Volunteer shortage: Local Red Cross & Salvation Army lack people to deploy to disasters

Officials partly blame pandemic for lack of volunteers
Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 1:23 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Fears related to COVID-19 are being blamed on a lack of local volunteers to deploy to help with natural disasters happening across the country.

“The ability to identify available and able-bodied volunteers who can commit to a 14-day deployment remains a struggle,” said Diana Barrett, Public Relations/Volunteer Outreach for the Salvation Army serving Waco/McLennan County.

While the Waco chapter of the Salvation Army is often deployed during disasters, as of Monday it did not have a team sent to help Ida victims on the Gulf Coast.

“I know that there is something of a shortage of volunteers in your area,” said Philip Burn, Divisional Communications Director for the Salvation Army in Texas.

Burn, who was in Gonzles, Louisiana Monday, said ‘Team Texas’ consisted of 18 mobile kitchens that, so far, had served more than 87,000 hot meals to hurricane victims.

However, ‘Team Texas’ had no Waco presence.

“Waco has certainly had a robust program in the past, but my understanding is, what happens every once in a while, our volunteers kind of age out a little bit, so I think that volunteer base is in need of refreshing,” said Burn.

He says the demographic of their typical volunteers doesn’t work well with what’s being asked of volunteers in the summer of 2021: working long the heat...during a pandemic.

“Disaster deployment is 14-days, and that’s a significant amount of time when you’re doing the long hours in the hot temperatures we’ve been experiencing this week, and so certainly that’s a concern for our volunteers who my be getting up in age a little bit,” said Burn.

The Salvation Army isn’t alone.

Officials with the Heart of Texas Red Cross said disaster help in the Waco-area was also diminishing.

“I think people are kind of nervous about whether they’re going to be exposed to COVID, and our age group within the American Red Cross is lot older,” said Robert Gonzales, volunteer counterpart to the Disaster Program Manager for the Red Cross.

From Ida to the California wildfires, as of Monday the American Red Cross was responding to more than 70 major disasters across the U.S.

“Since this hurricane is so large and we have so many disasters going on right now...we could use the help,” said Gonzales.

However, help in the Waco-area is in short supply, officials said.

Gonzales returned home from California Sunday: he was the only Red Cross volunteer from the Waco-area deployed to assist fire victims.

“This is the most rewarding job that I’ve ever done,” said Gonzales. “It is so much fun.”

Last year, the Red Cross changed how it did deployments due to the pandemic; a lot of the volunteering was done virtually.

However, they’ve transitioned back to (mostly) traditional deployments.

“It makes it a lot easier to deploy rather than being virtual,” said Gonzales.

The Red Cross does not require vaccinations for volunteers, but they are keeping some of the COVID protocols like mask-wearing and distancing for volunteer safety.

“We’re hopeful we can get some of the younger generations out here and helping out,” said Gonzles.

Gonzales says potential volunteers should apply sooner rather than later because there’s varying lengths of training involved beforehand.

“Just about every job you can think of, there is training for,” said Gonzales.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the Red Cross can go here or call (254) 523-4985.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the Salvation Army can go here or call (254) 756-7271.

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