For 139 Years, the American Red Cross has been a helping hand during uncertain times and 2020 has been no exception. Recently the organization has had its hands full, offering relief from natural disasters like wildfires in California and Hurricane Laura, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"My heart goes out to the people that have been experiencing these back-to-back-to-back disasters," said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of The American Red Cross. "Within the last 30 days we had the derecho in the Midwest, we had wildfires in California, and now, of course, we're dealing with Hurricane Laura."
Hurricane Laura left significant devastation in its path, affecting about 700,000 homes. "It's either they're out of power or the sewage system isn't working. or the water isn't working," said McGovern. "It's very, very difficult out there."
The organization has been distributing about 45,000 meals per day throughout this hurricane relief effort.
While it is not uncommon for the Red Cross to juggle multiple disaster response efforts simultaneously, 2020 has brought the additional challenge of helping large numbers of people with COVID-19 still spreading."We're still delivering our mission despite the pandemic," said McGovern.
In addition to staff members, the aid organization relies heavily on volunteers. "I have to say that I am so proud of our volunteers because they are coming out in the same numbers that they had been pre-COVID, which is remarkable," said McGovern. "These people are humanitarians: they see a need and they just have to jump in and fill it." She noted they could still use more volunteers and there are opportunities for people to volunteer virtually.
"We're still fulfilling our mission, but the way we are doing it is completely different. Wherever possible we are trying to put people in hotels, and we're doing that so that they can social distance so that we're not in large congregate shelters where the disease can spread," said McGovern. "If we have to open up a shelter we're trying to open up multiple shelters so there are fewer people in each."
People using the shelters receive health screenings when they enter and are required to wear masks. Inside, cots are socially distanced and hand sanitizer is readily available, she added. The organization has been able to secure a large number of hotel rooms, though, so people have a safe place to go where they are not surrounded by crowds.
Donations are still needed, however. "We think Hurricane Laura is going to probably cost about $20 million dollars and so far only $2.1 million has come through the door. Any gift would be deeply, deeply appreciated regardless of the size," she noted. Donations can be made at Redcross.org.
"It's a different world and yet we're still out there helping people to the best of our ability."