SC Red Cross volunteers out West encourages more people to help: ‘It certainly gives you a big sense of purpose’.

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 6:51 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - There are 36 South Carolinians currently volunteering with the Red Cross in the Gulf to support Hurricane Laura recovery efforts, and out West in response to the wildfires.

Marcia Bergholdt of Edgefield County is helping out in Madera, California. She says volunteer work with the Red Cross is not an easy job, but also says what makes it easier is hearing the stories of people who may be searching for loved ones or waiting to learn if their homes have survived.

She says that motivates her to help in any way she can.

Bergholdt is planning to stay out West for about 10 days to help support families affected by the wildfires. She’s been helping to provide families with shelter, delivering food and cleaning supplies.

Bergholdt has been volunteering with the Red Cross for the last few years and says, this year, there have been some changes.

“It’s a totally different game this year no matter what kind of emergency we respond to thanks to COVID-19,” said Bergholdt.

She describes some of those differences, saying now she always has a mask on and doesn’t go anywhere without one. She also said she doesn’t even, “travel in a car with another Red Cross worker without one.”

The masks are, of course, helping to protect against the coronavirus, but also all the smoke in the air from the wildfires. Bergholdt describes parts of California as a smokey mess, right now, and says the hot temperatures don’t help.

Another change involves where families in need are being housed. Typically, they are sheltered somewhere like a high school gym.  This year, they are being put up in hotels. Something Bergholdt says has not been done before.

“It helps to minimize exposure, not only to them but to the volunteers, as well, which we’re extremely short of in light of COVID-19,” said Bergholdt.

Beyond helping to provide shelter for families displaced by the wildfires, Bergholdt says the job doesn’t end there. She continues to follow up with those families to offer her support, and says she takes calls at any time, day or night. She also helps to arrange medical care, mental health care, even spiritual support.

“There are people that live in small places in the mountains. They’ve got maybe farm animals and they’ve had to leave – a lot of cases – pets behind or chickens or whatever it might be and they don’t necessarily know the status of their homes,” said Bergholdt who added that many families are, “dealing with a lot of stress of unknowns and worrying about what they left behind or families that they can’t locate. So, we try and help them track down loved ones that they don’t know where they escaped to.”

Bergholdt says this type of work can certainly weigh on you, but ultimately, she says it gives her a big sense of purpose. She’s encouraging more people to volunteer with the Red Cross.

If you’re interested in volunteering or learning more, click or tap here.

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