Red cross sees surge in volunteers globally due to pandemic, but drop in Belgium

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By Susan Dabbous
Red cross sees surge in volunteers globally due to pandemic, but drop in Belgium
Copyright  Euronews

Hundreds of thousands of new volunteers have joined the Red Cross this year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In most of Europe, widespread increases have been reported, with over 63,000 additional people in Spain and another 48,000 in the Netherlands, according to Red Cross EU.

But in Belgium, volunteer numbers have shrunk in the thousands. Many of the usual volunteers have not returned due to fear of contracting the virus.

This is particularly true for the over 60s, who have all but suspended their volunteering activities.

After the first wave, however, elderly volunteers had the chance to choose whether to come back to help or stay away.

Nadine Courtois, a 67-year-old retiree, is someone that chose to return.

She now collects unsold products from Brussels supermarkets and delivers them to people in need.

Courtois told Euronews that she's no longer afraid of the virus.

"I think that if we are careful and wear our masks all the time, and wash our hands, it's fine. Otherwise, we must stay home."

Barbara Bentien, who is the Head of Volunteers at Red Cross Belgium, explained to Euronews that people are gradually coming back to help, but more help is still needed.

"In the beginning, there was a little bit of panic to understand how to deal with the pandemic, so we had to exclude many volunteers especially the elderly ones," Bentien said.

"The over 65s had to stop their activities, for example, but since activity creased a lot in response to the increasing number of people in need, we had to reinforce our group of volunteers, and we still need more volunteers."

Among the new beneficiaries of food aid, there are also people in temporary unemployment and recently divorced women who no longer have any income for their families.

But as long as both the health and economic crisis continues, the number of people in need is expected to grow.