work responding to these outbreaks quickly surpassed the capacity of the Orange County Health Department’s Epidemiology Program. In May 2020, the Long Term Care Facility (LCTF) team was formed, shifting nurses from other county programs. Dr. Helene Calvet, an infection control physician, saw the need and came out of retirement to train these nurses. Expert Stewardship, a contracted group of infection prevention specialists, joined the team to help with infection prevention assessment and training in facilities. To date, the LTCF Team has responded to 330 outbreaks, which caused over 14,000 infections and 1,700 deaths. Expert Stewardship has made over 1,300 site visits to facilities, providing valuable feedback and training.
Good Samaritan Hero: Michael Sean Wright, Wound Walk OC (Anaheim)
When Michael Sean Wright moved to Santa Ana four years ago, he immediately noticed the homeless, who were unsheltered, and in many instances, in need of medical care. Michael started Wound Walk OC to help those living outdoors who don’t have a primary care physician. The organization consists of a group of volunteers who walk throughout Orange County, including Santa Ana, Fullerton, Huntington Beach and Anaheim, bringing medical supplies, hygiene products, and food to the unsheltered homeless who live and sleep there. Faced with the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michael and his team of volunteers continued to assist the homeless, providing them with masks, hand sanitizer, meals, hygiene kits and wound care.
Service to the Armed Forces Hero: Jodie Merkle (Huntington Beach)
Jodie Merkle, a military spouse, has stepped up in numerous ways to give back to the veteran and military community. Jodie and her spouse fell in love with the mission of Team Red White and Blue (RWB), an organization that focuses on helping build and maintain the mental and physical health of veterans and their families. Jodie and her husband founded the Orange County Chapter of Team RWB, and continue to play key roles in its leadership. Jodie has been instrumental in creating engagement opportunities for all members of Team RWB during the pandemic. Jodie’s contributions have resulted in a strong community of hundreds of veterans and family members.
Youth Hero: Nithin Parthasarathy (Irvine)
Nithin Parthasarathy started his non-profit, Zero Waste Initiative, with the aim to rescue food waste and reduce food insecurity while preserving environmental sustainability. While eating at a bagel shop, Nithin observed that the surplus unsold bagels were discarded after store closure every day. These were quality bagels, but simply made in excess. He reached out to several shelters and food banks to see if they would be willing to absorb those unsold bagels. That’s when the Zero Waste Initiative was born. Zero Waste Initiative has rescued over $90,000 in wholesale value of baked goods, such as bagels and donuts, in just nine months by donating to various organizations and shelters. Nithin continues to expand operations, adding more stores, as well as more volunteers who pick up and deliver baked goods seven days a week and serve local and national organizations.
The 2021 Orange County Heroes Awards is made possible by Disaster Relief Sponsor Antis Roofing & Waterproofing; Community Preparedness Sponsors Goldman Sachs Ayco Personal Financial Management, Deepa Gupta, Edwards Lifesciences Foundation, Nationwide and Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, and other local sponsors.
The Orange County Heroes Awards not only recognizes local heroes, but will also raise money for Red Cross Disaster Relief. Orange County Heroes Match Partner, A Little Help Foundation, will match donations, dollar for dollar, up to $25,000, in support of Disaster Relief.
“Last year was one of the worst fire seasons we’ve seen in Orange County. Whether it’s a home fire or a wildfire, we want to ensure that no one faces disasters alone,” says Firey. “We’re grateful for the support of our sponsors, which enables us to continue delivering help and hope when it’s needed most.”
The virtual Orange County Heroes Awards is free to attend and is open to the public. To learn more or to register for the event, visit OCHeroes.givesmart.com. Nominations for the annual Orange County Heroes Awards are accepted year-round at redcross.org/ocheroes.