During major emergencies, the Ventura County chapter of the American Red Cross is there to help families cope, access community resources and get back on their feet.
The humanitarian organization was present during the Thomas fire, the Borderline shooting and the Woolsey fire. The agency continues to work today to help locals cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are fortunate in Ventura County to have such a strong Red Cross chapter here,” said Nicole Maul, regional communications manager for the Ventura County chapter of the Red Cross. “We’ve done a lot of good work with our partners in the county.”
Since the pandemic began, the Red Cross has helped Safe Passage, a Thousand Oaks-based youth foundation, with food distribution at the organization’s COVID Food Relief Center. In the first month of their partnership, the two organizations distributed more than 22,000 meals, 7,800 pounds of produce and 250 pounds of baby formula to families.
“We were happy to be able to help them in their efforts and assist with some volunteer power,” Maul said.
The Red Cross also worked alongside FOOD Share, a regional food bank, at the start of the pandemic when more families sought resources and support from the organization.
“We’ve been actively assisting those agencies and we are starting to slow down as they become self-sufficient,” Maul said.
The Red Cross is also working to increase blood donations throughout the county, as the pandemic and the historically slow summer season caused a nationwide blood shortage.
“There is a higher need for blood since it is the one thing we can’t manufacture. We need someone who is healthy and eligible to roll up their sleeves,” Maul said.
Blood drives have adjusted their scheduling and procedures to adhere to state guidelines.
The Red Cross will only collect blood from healthy donors, and the organization is conducting temperature and wellness checks at each donation center. Staff members and donors must wear face masks and follow social distancing protocols.
To entice more donors, the Red Cross began testing all blood donations for COVID-19 antibodies on June 15. The idea, Maul said, is a win-win: The Red Cross builds up its blood supply, and donors can find out if they’ve been exposed to the coronavirus.
The testing has also provided insights into the COVID presence nationally. Between June 15 and July 15, the Red Cross tested nearly 40,000 blood donations across 44 states, according to Maul. Of those donations, 1.38% tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.
“This percentage of antibody positives is consistent with that national average, 1 to 2%, within our blood donors,” Maul said.
Data on positive antibody results is often shared with state and federal agencies. The Red Cross, though, provides the information in aggregate and does not share personal or identifying information about donors.
Workforce and volunteers
Since the start of the pandemic, Red Cross asked its staff to work from home. The agency is still working to make itself “nimbler” as it provides services and disaster relief virtually or over the phone, according to Maul.
In response to COVID-19, for example, the Red Cross created a Virtual Family Assistance Center that helps families cope with loss and grief. The assistance center connects individuals with mental health resources, provides online classes on resilience and connects families to legal resources.
The Red Cross is also allowing volunteers to provide virtual services in response to disasters by connecting families with local resources, financial support and counseling services.
“We are still meeting with clients and families impacted by disaster,” Maul said. “Because of our virtual opportunities we’ve had volunteers in Ventura County respond to disasters across the country from the dam break in Michigan to the tornadoes in Nashville.”
The organization is also actively preparing for disaster and fire season by signing up new volunteers and training newcomers virtually through simulations and seminars. The goal is to sign up 200 people for relief efforts this year.
“We’ve revised some of our training protocols. When you sign up to become a disaster responder you can complete most if not all of your training virtually. The in-person trainings and drills are supplemental,” Maul said. “This is because we want the Red Cross services to be delivered unilaterally no matter where you were at. It allows volunteers who come from outside.”
To volunteer for the Ventura County chapter of the Red Cross, visit tinyurl.com/redvolunteer.
To donate blood, go online to redcrossblood.org.