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Red Cross seeks local shelter volunteers

While Beaufort County was spared widespread damage due to last week’s Tropical Storm Isaias, a perfect storm of COVID-19 and predictions of increased tropical weather for the 2020 hurricane season has the American Red Cross seeking local residents willing to volunteer at emergency shelters.

“We’re definitely up for some challenges this year,” said Elisabeth Grant, a senior recruitment specialist for the American Red Cross of Eastern North Carolina. “In a normal hurricane season, when a storm is coming our way, Red Cross volunteers deploy from all over the country. They come in and prop up our local volunteer numbers, especially with shelter workers and supervisors. This year, because of COVID-19, they’re scaling that back.”

In response to Tropical Storm Isaias, Grant says the American Red Cross dispatched approximately 50 volunteers to help support local shelter operations. Typically, that number would be much higher, she said. To help fill that need, the ENC branch is looking for 10 local people in each of its 15 counties who are willing to undergo the training to become volunteers or shelter managers. In Beaufort County, the Red Cross still needs about seven people willing to volunteer.

“Those counties were the ones that were targeted for having the greatest need and the greatest likelihood of having shelters,” Grant said. “The goal is to have people who are local be able to volunteer in the shelters. It’s definitely a little higher bar than most years. That’s kind of coupled with the fact that because of social distancing, we actually need more shelters and can house fewer people in each shelter.”

In order to become a shelter volunteer, one must undergo an online training lasting approximately three to four hours. Those wishing to serve as shelter supervisors are asked to do an online training that lasts around eight hours. Grant says this training covers both normal shelter operations and has also been expanded to include training specific to COVID-19 operations.

“We want to make sure everybody knows what to do and how to stay safe, having the general policies and guidelines for a shelter and then adding to that all the specific things we need to think about because of the pandemic this year,” Grant said. “We value and appreciate all the people that step forward to volunteer.”

Those wishing to become shelter volunteers may sign up to do so by visiting www.redcross.org/volunteertoday or emailing encrecruit@redcross.org.