Blood donor Dan Ruffino, right, has a snack and a drink in the canteen area at a Red Cross blood drive Tuesday, as volunteer Dina Newcomb makes sure he’s OK after the double red donation, his 51st and 52nd donations.

The pandemic has led to a shortage of American Red Cross volunteers to respond to area needs during natural disasters, home fires and a variety of other needs in Wayne County.

“In the past few years, especially after the pandemic hit, we lost a lot of volunteers because the offices had been closed,” said Roberto Mendoza, eastern North Carolina regional duty officer and Cape Fear disaster action team coordinator.

“And everybody probably thought there’s nothing to do with the American Red Cross anymore,” said Mendoza, a Red Cross volunteer of 41 years. “So they went on to other adventures.”

He said volunteers can give as little or as much time as they want. Some volunteers serve as little as one hour per week.

“That’s fine, we’ll take it,” Mendoza said.

Volunteers receive training, with some of the training available online.

Disaster Services

Disaster services volunteers complete six to eight online courses and go on at least three calls for service with a supervisor. After the training and supervision, volunteers are promoted to a service associate and go out on their own.

“We have what we call a disaster action team,” Mendoza said. “Whenever there’s house fires, they go out and provide assistance to the clients. They have to be at least 18.”

Disaster volunteers respond to area fires to help residents. If a volunteer is called and not available, another volunteer is called in.

Mendoza said that’s why several disaster volunteers are needed, in case some aren’t available.

“We had a fire call recently, and one disaster volunteer was sick in bed,” he said. “We have to hunt for people who are able to go.

“With such few volunteers, it puts a strain on the ones the Red Cross does have. The very few volunteers we do have have to do a lot of the work.”

Mendoza said there are fewer than 10 disaster volunteers right now. The Red Cross needs at least twice that amount.

Janet Ott, a new disaster volunteer, has been volunteering since December and has responded to close to 10 calls for service following a fire.

Ott typically helps people by verifying who they area and processes their information into a computer and provides paperwork to people receiving help.

“I have been interested in the Red Cross for a long time,” she said. “I did CPR courses a couple of times but had never been a volunteer.

“I did animal control up in Illinois and went to a tornado and we were working with the animals. But there were Red Cross volunteers there working with the people. I didn’t realize that there were so many opportunities to volunteer with the Red Cross. So I waited until I was retired to look into it.”

Ott said just knowing she’s helping people is rewarding.

Health, Hurricane Response

Disaster health volunteers, who provide mental health services and spiritual care, are also in short supply right now.

“They’re there to support the clients as well as the volunteers who go out on disaster calls,” Mendoza said.

“If the client lost medication, then we’ll contact health services. If the client is having a hard time dealing with the event, then we can call mental health services. Or if they want to speak to someone from the religious side, we can call spiritual care.”

With more than three months of hurricane season left this year, hurricane volunteers are desperately needed, he said.

The American Red Cross is tasked with manning shelters with volunteers during and after hurricanes.

Disaster volunteers also travel to different locations in eastern North Carolina and other states to help with hurricane assistance.

Blood Drives

Another area where the Red Cross uses and needs volunteers is in blood services.

Dina Newcomb and her 18-year-old daughter, Makayla, have been blood services volunteers 11 years. They check donors into blood drives and serve them snacks and drinks after their donation.

“We keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t feel dizzy or anything like that,” Newcomb said.

“We volunteer when we have a blood drive here at the Red Cross office the second Tuesday of every month. And we’ll pick up another blood drive in the community based on our schedule. Sometimes we sponsor a blood drive.”

Newcomb said she knew the Red Cross was a good organization that provides a variety of needed services to the community.

She had a sister who had to have blood transfusions throughout her life and figured volunteering with blood services at the Red Cross was a way to give back.

“I get the satisfaction of knowing I’m helping people,” she said.

Makayla Newcomb has been going to blood drives since she was 7 years of age.

“I really enjoy volunteering,” she said. “It’s nice to help people.”

Other needs

The Red Cross also needs volunteers to drive multipurpose emergency response vehicles for the agency.

Drivers have to have a valid driver’s license, be at least 21 years of age and have a good driving record. Some online training is needed, as well as a driving test in the vehicle.

Also in need are volunteers to answer phones, make calls and help with administrative office work at the Wayne County American Red Cross Chapter house at 600 N. George St.

“COVID hurt our volunteer base,” Mendoza said. “It kept everybody away.

“Some didn’t want to get out around other people. Some didn’t want to go on a fire call because they didn’t know if the clients had COVID. Volunteers had to wear a mask and get vaccinated to be able to go out on a call. COVID hurt us really bad.”

Mendoza said if the Red Cross didn’t have volunteers, it would probably cease to exist.

“That would hurt the community, especially in times of disaster,” he said.

“If someone has a fire, who do they call? The Red Cross. If there’s a hurricane, who are they calling? The Red Cross. You have the county setting up shelters and operating them, but they only operate them for maybe 72 hours. If it’s got to be longer, who are they going to depend on? The Red Cross.”

Anyone wanting to become a Red Cross volunteer register on the website at www.redcross.org.

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