Philadelphia volunteer dedicated to Red Cross Virtual Support Center for families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19

By: Sophie Kluthe

Cathy Jensen has been a Red Cross volunteer for about six years, providing care and comfort to people immediately following a disaster in her Disaster Spiritual Care role. That’s why this spring, when the Red Cross formed a Virtual Family Assistance Center to support families struggling with loss and grief due to the Coronavirus pandemic, she knew it was the perfect fit.  

“This program has special meaning to me as someone who has recovered from the COVID-19 virus. I have felt the personal grief this virus can cause. I am truly lucky to be alive, and I want to help alleviate others suffering due to this virus and let them know they are not alone. Along with all American Red Cross workers, I am here to provide comfort and care to those in need,” Jensen said.  

Cathy Jensen serves on a team of specially trained Red Cross mental health, spiritual care and health services volunteers from across the country. *Photo taken prior to COVID-19 pandemic.

Many families have experienced a disrupted bereavement and grief process due to restrictions related to COVID-19. Jensen, who lives in Philadelphia, is part of the team of specially trained Red Cross mental health, spiritual care and health services volunteers from across the country who are assigned to the Virtual Family Assistance Center. Outside of the Red Cross Jensen is a professional chaplain endorsed by Penn Presbyterian Medical Center where she currently works as a trauma chaplain.

“Disaster Spiritual Care seeks to rebuild spiritual hope and confidence in the lives of those affected by loss and devastation by providing compassionate and attentive listening, a calming presence, and additional resources that foster healing and recovery,” she said.

For months Jensen and the rest of the virtual team have been connecting with families over the phone to offer condolences, support and access to resources that may be available, providing support for virtual memorial services for families, including connecting with local faith-based community partners, hosting online classes to foster resilience and facilitate coping skills. They have also focused on sharing information and referrals to state and local agencies as well as other community organizations including legal resources for estate, custody, immigration or other issues.

“This is an incredibly difficult time for everyone, but especially for those who have lost a loved one due to COVID-19,” said Guy J. Triano, CEO of the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Region. “Not only have these families experienced the unexpected passing of a loved one, but they are also facing additional challenges caused by this public health emergency. We want them to know that the Red Cross is here to provide compassion and support as they grieve.” 

People can visit redcross.org/get-help to access a support hub with special virtual programs, information, referrals and services to support families in need. There is even a page within the site specifically dedicated to resources in Pennsylvania: https://www.redcross.org/virtual-family-assistance-center/pa-family-assistance-center.html The hub will also connect people to other community resources and other partners. People without internet access can call 833-492-0094 for helpAll Family Assistance Center support will be provided virtually and is completely confidential and free. 

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