By Greg Forrester, President and CEO at National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster
For the past 5 years, volunteers from around the country travel to FEMA Headquarters in Washington D.C. each July to celebrate Partnership Day. Although we are not able to meet in person this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are together in spirit and we have a lot to celebrate!
Fifty years ago, six religious denominations and the American Red Cross formed the National Voluntary Organizations Active In Disaster (NVOAD), a coalition of national voluntary organizations that help people and communities prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. NVOAD now has 75 national member organizations, a state VOAD in all 50 states and six territories, and 15 private sector and educational partners. We average over 5 million volunteers per year, served over six million meals during the last six months, and donated thousands of hours towards disaster cleanup, rebuilding storm damaged homes, feeding the hungry, and providing spiritual/emotional support to those in need.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to make some changes but it hasn’t stopped us from helping people. Our member organizations are adapting their procedures and processes to serve safely to continue to meet needs during this pandemic and ongoing disasters. In addition to utilizing established trained leaders - organizations are recruiting and training community members not affected by the disaster who are eager to help their neighbors. High school and college students who are out of school have filled their free time working in food banks, delivering food to their neighbors, and assisting their communities. Member organizations have worked with federal, state, and local emergency management to re-open restaurant operations to prepare, package, and deliver meals in communities across the United States. They have assisted with much needed blood drives, COVID testing sites, and provided mental/spiritual health services.
National VOAD works collaboratively with government agencies. We have a seat in FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center and our State VOADs are embedded in their state Emergency Operation Centers. As our government partners are establishing infrastructure restoration and rescue operations - our community based members/volunteers are helping establish sheltering, feeding, and cleanup operations. Communication and partnership between government, the private sector, and voluntary organizations leads to whole community response.
I want to thank all the volunteers who have contributed their time and talents to National VOAD and encourage anyone reading this to consider joining us. How many times have you watched a news report of people flooded out of their homes, seen pictures of evacuees staying in a shelter after a wildfire, or read about whole towns destroyed by a tornado and thought “I wish there was something I could do?” You don’t have to change careers - donate your time. You can use your skills, experience and abilities to help people rebuild their lives after disasters. It’s not always easy, there are struggles - but you get to say to yourself, “I made a difference.”
Visit our Virtual Partnership Day Exhibit Hall to learn more about how volunteer organizations work with FEMA to help people before, during and after disasters. To volunteer, visit NVOAD to find an organization to volunteer your time and talent!