by Melissa LaScaleia
This August, The American Red Cross launched their Volunteer Surge Campaign which will be running through the end of November. The mission is simple: to recruit more local volunteers.
“The why is because we’re continuing to see more disasters while our volunteer numbers have decreased,” says Ben Williamson, regional communications director for the Palmetto, South Carolina region. “On a local level, we’re in the middle of hurricane season, and we need volunteers to help support our communities. But the goal is to beef up our local volunteer force to support either a local or a national disaster.”
Many speculate that Covid has played a large role in dwindling volunteer numbers, because many people still aren’t comfortable going out and about and prefer to wait until things become more settled.
“We’ve also seen a shift over the past six months or so— many people have had a major life change— they’ve lost a job, gotten a new one, or moved— and they’re still adjusting and getting back into a routine,” Ben says.
Ideally Red Cross would recruit 250 new volunteers in South Carolina in order for them to best serve our state in the ways they always have. Because of their national network, Red Cross can deploy volunteers across the country. But it saves money, time and resources when the local community supports itself and is available to help neighboring states.
One of their most pressing needs at this time is for volunteers to work in shelters in the event of a hurricane or other natural disaster.
“Whether that’s setting up dormitories, registering people, serving food, or passing out essentials— there’s a lot of tasks to be done and we need people to be able to do those things,” Ben says. “There’s no Red Cross without volunteers.”
“Committing to us doesn’t mean you have to commit for years,” he adds. “Even if it’s only for a few months or a few weeks, or just one event. Even if you can volunteer through the end of hurricane season at the end of November— that’s a huge help.”
Red Cross is also seeking volunteers who are health professionals and have some sort of background in a medical profession— doctors, paramedics, EMTs, or RNs.
“We understand that that group of people are very busy and have had a very trying two years,” Ben says. “But we want to let people know that if you have that background and are willing and able, that’s what we need at this time.”
If you’re not assisting in a medical capacity, you don’t need to have any particular training or experience to volunteer with Red Cross. All of their training is conducted virtually, and it takes no more than three hours to complete.
Recently Red Cross volunteers have been supporting a number of disasters nationwide. In August, more than 60 local volunteers deployed to assist with Hurricane Laura; California wildfires; flooding in Tennessee; and flooding in NC outside of Asheville.
“At some point in life, we all have to give back and this is a really good way to do it,” says Gigi Spell, a volunteer. “There are people that need help, and we get to be that help.”
“To be able to offer that support, even if it helps a little, is well worth it,” adds Jeffrey Roediger, another volunteer.
Currently, Red Cross is having to make adjustments to how they manage their tasks because of the volunteer shortage.
“We want to remind everyone that it’s really the volunteers who make our organization run, as 90% of everything that we do is carried out by volunteers,” Ben says. “Right now, there are volunteers working multiple deployments for us. We have staff who have to take time off from their normal job to assist with relief situations. Red Cross will always be there, but we may have to adjust our services that we offer if we don’t have adequate people to offer them.”
“We’re grateful for those people on our team who give so selflessly,” he adds. “And we’re excited to make new relationships in order to better support our communities not only in SC, but also across our country.”