WEST PALM BEACH — Facing a relentless disaster season, families in the U.S. have spent more nights in emergency lodging in 2020 than in any other year over the past decade.
“As the coronavirus pandemic wears on, disasters like Hurricane Eta and Sally in Florida, plus relentless wildfires in the West have upended hundreds of thousands of lives across the country,” said Josett Valdez, CEO for the South Florida Red Cross. “Through it all, more people are stepping up as Red Cross volunteers to help others - even as they recover from hurricanes and severe flooding along with COVID-19. It’s a true testament to the humanitarian spirit of people in our South Florida Region and in our country.”
More than 1 million times this year, a person relied on the Red Cross for a safe place to sleep after a disaster in the U.S. That’s more than four times the annual average from 2011 to 2019.
Volunteers have also aided more than 1,000 people affected by home fires this year across the South Florida Region, helping them secure a safe place to stay and providing food, emotional support and other assistance.
Thousands Answer Call To Help — This year, more than 70,000 people across the country joined the Red Cross as volunteers - who represent more than 90% of its workforce. As South Florida and the country grapples with the pandemic, young people have played a critical role in disaster response - with millennials and Gen Z representing more than half of new Red Cross volunteers.
Nationwide, 75% of new volunteers also stepped up at a pivotal time to fill mission-critical positions, such as shelter and health workers addressing urgent disaster needs, as well as blood donor ambassadors and transportation specialists helping to provide cancer patients, trauma victims and others with lifesaving blood.
Volunteers like MaryJo Timmons, is among the many Red Cross volunteers that deployed to help communities impacted by disasters, like the state of Louisiana with Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta. In early September, Timmons decided to raise her hand to help Lake Charles residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.
“During a disaster, I feel like this is the time for me to shine and to be there for them, no matter what the situation is,” said Timmons. “I am there to help them get through a difficult time in their lives. Total strangers, that I can make a positive impact in their lives. I listen to what they have to say, I give them hope, compassion, and usually a lot of laughs. We make a special connection that will last a lifetime.”