Even during a pandemic, other disasters don’t stop – and neither does the work of the American Red Cross. During these challenging times, Central Florida volunteers are still serving our communities and neighbors every day after disasters like home fires.
The Red Cross is working closely with public health officials to ensure the safety of local communities and our workforce, while also providing the help and hope people need after a disaster. On average, the Central Florida Red Cross responds to more than 1,100 local disasters every year, the majority of which are home fires. Through the first 23 days of March, local volunteers responded to 80 disasters across Central Florida, serving 119 households and 318 individuals.
During this public health crisis, the Red Cross has adapted the way in which we deliver disaster relief services. Where there are government directed social distancing practices or stay-at-home orders in effect, volunteers can still provide emergency service using social distancing and virtual resources like video conferencing. Impacted families are still provided with financial assistance for temporary lodging and necessities as well as critical support services like health or mental health services which may be provided over the phone.
For example, a fire on March 24 destroyed the home of a family of four in St. Petersburg and damaged a neighboring property. After verifying the situation by phone, long-time Red Cross disaster volunteers, Robin and Damon, delivered emergency financial assistance and comfort items following social distancing guidelines. Casework volunteers are now providing virtual follow up via phone to help the family with next steps.
The week prior, a multi-family fire destroyed a 40-unit apartment building in Tampa. Residents were seniors on fixed-incomes, many with physical disabilities or limitations. Red Cross disaster action team volunteers responded to the scene and worked with apartment management to balance client privacy and social distancing throughout the response. Typically, in a response of this size, the Red Cross would have opened a congregate shelter to provide safe temporary lodging. In a COVID-19 environment, the decision was made to place all residents in hotels for comfort and physical separation. More than a week afterwards, caseworkers were still providing virtual follow up.
During challenging times like these, it is even more important for us to be there to help those who need it most. Making sure that communities can turn to the Red Cross after a disaster is at the heart of what we do.