Thursday, June 10, 2021

Giving Help and Giving Back: The Red Cross and its Fight Against COVID-19

By Jake Verga, Communications Volunteer


It is an honor to work side-by-side with service members whose kind and caring manner creates a positive atmosphere. I observe people genuinely happy and relieved when leaving the clinic. That tells the story of a job well done. 'Hope remains eternal' is my message. I feel it each time I arrive at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.”

Marianne Wyble, Red Cross Volunteer, Walter Reed


On March 11th, 2020, the World Health Organization labeled COVID-19 as a global pandemic. And just two days later, the President of the United States declared that very pandemic a national emergency.

Now, a full year after COVID-19 swept across America, with a nationwide vaccination effort underway and case numbers beginning to grow smaller, things seem to be getting better. But a lot has happened since last March. 

COVID-19 has had far-reaching effects on almost every aspect of life, from education to grocery shopping. But periods of hardship help highlight the empathy and perseverance that make the human experience unique and special. Nothing exemplifies this more than those volunteering in the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region, who over the past year have dedicated their time helping those who need it most. 

One of the most active volunteer locations for the Red Cross during the pandemic has been Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Walter Reed’s Senior Station Manager, Kristen Farren, who helps coordinate volunteers, spoke about what they have been doing to make a difference. 

In conjunction with medical center staff, volunteers have been on-site, working to provide cloth masks to patients and visitors to the hospital. Over the course of many months, thousands of masks were brought in and distributed to those who needed them. Kristen couldn’t stress enough how the volunteers and administrators at the Red Cross are extremely grateful for those who went out of their way to donate. On top of help with the masks, volunteers helped sanitize essential items such as clipboards and pens, making the visitation process safer. 

The Daughters of the American Revolution generously donated cloth
face coverings to the Walter Reed team in the spring of 2020.

As well as mask distribution, the Red Cross also partnered with a nonprofit organization called Feed the Fight. Feed the Fight is based in the D.C. Metro Area and began as a neighborhood effort that ended up growing into a multi-state network of volunteers. The organization works to both help patronize local restaurants, while also helping support front-line workers. Using monetary donations, the organization purchases meals from local restaurants and then donates these meals to healthcare workers who are fighting the pandemic every day. The Red Cross helped organize and distribute these meals in March, April, and May, when the country was experiencing its most tumultuous period as the virus was rapidly spreading. These meals made the staff feel very appreciated.

The Walter Reed team delivered lunches from Mission BBQ and Jetties
to the staff thanks to Feed the Fight during the pandemic.

Since the start of the year, Red Cross volunteers at Walter Reed have expanded their duties, and are now assisting the Covid vaccination initiative. The Red Cross has around five people each day who work on administrative tasks, such as organizing essential paperwork for the vaccination process, as well as helping patients and providing snacks and water. It has been great for both the hospital, as well as for the volunteers. Before being able to help in the vaccination effort though, local Red Cross administrators had to seek approval from Command and Red Cross National Headquarters to have the volunteers on-site and ensure that all volunteers have the proper equipment to match that of the staff working at the clinic. 

Janice Chance, a Maryland native, gold star mother, retired nurse, and long-time Red Cross volunteer, has been working at Walter Reed reflects on her work.

Red Cross volunteers, Janice (left) and Mindy, on location at the
COVID vaccination site helping to sanitize and distribute clipboards and paperwork.

“I get the chance to work alongside other Red Cross workers. And also service members, because they have them on duty as well. Whatever the need is, that's what we do. One minute I’m putting together forms, the next I’m cleaning clipboards and pens. I could be giving directions, helping people any way I can. I am so grateful and blessed to be able to help men and women get the vaccine. If I can do something to help and expedite the process, I will do it. I will do whatever I can. Because that’s how things get better.” 

Volunteers providing support at the vaccination site, helping sign patients in,
assisting in the observation area, providing snacks and water, and checking them out
after they have completed the process.

The more recent Red Cross initiatives don’t stop at aiding the vaccination efforts in person. Volunteers have assisted with making phone calls to hospital beneficiaries to let them know about the availability of the vaccine. Other phone calls have been made in conjunction with the Armed Forces National Day of Service, checking in on service members to tell them about possible vaccine availability through the Veterans Affairs office. Making personal contact with people via the phone has been an incredibly useful tool to get information out to those who need it about the vaccine. 

“My calls to Walter Reed patients over the age of 75 gave me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. I could tell immediately that I was making a significant contribution after so many months of not volunteering in person at Walter Reed,” says Stephen Peth, a Red Cross Group Leader and volunteer at Walter Reed.  


Many of the patients were totally unaware of the opportunity to get a vaccination and required a lot of time to explain exactly what they needed to do. Some of the patients were in their 90s and a couple over 100. And, they were so appreciative. Each call made my day and I was eager to dial the next.”

- Stephen Peth, Red Cross Group Leader and Walter Reed Volunteer 

As the pandemic begins to ease up, but still continues to affect our lives, it is always heartening to see the difference a single person can make when they decide to help those around them. We appreciate every one of our volunteers who set out to make the world a better place, especially during such trying times.

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You can join us too!

  • To learn more about the Service to the Armed Forces programs, click here
  • Make a difference in your community. Click here to become a Red Cross volunteer. 
  • To make a donation to your Red Cross, click here.
  • Click here to learn more about donating blood with the American Red Cross near you. 

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