The 2020 holiday season will be a difficult time of year for families all across the country who have lost a loved one to COVID-19 and face an empty chair at the table. More than 300,000 people have lost their lives thus far due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Each of these tragic losses leaves behind loved ones who are grieving, and the American Red Cross has developed its Virtual Family Assistance Center (VFAC) to support them.
“The thoughts and sympathies of the entire Red Cross are with the individuals and families who have lost a loved one due to COVID-19,” said Valerie Cole, Ph.D. Manager, Individual Disaster Care for the Red Cross. “The whole country is struggling with the impact of COVID-19, and it has been especially difficult for those who have lost someone close to them. We want the community to know the Red Cross cares and offers compassion and support to those families.”
People can visit the Virtual Family Assistance Center (VFAC) and find a support hub for those struggling with loss and grief due to the pandemic. The Red Cross Integrated Condolence Care Program offers special virtual programs, information, referrals and services to support families in need.
VIRUS GROWTH LEADS TO NEW RESTRICTIONS With the current surge in the number of people testing positive for the virus and many states enacting strict measures to combat the situation, families may be experiencing a disrupted bereavement and grief process due to these restrictions. To support them, the Red Cross has set up a virtual team of trained volunteers who support the program by:
- Working with federal, state and local partners to identify available services and identify gaps in needed services
- Offering condolence calls and helping families access appropriate services
- Providing resources and support for virtual memorial services for families and the local faith-based community
- Conducting Psychological First Aid and Coping In Today’s World training to foster resilience and facilitate coping skills
ALMOST 200 CALLS PER MONTH Since the Virtual Family Assistance Center program began in May, the Red Cross has received an average of about 200 calls each month. Nearly half of all calls have been for the behavioral health volunteers who provide emotional support, advocacy, referrals and education on COVID-related stress or mental health issues, including issues related to children.
Spiritual Care volunteers have received about 37% of calls, providing both spiritual and emotional support, connection to faith-based providers and resources related to virtual funerals and memorial services. The remaining 21% of calls have been answered by a team of Health Services volunteers, who have provided emotional support and assistance with basic medical questions and referrals to community resources.
BENEFICIAL PROGRAM A social worker at the Department of Health in Cleveland, Georgia had personal knowledge of the Red Cross when her family was impacted by Hurricane Katrina. She was thrilled to find the Virtual Family Assistance Center by researching resources for COVID-19 and Red Cross. She is working on the COVID Response Team, helping her community in Cleveland, a rural area of Georgia where there are very few resources available for people. After finding the site, she referred one of her clients to the Red Cross which was able to connect them to additional support. When she learned about what the Red Cross did, she was very excited about sharing these resources further with the people in her area.
Another free resource available through this site is Psychological First Aid Training. One group who valued their training was the Minnesota GreenCorps AmeriCorps members. “As an AmeriCorps program we are so grateful for the Psychological First Aid Training delivered to our Minnesota GreenCorps AmeriCorps members,” said Candice McElroy, Minnesota state program administrator. “While serving as an AmeriCorps member is challenging in a normal year, COVID-19 has contributed additional stressors. Members appreciated being able to engage in constructive, authentic and candid conversations about compassion fatigue, climate anxiety, loneliness while teleserving and challenges connecting to a new community during the pandemic. Thank you for providing this tailored training, resources, and for the inclusive conversation. Our members will be able to better serve their community because of you.”
“We encourage people to focus on self-care during this time and make sure they get sleep, exercise, eat healthy nourishing foods, and use the links at our Virtual Family Assistance Center to get the support and resources they need,” Cole added.