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Medical workers cheer and acknowledge pedestrians and FDNY firefighters who gathered to applaud them at 7 p.m. outside Brooklyn Hospital Center, April 14, 2020, in New York.
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Health

Started in the Wake of 9/11, This Organization Is Now Helping COVID-19 Frontline Workers

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a series of interconnected crises, including food insecurity, a widening gap in education inequality, and severe financial instability. These issues are both global and local — and it's vital we support the grassroots organizations doing the hard work of addressing these issues, while taking action to back the international institutions fighting to fix the bigger picture. Join our campaign Global Goal: Unite for Our Future to help tackle COVID-19, and ensure that everyone, everywhere, has the resources they need to beat it.

The First Responders Children’s Foundation (FRCF) was launched to help the children and families of firefighters and other first responders in the wake of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Initially, the organization worked to provide scholarships "to children of first responders who have been killed or injured in the line of duty," CEO Jillian Crane told Global Citizen.

Since then, the organization has grown to a national level and expanded its scope, and now the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the FRCF to expand its mission even further by providing emergency COVID-19 grants.

"We decided we have to help first responders immediately," Crane said. "And we expanded our definition, at that point, of first responders." 

Now, on top of fire services, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, and police, the organization considers first responders to mean nurses, medical personnel, ambulance drivers, health care workers in the hospital, 911 dispatchers, mechanics working on fire vehicles, and more.

The organization is working to provide help to everyone on the frontlines of the pandemic by creating an emergency grant people can apply for, as well as setting aside money for COVID-19 scholarships for the children of first responders.

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"What we noticed is that, [COVD-19] wasn’t just affecting the individual first responder ... it was [also] affecting their families," Crane said. "They’re really afraid to bring the disease home, they were sleeping in their car, they were worried about an autoimmune child or an older parent who was living with them. I think that the anxiety and stress around all of that in the first responder community was huge."

Crane recently spoke with Global Citizen about what FRCF has seen and done as the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved.

Global Citizen: As an organization on the frontlines of COVID-19, what is the biggest thing you want the general public to know about what you've seen and how the crisis has evolved?

Jillian Crane: Really, the disease impacted everything. Obviously it’s a dangerous disease, it’s serious to the general public. It doesn’t look like it’s going away, and we noticed that many hospitals did not have the equipment necessary to help the number of patients coming into their emergency rooms with COVID-19; they needed protective gear, and then also they were vulnerable to the illness.

How has it evolved? I think [COVID-19] evolved in that it lasted a long time, it’s still going on, more and more first responders have had it in all of the agencies — and nurses and doctors have had to quarantine. In the first responder community, what we found was that 70% of them are volunteers in a lot of places in this country, so they don’t really have a safety net ... so there's a huge financial hardship that has taken place in the first responder community.

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GC: How is the FRCF responding to the needs of first responders amid the pandemic?

JC: Through our expanded mission with the emergency COVID-19 grants, we’ve given 4,000 individual grants to first responders all over the country. [We've also provided] agency grants [and] we had a huge mask program.

First responders need child care! Their kids are now home, they’re supposed to be working in their communities, and they need help with child care costs. There’s just a huge stress on the people on the frontlines, so that is where we focus all of our efforts.

We have 4,000 independent financial hardship grants that we’ve given out and we have agency grants. We give grants for mental health; we’ve been providing meals; we’ve been feeding people in hospitals all over the country; we have coordinated a program to get PPE into the hands of communities.

We’ve deployed over half a million masks all over the country, we’ve paid for 20 funerals, we’ve paid rent for children who have lost their parents.

It’s an ongoing thing, I don’t even think we’ve seen the full impact of it, we have thousands more grant requests that are heartbreaking that we want to fulfill. So we’re still in a major crisis.

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GC: Do you think this expanded definition of first responders will continue even after the pandemic finally subsides, whenever that may be?

JC: We’ve been talking about that as a foundation. After seeing the work that [so many different workers] have done through this crisis, I am certainly feeling that we ought to include them.

Certainly, I would say since we took a look at the percentages of what we’re giving out, it’s a huge amount of medical personnel, in terms of the grants we’ve given out. So the need is huge. I don’t really know when [the pandemic] is going to end, so I haven’t really looked beyond the moment right now, because we’re so involved in what’s happening.

GC: What sort of long-term problems might children of first responders face?

JC: One, the financial hardship that’s happened is not going to go away in a month or two, or even six, because everyone’s going to be so behind. I think the financial hardship will be affecting the children of first responders until some of these things can be resolved. Going forward, the impact it will have on first responder families will be very great until people go back to work.

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When a first responder is affected like this, and on the frontline of something that can kill them, it’s affecting their children. We’ve given a couple of grants, one in particular to a mental health program in a firefighter community, that is a program both for the first responder and their family. We’re looking into more of those grants, and mental health will be something we’d like to focus on, because that was an issue in the first responder community before, and I think it’s going to be worse after this is over.

GC: How can people take action and help first responders and their families?

JC: The big thing is, when there’s a tragic event that happens, we really think about our first responders. And then we kind of live these really great lives and get very busy and we forget. So I think the one thing we’re going to focus on is putting the spotlight on first responders 12 months a year, no matter what’s happening.

If you go to our website, you can see all the programs, you can see what we’re doing, you can make a donation of any amount. Honestly, the small amount, the big amount, everything helps. A large percentage of what we make goes out to the community. Visit us on social media, we post frontline stories every day — follow us, spread the word about what we’re doing if you can’t make a donation, spread the word to your friends about what first responders do. We can’t ever forget the sacrifices they make for us.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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