Red Cross Giving Day: COVID-19 one year later; Americans step up

The Shawnee News-Star
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OKLAHOMA CITY — One year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, people have stepped up to address the emotional needs of families reeling from the coronavirus and 2020’s record-breaking disasters.

In Kansas and Oklahoma and across the country, trained American Red Cross disaster mental health and spiritual care volunteers have had more than 53,000 conversations to provide emotional support to people in 2020 — which had the greatest number of billion-dollar disasters in a single year. In addition, trained volunteers have provided free crisis counseling through the Red Cross Virtual Family Assistance Center for grieving families during COVID-19.

“The past year has been overwhelming for many in our community, and yet through it all, people are caring for one another,” said Alice Townsend, Red Cross Kansas/Oklahoma regional chief executive officer. “When help can’t wait, they provide families with the support they need during emergencies. During Red Cross Month in March, we honor this humanitarian spirit and ask you to join us by donating, giving blood, volunteering or taking a class to learn lifesaving skills.”

WHAT IS RED CROSS MONTH

For nearly 80 years, U.S. presidents have proclaimed March as Red Cross Month to recognize people giving back through its lifesaving mission — which is powered by more than 90% volunteers.

They include people like Carolyn Harpole, a mental health volunteer who has volunteered to provide emotional support, psychological first aid and referrals to community assistance for families coping with disasters during the pandemic.

When her brother became ill with the virus, Harpole and a family member started looking for resources. She quickly realized there were very few available.  

“I realized when my brother became ill that there were not very many resources available to help those affected by the virus,” said Harpole. “When I heard about the Virtual Family Assistance Center, I signed up to work.”

Harpole continued, “I believe the VFAC is extremely essential in helping to support individuals and families through this crises.”

A GROWING DESIRE TO GIVE BACK

A 2020 study on a rise in volunteer experiences added to LinkedIn profiles shows that more people want to help others during this unprecedented time. Last year, more than 70,000 people across the country became new Red Cross volunteers largely to support urgent disaster and essential blood donation needs. In addition, thousands of COVID-19 survivors — many new to blood donation — rolled up a sleeve to give convalescent plasma and help patients battling COVID-19.

Donors like Leanne Johnson who donated convalescent plasma after contracting the virus last spring. “It had been quite a few years since I last donated blood, so I didn’t quite know what to expect,” Johnson said. “But the staff put me at ease at once.”

When asked what she would say to urge others to donate convalescent plasma she responded quietly, “Let the reason to help rule out whatever fear you may have.”

HOW TO HELP

You can help ensure that families don’t face emergencies alone — especially during a pandemic:

DONATE: Support our Disaster Relief efforts at redcross.org/GivingDay. A gift of any size makes a difference to provide shelter, food, relief items, emotional support and other assistance. Your donation will be part of our annual Giving Day on March 24 to aid families in need across the country.

VOLUNTEER: Visit redcross.org/VolunteerToday for most-needed positions and local opportunities.

GIVE BLOOD: If you’re healthy and feeling well, make an appointment at RedCrossBlood.org. Your donation can make a lifesaving difference for a patient in need. As a thank you, those who come to give blood, platelets or plasma on March 15-26 will receive a Red Cross T-shirt, while supplies last.

LEARN LIFESAVING SKILLS: Take a class in skills like CPR and first aid to help in an emergency at redcross.org/TakeAClass. Online options include our Psychological First Aid for COVID-19 course, which covers how to manage stress and support yourself and others.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or CruzRojaAmericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.