3 minute readDisaster, Volunteers
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When Help Can’t Wait: Comforting Families in Need During a Pandemic

Red Cross volunteer Jessica Farias Zanette speaks with L.A. Tyner who is staying at a Red Cross shelter in Houston, Texas. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

It’s been nearly a year since the pandemic started impacting individuals across the world, and the Red Cross continues to provide support and assistance to those coping with these difficult times. Many families have struggled financially and emotionally because of COVID-19, which is why Red Cross volunteers have given their time to comfort and connect with them.

Helping People Cope through Disasters

When disaster strikes, disaster mental health volunteers provide emotional support to families in need. Although the pandemic has prevented most in-person care, Red Cross volunteers continue to comfort and guide individuals through their recovery virtually.

Ron Molick, Disaster Mental Health volunteer for the Red Cross of Illinois and Arizona.

After a home fire, volunteers like Ron Molick check in with clients over the phone to see how they are doing.

Ron is a disaster mental health volunteer who supports the Illinois and Arizona Region of the Red Cross. Although Ron has spent his career in clinical social work and banking, he now spends his retirement helping others cope through disasters.

Ron is part of a team of nearly 65 disaster mental health volunteers, who are all licensed mental health professionals that support communities across the Illinois Region.

“I feel grateful that in retirement I’ve got something that I want to do,” Ron said. “Just to have the opportunity, the structure that the Red Cross provides and being a part of the process, the bridge between disaster and recovery. I know that there’s been a positive experience. They’ve gotten immediate quality service in the worst time of their life.”

These volunteers also support large national disasters like wildfires and hurricanes by providing counseling and support in person, or over the phone at any time, day or night.

Supporting Veterans and Military Members

As COVID-19 created new obstacles for individuals recovering from disasters, it also presented new challenges for hospitalized veterans. Many veteran patients could no longer look forward to simple conversations and visits from family members.

Tony Nazzaro, Service to the Armed Forces volunteer for the South Florida Red Cross.

In South Florida, that didn’t stop Red Cross volunteer Tony Nazzaro and other Service to the Armed Forces volunteers from finding an alternative to connecting with veteran patients, even as COVID-19 cases continued to rise.

Before the pandemic, Tony and a team of volunteers would visit veterans at a civilian hospital in Cape Coral as part of the Red Cross’ first Veteran Visitation Program. Launched in 2019 as a partnership with a local hospital, the program involved having trained volunteers visit hospitalized veterans to provide guidance on the resources and programs accessible to them.

Now, Tony and his team have transformed the visitation program to a virtual opportunity, where volunteers can continue to connect and check-in with veterans throughout the week. Twice a day, Red Crossers are calling at least eight veterans to maintain that human connection and ensure they are supported by the Red Cross.

“Unfortunately, so much bad has come out of COVID-19, that I feel that we had to come up with something good, and this is a good thing that has come out of it,” Tony said. “Every veteran needs to know what is available to them before it is too late, like when veterans reached eviction, or lost their car or don’t have food. The sooner veterans can speak to someone, the sooner they can get help. They served this country and it’s our turn to serve them.”

 Virtual Assistance for Families Impacted by COVID-19

To support families struggling with loss and grief due to COVID-19, the Red Cross launched a Virtual Family Assistance Center. Sadly, many families battled with COVID-related restrictions that caused heartbreaking disruptions in their bereavement process, but the Red Cross was there to help.

Danel Lipparelli, behavioral health volunteer for the Red Cross of Utah and Nevada.

Red Cross volunteers, like Danel Lipparelli from the Nevada Region, stepped up to help provide free and confidential support virtually for bereaving and grieving families across the country.

“We’ve been running 11-hour shifts every day since last March,” Danel said. “Once callers talk with one of our spiritual care, behavioral health, or health services volunteers, that volunteer stays with the caller for all follow-up sessions. We want to hold people close as they go through the process.”

For Danel, those conversations can involve anything from calls to the coroners and funeral homes to providing local resources and partners to help families with multiple losses in their lives.

“I spoke with a son and daughter, both in their early 20s, who had just lost both parents to COVID,” Danel said. “They had no idea what to do. People were upset because their loved ones went into the hospital and they never saw them again. They had no way to say goodbye. Sometimes we’re working with families who have lost multiple members. It’s so traumatic.”

As the pandemic continues, so does the Family Assistance Center, a support hub that provides online resources, information and referrals for services they need. It also connects people to community resources provided by partners in their area.

This #RedCrossMonth, we celebrate the exceptional and selfless work of our Red Cross volunteers, who support and uplift the spirits of the communities we serve after disasters. We thank them for continuing to provide comfort and care to families in need when #HelpCantWait.