In most emergencies, you’ll find New Zealand Red Cross volunteers lending a hand in evacuation centres, on cordon lines, in community hubs or knocking on your door to check in and find out what you need. But during the COVID-19 response, our teams are working a little differently. While some volunteers are on the physical front lines, they’re also on the phone, looking after people who are staying at home. 

Around 11,000 amazing members and volunteers make up our New Zealand Red Cross whānau, delivering meals, helping new Kiwis settle in Aotearoa and supporting people before, during and after a disaster. When Aotearoa moved into COVID-19 Alert Level 4, thousands of our volunteers who were immunocompromised or over 70 stepped down from their regular duties. To keep communities connected, other members have been reaching out over the phone.

“One of the ways this has been happening has been by phoning each other for a chat and a check-in on how people are managing during the lockdown,” explains Pip Mabin, New Zealand Red Cross Psychosocial Support Advisor. “With thousands of our people supporting Red Cross from home, we knew it was important to make sure that they felt supported too.”

Looking after each other on the phone

Pierre, a volunteer in Palmerston North who lives alone, was grateful for the calls from Red Cross volunteers. Pierre has lost several of his family members in France to COVID-19.

“It’s always good to have somebody call you to ask you how you are,” says Pierre. “I call this my ‘solitary lockdown’, not being confined but being challenged. It is good to chat with someone.”

Katrina was one of the volunteers who called Pierre. She says they discussed the anxiety that he was feeling having to go to the supermarket, so Katrina referred him to local agencies able to provide him with groceries. She also said that they ended the call with Pierre laughing, a warm reminder of the importance of these calls.

"People are telling us that they really appreciate these calls," says Katrina, a Disaster Welfare and Support Team (DWST) member trained in Psychological First Aid. "They say the calls make them feel heard and acknowledged."

The impact of this support has been felt across the country, with people getting in touch to say just how valued the calls have been. Sam*, who was finding the lockdown particularly difficult to get through, said that the call put them at ease and found the help they needed.

 “One of our volunteers caught Sam during a really hard time,” Tamsyn, another DWST member, shares the follow-up call she made to Sam. “They were struggling with the lockdown and just feeling really down.”

“Sam had nothing but amazingly kind words to say about us checking in on them,” Tamsyn says. “They said that how we listened and advised was so amazing. The last time Sam had dealings with Red Cross was in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes where we also helped them in an awful time.”

Tamsyn is working, alongside Katrina, to coordinate the wellbeing calls through a remote team of fellow disaster response volunteers. The team have made more than 4,000 calls to people across New Zealand, many of whom are living alone or unable to leave home. As well as this, New Zealand Red Cross volunteers have also been supporting Queenstown Lakes District Council and Auckland Emergency Management’s wellbeing and welfare calls.

*Name changed to protect privacy

Helping from home and in the community

Providing psychosocial support isn’t the only way we’ve been helping Kiwis to get through this COVID-19 crisis. From continuing to deliver Meals on Wheels and support former refugee communities, to helping at community-based assessment centres and dropping off medicine and groceries to people unable to leave their home, we’ve been working hard to keep Kiwis safe and well.

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