By Sam Turner
Nonprofit Sector News
June 15, 2020
The American Red Cross created a virtual family assistance center to provide national services to those needing help and care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a national disaster such as a hurricane, the American Red Cross provides online and in-person services and care to those affected. The American Red Cross provides hot meals, water and shelter as well as emergency response vehicles to communities affected by disasters. The
American Red Cross named COVID-19 a national disaster and provided virtual options for those seeking help.
During this time of COVID-19, many counseling offices, religious buildings and other resources are closed to because to maintain social distancing, so the Red Cross created a virtual family assistance center to allow those in need access to different national resources.
The services the virtual family assistance center offers are national, allowing anyone to have access at any time. Two services that are provided in the virtual center are mental health and spiritual care. Stephanie Rendon, with American Red Cross’s media team, said Nigel Holderby is
the director of disaster public affairs and oversees the virtual family assistance center. Holder by emphasized Red Cross services to help those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.
“What we saw here with the Coronavirus, COVID-19, was that we have a role to play in helping connect people who have lost loved ones…working in this virtual environment, we know that people have been isolated and so even the death of a loved one in this environment is unique…” Holderby said.
He said a national call center has been set up on the American Red Cross website where people can reach out to a disaster mental health professional. “People can call and talk to a disaster mental health professional who is answering the phone calls and providing support through sometimes just a listening ear, sometimes providing guidance to these resources for tangible things that people need that they may not have been aware of or that they didn’t know how to reach in this environment,” Holderby explained. Some resources that are available, he said, are legal advice, financial resources, and other assistance.
While the call center is available nationally, he said, eight states have linked to additional local resources in addition to the national virtual family assistance center. Holderby explained that the localized state resources are based on availability in the various states and can focus more on what each state needs. The eight states are California, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Holderby pointed out that “these eight states are listed here [Red Cross website] as a separate location because they have additional localized state resources that are only available for those states in addition to national resources.”
In New York state, the Red Cross announced its virtual family assistance center on April 29, getting the word out through the state’s local news media about the availability of crisis counselors. The Greater New York City branch of the Red Cross said it had a team of “30 specially trained Red Cross Mental Health, Disaster Spiritual Care, and Health Services volunteers” to support families with their “emotional and spiritual needs, as well as provide information and referrals to state and local agencies as well as other community organizations to help families meet their immediate needs,” according to a Greater New York press release.
As of June 5, 2020, the Red Cross had recorded 66,000 views on the virtual family assistance center page and more than 61,000 clicks on the website links that connect a user to the different national and state resources have been recorded, he said. The resources available online are to assist those in states where counseling centers are still closed due to COVID-19. The virtual
family assistance center is to also help reduce the risk of exposure and infection during this time. The Greater New York Red Cross said that the virtual family assistance center will continue to operate as long as it’s necessary.
An online form for families to complete to start obtaining assistance is at: