How the Red Cross is still reaching those who need help, despite COVID-19

Please visit our COVID-19 resource page for the most current information about Red Cross programs, support, and tips. 

By Michelle Palansky, Canadian Red Cross communications advisor

Normally, when someone loses everything they own in an apartment fire, the Canadian Red Cross Personal Disaster Assistance Team (PDAT) arrives on the scene with blankets and teddy bears to offer warmth and comfort.

That’s how it worked before COVID-19. But in a time of physical distancing, the Red Cross is quickly adjusting so that the work can continue while keeping volunteers and staff safe.

Linda Wachal, volunteer, Beasejour Personal Disaster AssistanceWelcome to the world of virtual response.

On Tuesday, March 24, the Red Cross PDAT responded to an apartment fire in Winnipeg, virtually. Coordinating with a municipal community crisis worker on scene, a volunteer found hotel rooms and arranged transportation for those residents affected by the fire.

Once everyone was safely lodged, 11 volunteers from across Manitoba began the assessment process with the impacted residents. Over the phone.

One of the responding volunteers was Linda Wachal, pictured right, a retired CN employee, who lives about 30 minutes outside of Winnipeg, near Birds Hill Provincial Park. A volunteer with the Red Cross since late 2019, this was Linda’s first opportunity to respond to a personal disaster.

Jessica Siddall, Canadian Red Cross emergency management coordinator, sitting at a computer.“Rural volunteers don’t have as many opportunities to respond as the Winnipeg team. Working virtually allowed us to access volunteers from smaller towns across the province,” explained Jessica Siddall, Canadian Red Cross emergency management coordinator, pictured left.

Each call took about 30 minutes and included a verbal consent form and a needs assessment to determine what supports they would need like clothing or medication.

“You have to work harder to connect with than if you were face-to-face. It takes longer but you can make that contact,” said Wachal.

Virtual response works. The next morning, affected residents reported that they were well-rested, well-fed, and ready to take the next steps after losing their homes.

Providing support is what Canadian Red Cross Personal Disaster Assistance was designed to do. Even in the age of COVID-19.

Learn more about Personal Disaster Assistance.

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