By Geoffrey Morris
Stuttgart Citizen Volunteer
When the coronavirus began shutting down services and sending employees to work from home at U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart, volunteers with the American Red Cross stepped forward to help fight the virus on the frontlines.
According to Jason Kalinowski, the regional program manager for USAG Stuttgart’s American Red Cross, The team of red Cross volunteers in the community have been supporting the Garrison’s efforts to combat COVID-19 from the beginning and their role has grown over the past year. “While Red Cross volunteers began serving as front-door screeners and trace-team members, they eventually joined the testing teams in the COVID tent and are now helping with the vaccination efforts,” said Kalinowski.
Ola Kleczek, a registered nurse with the Red Cross, spoke about her experience with the Red Cross as the Coronavirus outbreak began.
“I felt a huge desire, like I was almost letting everyone down if I didn’t try and help,” she said.
For those not affiliated with the clinic already, the Red Cross provides potential volunteers an avenue to help and maintain credentials by guiding them through the credentialing and clearance process.
“There are lots of knowledgeable and skilled spouses in this community who are healthcare workers who can’t find work,” Kleczek continued. “The Red Cross offers [them] the opportunity to help out and to keep up clinical skills.”
Kleczek joined the Red Cross team of volunteers as a Marine spouse in 2019, when a string of bad storms struck North Carolina. Since then she has been an active member of the organization and is dedicated to helping whatever community she is in.
Currently, she serves as one of four Red Cross volunteers who alternate schedules to keep the COVID tent manned each week. They work alongside volunteers from across the community, including military members from tenant units and reserve components.
Even Red Cross’s community youth have become involved, with the Stuttgart High School Red Cross Club promoting hygiene and physical distancing at the beginning of the outbreak. Bettina Wagner, Student High School (SHS) senior, has volunteered with the organization for three years, and is the current president of the SHS Red Cross Club.
“I really wanted to serve,” Wagner said, “because there are so many people serving us.”
She said the club trains and develops their skills in first aid and medicine to be better prepared to help if the opportunity arises.
While the students are not able to help directly in the COVID fight just yet, they have found other ways to encourage those who are on the front lines. Most recently the students organized a holiday card drive for single Soldiers, giving out more than 300 cards to those isolated during the holidays because of COVID. As for combatting COVID directly, the club has focused on awareness by encouraging mask wearing and physical distancing.
Both Kleczek and Wagner agree that joining the Red Cross is an easy and rewarding thing to do, and it provides invaluable manpower to the community’s crisis response team. Kleczek added that the additional tasks related to COVID are on the top of Army Health Clinic Stuttgart’s mission to provide healthcare to the community.
“The COVID tent is an added process, vaccination is an added process, but the amount of clinic staff hasn’t changed,” Kleczek explained. “This is where we can help.”
Army Health Clinic Stuttgart Commander, Lt. Col. Maria Bruton said the extra hands have helped sustain both sides of the clinic’s mission: to battle COVID through ample testing, screening and vaccination, and to maintain the community’s health care.
“We have been extremely fortunate for the American Red Cross volunteers that have served with us and spent countless hours contacting COVID-19 positive community members, conducting trace contacting for close contacts, screening and testing, and inoculating community members for Influenza and COVID-19,” she said. “They have enabled the team to meet our mission requirements along with our COVID-19 pandemic response.”
To join the Red Cross team, contact the Stuttgart chapter on Facebook at @AmericanRedCrossStuttgartStation. Previous medical training is not required to join and become a positive part of the fight against COVID-19.