BANGOR — In the year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, tens of thousands of Americans have stepped up to address the needs of those reeling from the pandemic as well as record-breaking disasters across the country.
Americans experienced more billion-dollar disasters in 2020 than any other year on record, and for many, the pandemic compounded the trauma and financial strain of disasters: struggling families needed help quickly and faced more hurdles to recover, as increased anxiety exacerbated many health and mental health needs.
“The past year has been overwhelming for many in our community, and yet through it all, people are caring for one another,” said Caroline King, executive director, American Red Cross Northern and Eastern Maine Chapter, “When help can’t wait, our volunteers 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.”
For nearly 80 years, U.S. presidents have proclaimed March as Red Cross Month to recognize people giving back through its life saving mission — which is powered by more than 90 precent volunteers.
They include people like Dr. Craig Knapp, a retired psychologist, who is the Disaster Mental Health Lead for the Northern New England Region. Dr. Knapp and his volunteer team of trained disaster mental health professionals provide compassion and emotional support, short term crisis stabilization, healthy coping strategies, community referrals and advocacy to help people reduce trauma, regain a greater ability to function effectively and move forward in their lives.
“Many disasters strike with little or no warning. When individuals or families are confronted with significant damage or loss of their home, personal possessions, injuries, and/or the death of a loved one or pet, they may experience a crisis that is emotionally overwhelming and interferes with their ability to cope and plan for their recovery,” said Dr. Knapp, “During the past year, isolation, fear and limited access to normal family and social support systems due to the pandemic have further complicated the effects of those disasters.”
In addition to responding to disasters, Red Cross volunteers are supporting local communities across the country as they distribute COVID-19 vaccines. Depending on local needs, our work may include setting up vaccination sites, collecting information from people being vaccinated, and providing water and snacks for medical staff and those waiting to be vaccinated.
So far this year, Red Cross volunteers have provided emergency shelter, food and other assistance following disasters like tornadoes and February’s record onslaught of winter storms, which blanketed some 70 percent of the continental U.S. with snow, ice and historically low temperatures. The severe winter weather forced the cancellation of Red Cross blood drives in more than 30 states, impacting more than 20,000 blood, platelet and convalescent plasma donations in February.
This spring, meteorologists are also predicting a potentially volatile severe weather season: For the third year in a row, April could be a very active month for storms in the Midwest and South, and the West could see early drought conditions and heat waves.
During the annual Giving Day on March 24, you can help ensure that families don’t face emergencies alone, especially during the 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.
Volunteer — Many people feel isolated during the pandemic. Support your own mental health and give back to others by connecting with communities in need through volunteering. Visit redcross.org/VolunteerToday to see our most-needed positions, including virtual opportunities.
Give blood — If you’re healthy and feeling well — especially those with type O blood — please 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 March 15-26 will receive a Red Cross T-shirt, while supplies last.
Learn life saving skills — Sign up to take a CPR and first aid class, so you can be prepared for 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.
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/nne or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @ARC_NNE.