COVID 19: American Red Cross Works with Partners to Offer Spiritual Resources for Families Hit by Pandemic

Rev. Cameron Barr, United Church of Chapel Hill

Faith-based partners in Red Cross’s Virtual Family Assistance Center offer spiritual help

The United Church of Chapel Hill is one of the partner organizations working with the American Red Cross’s recently launched Virtual Family Assistance Center. The Red Cross launched the virtual center in order to offer an array of services for families struggling with loss and grief due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. These services range from grief, to legal, to spiritual support. The United Church of Chapel Hill is one partner in the effort offering spiritual resources specifically.

“COVID-19 is requiring us to support one another and communities in ways that we hadn’t imagined,” said Reverend Cameron Barr of the United Church of Chapel Hill, a denomination of the United Church of Christ. “Local churches aren’t able to be present, but we want to find other ways to be there for folks during this difficult time. I appreciated that the Red Cross reached out to us with this opportunity to meet spiritual needs,” Barr said of the Virtual Family Assistance Center.

Barr said that as part of the effort, the Church is available to take calls and field questions from those in the community who need spiritual help during this difficult time. “Those calls may not only come from our particular congregation community, but also from others that need spiritual help that our community can provide.”

The Chapel Hill church, which holds the largest congregation of its faith in the Southeast, is not sponsoring in-person worship or memorial services during the pandemic. “Faith is dispersed with people in quarantine,” said Barr. “But if there are people who need to connect with the community, we want to be there for them.”

For spiritual help and questions, people can call the United Church of Chapel Hill at 919-942-3540. People can follow the United Church of Christ on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/UnitedChurchofChrist or Instagram @unitedchurchofchrist.

Story by: Melissa Kaye | American Red Cross

Virtual Family Assistance Center-Providing Help and Hope

Amidst the stress and turmoil we are all facing during the COVD-19 pandemic, the Red Cross is providing a place of practical help and hope through our Virtual Family Assistance Center (VFAC). VFAC is staffed by volunteers trained in behavioral health, spiritual care, and health services who can provide immediate information and resources to callers in crisis.

We are offering several options for individuals experiencing emotional distress related to COVID-19, or any disaster:

  • A general toll-free number to connect with the Red Cross: 833-492-0093
  • A 24/7 national hotline that provides access to immediate crisis counseling for individuals experiencing emotional distress related to COVID-19, or any disaster: 800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
  • A 24/7 Suicide Prevention Lifeline that provides support, prevention, and crisis resources: 800-273-8255
  • A toll-free number that provides access to individual and group emotional support for frontline workers: 833-492-0094

Here in North Carolina, the Red Cross has several partners providing assistance through VFAC:

Hope4NC: Connects North Carolina residents to mental health support that helps them cope and build resilience during a time of crisis.

National Alliance on Mental Illness: Provides educational programs, support groups, advocacy, and public awareness so that all affected by mental illness can build better lives.

North Carolina Department of Human Services: Provides assistance with health insurance, Medicaid, food, and housing.

Transitions LifeCare: Provides workshops, support groups, and counseling to individuals five years or older who have experienced a death-related loss.

Catholic Charities: Provides disaster services, emergency assistance, food assistance, and more.

Kellin Foundation: Provides free or reduced behavioral health services.

Vaya Health: 24/7 access line to assist anyone in their 22 county area experiencing crisis.

Eastpoint Human Services: A behavioral health (MCO) agency serving Medicaid uninsured populations.

Disability Rights NC: A legal advocacy agency that fights for the rights of people with disabilities in North Carolina.

Jewish Federation of Raleigh/Jewish Family Services: Provides human and financial resources to support and stregthen the local Jewish community.

Social Security Administration: Find out how Social Security can help you when a family member dies.

North Carolina Vital Records: Virtual copies of death certificates.

NC Prisoner Legal Services: A nonprofit law firm dedicated to ensuring access to the courts for peopole incarcerated in the North Carolina state prisons.

North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church: Providing spiritual, social, and cultural needs during this challenging time.

United Church of Christ: Providing spiritual, social, and cultural needs during this challenging time.

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare:  Behavioral Health (MCO) agency active in 20 Counties

American Red Cross: Provides information and referrals, resiliency workshops, advocacy and support to military members, veterans and their families.

To find out more about the VFAC or to volunteer, please visit us here.

Story by: Amy Gottholm | American Red Cross

Sickle Cell Fighter: Justina Williams

Justina Williams of Raleigh, NC

At age 27, Justina Williams is living her dream. She supports sickle cell warriors across the Carolinas, by helping them work through health-related challenges. It’s work she’s been passionate about since she was a child navigating through life as a sickle cell warrior herself.

Diagnosed with sickle cell disease SS at birth, Justina was six-months old when she experienced her first sickle cell crises. She required her first emergency blood transfusion at age three. Blood transfusion is a common treatment for patients whose red blood cells, which are usually soft and round, sometimes harden and form a C-shape, like a sickle.

“Doctors said they could have lost me had I not gotten to the hospital and got that transfusion.”

That was the first of many blood transfusions to help relieve Justina of the pain she endures during a crises.

“I was one of the sickest babies at Duke University Hospital,” Justina recalls.

After that frightening incident, life got better for Justina. She remembers a childhood filled with joyful experiences. Her parents and doctors supported and encouraged her to do try things that made her happy, so she began dancing and cheerleading.

To manage her sickle cell disease today, doctors require that Justina receives monthly blood transfusions. But the blood she receives can only come from volunteer donors, and to reduce complications sickle cell patients rely on donated blood from individuals with a similar ethic background.

“For the African American community, it is very important that we do donate due to our genetic makeup. I think it’s very important that we do donate a lot of blood, during these times and in the future as well.”

To date, Justina estimates that she has received blood on more than 100 occasions.

“I’ve been doing very, very well on blood transfusions so far,” Justina says of her monthly treatments over the last year. Not only is she an advocate for sickle cell patients, but blood donors too. She continues to rally family and friends to donate blood in honor of patients who depend of lifesaving transfusions.

Want to become a Sickle Cell Fighter? Click here to find out how to help patients like Justina today!

Story by: Maya Franklin | American Red Cross

Life Saved at Wilmington Pickleball Game

For members of the Cape Fear Pickleball Club, November 4, 2019, was an ordinary day of sport and fellowship. Until one of the members of the club who was preparing to take part in a match suddenly collapsed on the court.

Photos by New Hanover County, NC – https://flic.kr/s/aHsmP5oZRL

Jackie Sage, an off-duty registered nurse, responded immediately. She quickly dialed 9-1-1 to alert emergency personnel and took control of the scene. Jackie was joined by Rudy Thurman, a former respiratory therapist, who helped to assess the man. After the assessment, it was determined the he needed CPR. Rudy began chest compressions. Tammy Frieberg, also a registered nurse, came to aid the gentleman by audibly counting chest compressions as they were conducted. Once Rudy had begun to tire, Tammy relieved him and resumed compressions. Leigh Grainger assisted by providing rescue breathes in conjunction with the compressions. Jackie continued to control the scene while on the phone with 9-1-1.

The man was not responding, so Jackie sent a bystander, Kevin Devol, to obtain an AED. Kevin retrieved the AED with help from Malik Glaspie from the MLK Center. Once the AED had arrived, Jackie and Tammy connected the pads to his chest. The AED analyzed and suggested administering a shock. All stood clear as a shock was delivered. Emergency Medical Services arrived on scene as the shock was delivered.

Without a doubt, the skills learned in the American Red Cross Training Services course helped to sustain the life of this man. The American Red Cross is honored to award the lifesaving actions of these extraordinary individuals

For their heroic and lifesaving actions, Jackie Sage, Tammy Frieberg, Rudy Thurman, and Leigh LaGrange were awarded the following American Red Cross Lifesaving Awards at a ceremony on Friday, June 26, 2020, at Robert Strange Park in Wilmington, NC. The American Red Cross Cape Fear Executive Director James Jarvis and New Hanover County Emergency Manager Rob Zapple presented the awards to these deserving individuals.

The Certificate of Merit is the highest award given by the Red Cross to individuals who save or sustain a life using skills learned in a Red Cross Training Services course. “We’re extremely proud to present a Certificate of Merit to Jackie and Tammy,” said James Jarvis, Executive Director, American Red Cross Cape Fear Chapter. “Their actions exemplify our mission  to help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.”

“The Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action is given to individuals, like Rudy and Leigh who step up in an emergency situation and help save or sustain a life,” said Jarvis. “These individuals exemplify the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies and are to be commended for their willingness to help others in distress.”

Red Cross training gives people the knowledge and skills to act in an emergency and save a life. A variety of online, blended (online and in-person skills session) and classroom courses are available at redcross.org/takeaclass.

If you or someone you know has used skills and knowledge learned in an American Red Cross Training Services course to help save or sustain the life of another individual, visit LifesavingAwards.org to nominate, recognize, or be inspired.

No Ordinary Day

September 9, 2019, started out an ordinary day at the Keihin North America location in Tarboro, NC – until an associate team member collapsed in sudden cardiac arrest.

Seeing their colleague in distress, John Foster, Jeremy Judd, and Julia Sheff immediately called 9-1-1 and began intervention with CPR and an AED. They continued their efforts until emergency responders arrived on the scene – approximately 12 minutes later. Fortunately, EMS was able to regain a pulse before the patient was transported to the hospital. Their quick efforts enabled their colleague to survive this cardiac arrest incident and begin their recovery.

Plant Manager Robert Bass nominated John, Jeremy, and Julia for their incredible actions. The American Red Cross is honored we honor them with the Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action.

The Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action is awarded to individuals who step up in an emergency situation and help save or sustain a life.  These individuals exemplify the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies and we commend you for your willingness to help others in distress.

Red Cross training gives people the knowledge and skills to act in an emergency and save a life. A variety of online, blended (online and in-person skills session) and classroom courses are available at redcross.org/takeaclass.

If you or someone you know has used skills and knowledge learned in an American Red Cross Training Services course to help save or sustain the life of another individual, visit LifesavingAwards.org to nominate, recognize, or be inspired.

Keihin Lifesaving Awards - Jeremy Judd - John Foster - Mace Robinson 6-15-2020
Pictured (L-R):  Jeremy Judd, John Foster, and Mace Robinson, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Northeastern North Carolina.

Cancer Does Not Quarantine

“It’s a small thing that helps someone in a big way. It’s especially important right now,” stated Heather Vahdat, a Red Cross Board Member of the Central NC Chapter in Durham.

Inspired by her parents, Heather has been a long-time blood donor. Due to health concerns, her mother had received many blood transfusions over the years and her father routinely donated blood in his community. “Now, I have a family member with leukemia, and I would do anything to help him. While I may not be a match for him, I know I am a match for someone.” Heather recently decided to donate platelets and her second donation was made during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Before I donated, I thought ‘cancer does not quarantine.’ There are people fighting cancer and need platelets. I can help.”

Heather also serves as chair of the Biomed Committee with fellow board members, they strive to promote and influence successful blood drives and partners.

Red Cross Board Members like Heather play a critical role across Eastern NC.  These volunteers serve as advocates in their communities, strategic advisors, and connectors to philanthropic resources.  From recruiting volunteers and blood drive partners, connecting communities to resources, and meeting with donors, Board Members are connected to every part of our mission.

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Ocracoke Island: One Family’s Story on the Road to Recovery

Margarita Gonzalez, her husband, and eleven-year-old daughter have called Ocracoke home for several years.  Ocracoke is an unincorporated town on the southern end of Ocracoke Island, with nearly 950 residents.  After taking the ferry to the island and driving towards the town, you can see beach drifts and smell the ocean in the air.  However, as you get closer to town, you start to see large piles of debris and household items alongside the road.  A reminder that in September 2020, Hurricane Dorian struck this seaside community and it will never be the same.

Once in town, you first notice people walking along the road, riding their bicycles, or driving by.  Whether you are resident or passing by, every person you will greet you with a friendly wave of hello.  A gesture, reminding you that this place is very special.  It is there where the Red Cross met Margarita Gonzalez and her family.

During the first night that the hurricane really started to affect the island, Margarita and her husband invited their 27-year-old daughter and her two children to join them in their home, also shared with their eleven-year-old daughter.  They thought it was the safest place for them to weather the storm.  The following morning, they began to realize the real impact of the storm.  At first, they asked themselves “is that it?” The storm seemed to pass them without major incident.  Sadly, that was not the case.  That morning Margarita’s daughter was in the kitchen feeding her children and her other daughter called their attention from another room.  They could tell that there was a funny smell coming from the bathroom and when they looked closer, they began to see that water was starting to pour in from the vents along the floorboards.

The family immediately tried to save what items they could and bring them up the second level of the home. Everyone was trying to save something, including their pets – seven cockatiel birds, a dog, and a cat.  Margarita’s husband saw the water come up to the level of the windows.  He then went outside to the closest tree where he had tied a kayak earlier.  He first put their young daughter and small dog named Princess into the kayak.  He took her across the flooded street to a another house, which the family used as a rental home.  This home was elevated and had a raised porch.  Then he returned and during the second trip, he took their oldest daughter and her two children to the porch. Lastly, he returned for Margarita and the family cat.  Margarita was concerned for her beloved birds, but knew they were as safe as they could be in the second level of the home.

Her husband had seen every one to safety.  When making the trips across the street, he recognized the water had a strong, river-like current.  The family was shaken, but thankful they were together and safe.  They remained there until the flood levels receded.  Over the course of the weeks that followed, the family and all members of the Ocracoke community did their best to manage without electricity as well as, taking apart their flood-damaged homes, walls, removing carpet, preventing mold, and salvaging whatever they could.  This was happening, home after home, across the island.

Margarita and her husband had spent the last seven years investing in improvements in their home.  It took seven years to make the home of their dreams but was now gone in a matter of moments.  While they were extremely grateful for their lives, it was still heartbreaking.

While her family has some insurance to help with their recovery, it is only a portion of what is needed and has been a complicated process.  Margarita stated that this is an island community that is very tourist-driven.  The hurricane not only took away their homes, but also took away many people’s livelihood as so many businesses were heavily impacted.  With little tourism business, there are very few opportunities to find work.  For many of the men on the island, they have been able to find work helping with trades and rebuilding, but many of the women were working in the service industry supported by tourism. That work has been harder to come by, that is why the timing of financial assistance by the American Red Cross has been so impactful.

Margarita and her family are grateful to have received $2,500 in financial assistance to help aid in their continued recovery.  She was so appreciative when the Red Cross contacted her and made the process of getting assistance clear and easy.  Margarita said it was so helpful to go direct to the people and help.  She has even helped many of her fellow community members understand what this assistance is and how the Red Cross can help.  The Hispanic community on the island are important members of the community and tourism workforce.  For the families that are eligible for this assistance, this helps them hold on a little longer.  It may be enough time for them to be able to get back to work when tourism season begins.

When asked what she would say to Red Cross donors who made this gift possible, she paused for a moment to collect herself as it was clear this help meant so much.  “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Many people don’t know this island and the people who live here, just knowing that people care,” said stated, “I want to say thank you to every single person who has supported this community.”  She knows that Ocracoke will never be the same. It was a close community before and remains so now.  They have together to rebuild and be stronger than ever.

Story by Cally Edwards | American Red Cross

Hope is in the Mail

Melissa Sharber and Celeste Brooks - Ocracoke NC - 2-10-2020
Monday, February 10, 2020. Ocracoke, Ocracoke Island, North Carolina Postmaster Celeste Brooks and her colleague Melissa Sharber of the U.S. Post Office in Ocracoke, NC. Photo by Cally Edwards/American Red Cross

As you drive into the coastal town of Ocracoke on Ocracoke Island, you will encounter the local U.S. Post Office and you’ll notice people coming and going, getting their mail and packages. Once you’re in the office, it’s clear that Postmaster Celeste Brooks and her colleague Melissa Sharber know every person in town and welcome every visitor as if they were a local friend.  On a busy Monday afternoon, the Red Cross spoke with them about their experience on the island during Hurricane Dorian.

After living on the island for fifteen years, Celeste thought she had seen it all and weathered many storms and hurricanes.  However, she had never quite seen anything like Hurricane Dorian. This devastating storm was the worst thing to ever happen to her family.  When her home began to fill with flood water, she and her two children, ages twelve and fourteen, rushed to the attic. They tried to salvage as many items as they could, but it was unbearable to see so much lost so quickly.  The family was rescued and fortunate enough to receive a temporary place to stay, but most of all, thankful to be safe.  Celeste would say everyone was knocked down, but after that everyone pulled together and started to do what needed to be done.

On Friday there was flooding, but by Monday mail was being brought to the island by ferry; a sign of some normalcy amongst the damage and chaos.  Along with homes, the post office and many businesses were flooded.  As the community began to pull itself together, the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department became a hub for communication, meals, volunteers, and distribution of resources.  In those initial days, Celeste and Melissa were there too, helping however they could and still delivering the mail – along with hope and comfort of a smile.

Melissa and her family have lived on the island all her life.  During Hurricane Matthew, she said it was alarming when the water came as high as her fence.  Hurricane Dorian truly scared her when the water came into the house, as they did not have access to an attic to escape to.  They decided to wade through the water to a family member’s house which was elevated.  After the storm passed and the water receded, it was time to move forward.  Although shell-shocked, Melissa and her husband began the process of salvaging what they could and then began tearing out all the water damaged areas of their home.

Celeste describes the Ocracoke community as one big family. “Although there are challenges, when tough times come, we all stand with each other and do what is necessary to move forward.”  They have found a way to get things done, but there is still work ahead.

Prior to Dorian, Celeste had seen the Red Cross provide meals and resources but had not received services directly.  The town of Ocracoke is a very resilient community and its members take care of each other, but they cannot do it all. Celeste admits the Red Cross and the community partners that have been supporting the recovery efforts on the island have been a blessing.

At the Ocracoke post office, there is incoming mail – envelopes of all shapes and sizes.  It is a reminder of all the Red Cross donors who addressed their own letters and sent donations to Red Cross to help support the Hurricane Dorian relief effort.  Those donations are continuing to support the recovery on Ocracoke Island.

“Thank you, even though the words are not enough, you do not know the blessing that you have bestowed on all of us. The kindness and generosity of people amazed me, I don’t even know how to put it into words.  I am speechless at the kindness of strangers, the care and concern, just how much they did for people they don’t even know.”  Celeste said the financial assistance provided by the Red Cross has been so critical to helping families hold on a little longer as their homes are repaired, the businesses reopen, and people can return to work.

As Celeste and Melissa consider what has been lost in their town – and on the entire island – they know hope abounds in their community and the recovery makes progress every single day. As they move their lives forward, they are certain that the community will grow stronger and are thankful for donors that made those steps forward easier and more bearable.

Story by Cally Edwards | American Red Cross

Trio Recognized for Lifesaving Efforts

Emergencies can happen at any time: in the grocery store parking lot, at a family wedding, on a hot day at the community pool or even at the office and inside your very own home. But regardless of when and where they occur, emergency situations usually have one thing in common: a crowd of people standing around, staring at a victim—wondering who should act and trying to remember what to do.

On August 9, 2019, Jenny Rucker, Brooke Buczek, and Joey Bridgham, trained in American Red Cross Lifeguarding/First Aid/CPR/AED, helped to sustain the life of a woman who collapsed on the pool deck at Aquatic Management Group in Raleigh, NC. Jenny Rucker was guarding the pool when a woman collapsed due to a seizure. Jenny immediately blew her whistle and went to the woman. Brooke Buczek alerted by the whistle contacted 9-1-1 while fellow lifeguard, Joey Bridgham, cleared the pool. Jenny placed the woman on her back and did an assessment. She found the woman to have a pulse but was not breathing. She attempted to establish an airway. She started conducting rescue ventilations using a mask but was unable to get the air to enter her mouth. Jenny removed her mask and managed to deliver rescue breaths.  The woman started breathing on her own once more and regained consciousness.  Emergency Medical Responders arrived shortly after and transported the woman to the hospital for further treatment. Without a doubt, the skills learned in the American Red Cross Training Services course helped to sustain the life of this woman.

Jenny, Brooke, and Joey were presented with the American Red Cross Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders. This is one of the highest awards given by the American Red Cross to an individual or team of individuals who saves or sustains a life by using skills and knowledge learned in a Red Cross Training Services course. This action exemplifies the highest degree of concern of one human being for another who is in distress. The certificate bears the signatures of the President and CEO of the American Red Cross Gail McGovern and Chairman Bonnie McElveen-Hunter.

Barry Porter, Regional CEO of the American Red Cross Eastern North Carolina, and Donna Rhode, Chair of the Triangle Area Chapter Board of Directors presented the awards.

Michael Dunbar and Greg Blum of Aquatic Management Group nominated the three recipients for this honor.  David Bagentose, Aquatics Representative for the Carolina, Training Services, was also present for the awards presentation.

To learn more about the American Red Cross Lifesaving Award program or to nominate an individual or team, please visit:  redcross.org/take-a-class/lifesaving

North Carolina State Fair, Friends, Family & Fun

The 2019 NC State Fair is now in the history books and the American Red Cross First Aid stations are closed up till next year. The Red Cross has had a First Aid Station at the fair every year since 1928, which only the exception of a couple of years during WWII when the fair was not held. The stations are run by volunteers and staff of the Eastern North Carolina Region.

On my trip to the State Fair I had the honor of meeting some of the volunteers who work at the three Red Cross stations (also known as huts). Here is a short story about the why they volunteer.

The first of many volunteers I was privileged to meet is the Red Cross First Aid Station coordinator, Kathy Ellen, who believes in giving back to the Red Cross and the community. For over 20 years she has been the face of the Red Cross at the State Fair. She told me that at one time, the Red Cross had its own building, but people couldn’t find it easily. Some years ago, it was torn down and replaced with huts which were more visible and provided a more impactful public presence.

I also met Larry Cockrell, the First Aid station supervisor overseeing the volunteers.  I learned he has an extensive history of volunteering with the Red Cross. Larry was from Nash County before moving to Raleigh. He has held many volunteer positions with the Rocky Mount/ Nash County chapter and enjoys returning to the State Fair every year because of the friendships and fellowship he has made.  He shared how things have changed over the years, but the Red Cross continues to provide an important service.

The next volunteer I met was Larry Kohn, a local business owner who sells AED’s (Automated External Defibrillators). Larry provides AEDs for each of the Red Cross First Aid Stations (huts). He was first introduced to the Red Cross through his work and has volunteered at the fair ever since. Larry said it’s like a big family at the Red Cross and has made many friends. He encouraged everyone to come and learn about helping others.

One of my highlights was meeting the students from Richlands High School of Onslow County. I was very impressed with the reasons they shared for wanting to volunteer with the Red Cross at the NC State Fair.

Natalia Thompson was so happy to volunteer with the Red Cross. After high school, she hopes to someday enter the medical field and maybe the military. She looks forward to coming back to help again.

Carly Schaub also enjoyed volunteering at the State Fair.  She said, “I am pursuing my dream by helping here today.” She’s learning more about helping others using skills from her Health Science class, including administering CPR and using an AED.

Eden Navaeh Hodge, a seventeen year old senior from Richlands High School, said “I always volunteer and love to help out. When I heard about volunteering with the Red Cross, I had to jump on it.” She hopes to volunteer more in college.

Then I met Maggie Adams, who was wearing a blue rain coat and the largest smile at the whole state fair. She said, “I am really passionate about the medical field and working in a hospital.” Maggie is a member of the high school HOSA (Health Occupational Student of America) and hopes to go to school to become a nurse.

During the NC State Fair, I met some great volunteers who said they had a great time helping at the Red Cross First Aid Station and could not wait to return next year.

This year, 56 Red Cross First Aid volunteers donated 824 hours of their time providing 872 services to fair attendees. They treated variety of health issues including blisters, insect stings, headaches, sprains, allergies, and many other ailments.

The Red Cross is grateful for volunteers and the volunteer groups who participated, including Richlands High School, Wake Early College Program, Capital Regional Advisory Committee (CapRAC), and nurses from WakeMed and Duke Raleigh Hospital.”

Learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross at www.redcross.org/enc

Story by: Wendy Ella May | American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer
Photography by:  Sharon Penn | American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer