By: Sophie Kluthe
Kay Rossi has been on so many national disaster response missions, she’s lost count. An American Red Cross volunteer since 2009, she’s used to packing her bag and flying across the country to help those impacted by hurricanes, wildfires, floods… you name it.
That’s why, when the call came to help people in South Carolina who had been displaced by tornadoes, she signed right up. Except this time, she didn’t pack a bag, because she isn’t actually going anywhere.
During a global pandemic, things have to be done a little differently in order to reduce the spread of illness. While local disaster responders are on the ground, using gloves, masks and social distancing to distribute supplies and provide assistance like meal deliveries to people (who are being housed in hotel rooms instead of congregate shelters), most of the out-of-state-support roles are being done by volunteers working at home, like Rossi.
“This is my first virtual deployment, which has been a great experience,” Rossi said.
On April 13, more than two dozen tornadoes, some of them deadly, touched down across South Carolina alone. “They were hit pretty bad down there,” she said.
Rossi is using video chats, emails, phone calls and texting to lead a team providing financial assistance, and referrals to other sources of help to people impacted by the tornadoes.
Normally, many of the people a volunteer needs answers from are physically there with them. Rossi said that being spread out makes everything a little more tedious and take a little bit longer. Despite all this, though, she said the coronavirus situation is what made her want to take the assignment even more.
“I actually think it’s more important to volunteer now with this pandemic. I felt so helpless just sitting here. This is probably more meaningful because these people are dealing with the coronavirus, losing their homes, and living at a hotel all in in the midst of a stay at home order. I wanted to help them because while we’re staying safe in our homes, they’re looking for a place to live.”
A global pandemic, widespread stay at home orders and a nation of people navigating through a stressful time doesn’t mean disasters are going to take a break. In fact, some estimate this to be the deadliest tornado season in years. But whether it’s tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding or the all too common home fire, the Red Cross will find a way to be there for those who need it. Something Kay Rossi knew right off the bat.
“I knew that the Red Cross would be there to help and would find a way to get it done,” she said.