‘Red Cross’ stories connect staff and volunteers to the mission and one another

By Marisol Terrazas

Mustafa Idris

I joined the American Red Cross in 2020 as a Regional Philanthropy Officer for the NCCR (Northern California Coastal Region) Development Department. Having spent most of the past year learning about the Red Cross work and mission from my home office, I’d not had the opportunity to connect, in person, with many of my colleagues until now. I’m writing this, having just enjoyed nearly an hour of conversation with Mustafa Idris, a Red Cross employee based out of our Oakland office.

Mustafa is Manufacture Technician for our Biomedical Services or “Hospital Services” at the Oakland Red Cross office on Claremont Street. He volunteered for six years and has worked for the American Red Cross for five years. The Claremont office is several stories tall, with a Blood Center located on the bottom floor. Every day, this site collects blood from our blood donors (who, due to the pandemic, now schedule appointments ahead of time), processes and stores our blood products in our laboratory located within the building. It distributes the blood collected from both within the center and our local mobile blood drives. It’s a big operation and requires the expertise of an extensive team of biomedical staff.

As strangers meeting outside of my cubicle for the first time, Mustafa and I immediately launched into a discussion about our roles at the Red Cross and our connections to the work we do. One of the most rewarding parts of my role is to hear people’s ‘Red Cross’ stories – and Mustafa certainly has a profound one. Mustafa originates from Sudan and first became familiar with the Red Cross through our international humanitarian aid work. “Have you seen malaria?” he asks me before sharing his recollections of Red Cross aid workers supporting people who were sick. At the time, Mustafa wondered why he wasn’t seeing officials from the government or embassy supporting this work but always remembered the fearlessness and selflessness of the Red Cross workers. And while the work of the American Red Cross differs from our work abroad, when Mustafa immigrated to the Bay Area, he knew he would find gratification in serving others through our humanitarian mission. 

I can’t recall every story he shared, but if you were to meet him, he’d tell you them himself. He’d convince you, if it’s within your capabilities, to become a blood donor again and again because he’s seen firsthand the lifesaving (his words) effect it has on our community. He might share with you…

  • The story of an older sister, the only blood match for her younger sister fighting cancer at a San Francisco hospital. She would come into our office every week – sometimes twice a week –  to support her sister’s treatment. According to Mustafa, the younger sister survived.
  • Or the time we received a request for a specific blood type for a patient in a local hospital who had a rare blood disorder. In this case, we contacted a local donor who had previously given, who was a perfect match. And this donor agreed to come in for several months for the treatment of a patient he didn’t even know.
  • Or his heartfelt recollection of the immediate local response after the tragic Las Vegas shooting. Over 100 people showed up at the front doors of the Oakland Blood Center at 9 p.m., ready to roll up their sleeves and donate, because they’d heard on the news the request for emergency blood donations.

We don’t always learn of the final destination of a blood product, but we do know, because of the work done by people like Mustafa, that every blood donation can save a life. Last year, the Northern California Coastal Region collected 82,373 units of blood, serving 200 hospitals in California and 43 hospitals in the Northern California Coastal Region. Some of those partners, like those of the Oakland Blood Center, include Trauma Centers like the Highland Hospital Emergency Department in Oakland – which sees victims of gun violence or other emergencies on a regular basis – or the UC Davis Children’s Hospital – which treats children, including those fighting cancer.

On August 2, we opened a new San Francisco Blood Donation Center, located at 1663 Market St., to provide Bay Area blood and platelet donors a new opportunity to help save lives with the Red Cross. The center is our first ever fixed Blood Site in San Francisco. We’re excited about the local impact this will have on our community in helping to alleviate some of the critical blood shortages we’ve continued to experience due to the pandemic.

To Mustafa, my fellow Red Crossers, and all of our donors and partners – thank you for being the backbone of support for the American Red Cross. If you’d like to schedule a blood or platelet donation at your local blood center – click here.

Editor’s note: Mustafa had a chance to read this reflection before we published it. He asked that we include the following personal note: “I would like to express my deepest thanks and gratitude to all of our true heroes – the donors and volunteers who miraculously lead and continue to save lives. Behind them are our unknown soldiers working in component, collection, QC (Quality Control), IRL (Immunohematology Reference Laboratory) and hospital services storage and distribution.”

About the author: Marisol Terrazas is a Regional Philanthropy Officer with the Northern California Coastal Region.