Author Archives: Martin Gagliano

How to donate blood: Five simple steps

Story and photos by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross

Do you want to give blood but don’t know how? Are you curious about donating blood but aren’t sure what is involved? Join Emmanuel as he goes through the five simple steps of donating whole blood.

1. Book it


The best way to make an appointment is on the American Red Cross Blood Donor app. That is how Emmanuel made his appointment the day before. “It’s too easy with the app,” he says.

You can also make an appointment online at redcrossblood.org or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

Pro tip: “Hydrate the day before your appointment,” says Eric Magalued, Team Supervisor at the San Fransisco Blood Center. “The day of the donation: EAT! Have something in your stomach.” Eric has been taking blood donations at the Red Cross for five years. He knows that drinking lots of water the day before and eating before you donate will lesson the chances you will feel dizzy.


2. Check in

The Blood Donor Ambassador at the front desk asks for your donor card and identification (such as a driver’s license). They scan the QR code on your phone if you have a RapidPass. The Ambassador also gives you some material to read about donating blood.

Pro tip: “Complete the RapidPass,” says Eric. Donors can save time by completing a RapidPass which allows them to complete the pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of the donation, from a mobile device or computer.

3. Health history

Complete a private and confidential questionnaire with a trained technician in a separate room or a cubicle. The questionnaire covers topics like travel, medications and health.

The technician gives you a brief physical exam, checking your vital signs, blood pressure, temperature and pulse. They also look at your arm veins to see if they appear suitable for donation and prick your finger for a drop of blood to check your hemoglobin levels.

4. Give blood

Lay down on a reclining chair in the blood collection area and a Phlebotomist will disinfect your inner elbow and insert a brand new, sterile needle there. The needle will draw blood through a tube and into a collection bag. Once the bag is full for a whole blood donation – which is one pint in about 10 minutes – the Phlebotomist will remove the needle and bandage your arm. Other types of donations, like plasma, platelets and Power Red can take up to two hours to complete.

Many people wonder if the needle will hurt. The Red Cross recommends you pinch the fleshy underside of your arm to experience a similar feeling. Emmanuel agrees with that description. He says, “It feels like a pinch, just a split-second pinch.”

Pro tip: If you feel faint, Eric recommends squeezing your legs together to force the blood from your legs back to your heart. Tell the Phlebotomist you are feeling dizzy and then cross your legs, squeeze your inner thigh and stomach muscles, stretch your ankles and hold for five seconds. Repeat five times then switch legs.

5. Snack time

Remain for 10 to 15 minutes longer to ensure you are feeling well after your donation. Get refreshed with a free snack and a drink.

6. Bonus!

Please don’t forget to make your next donation appointment on the app before you leave.

Emmanuel will be back for sure. He says, “It’s a wonder to think the blood is going to someone who I will never meet, but it’s going to help them.”

Thank you to blood donors like Emmanuel who show up to provide life-saving blood!

Veterans Day 2022: Recognizing Red Crossers who serve after their military service

A veteran’s transition to civilian life can be tough and sometimes it becomes hard to find a purpose in serving after leaving the U.S. military. But for many veterans, volunteering and responding to community needs is a way to share comradery and apply their unique skills and talents to the needs of their local neighborhood.

On this Veterans Day, we’d like to recognize all the Red Crossers who continue their service after service across the Northern California Coastal Region.  

We are honored to have all of them on our team – across counties and lines of service, and we proudly present some of their unique stories:

Daniella Zapata
Regional Business Operations Coordinator

Photo courtesy of Daniela Zapata

At 17 years old, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps to serve our country. It was my first experience doing something for the greater good and it taught me to think beyond myself and to look out for those around me. On my first day of bootcamp, I was introduced to the Red Cross and its services to our armed forces. A Red Cross card was handed to me to fill out with all the contact information for my unit. This tool would be used by my family if they needed to contact me. The Red Cross would quickly pass on information in case of emergency. Military training was intense, but I had the comfort of knowing that my family could find me if needed.

While in the fleet, I had the pleasure of working as an embark and logistics specialist where I learned valuable skills that continued to be of use after my military service – discipline, hard work and the importance of integrity.

In 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit our nation and I felt an overwhelming need to help. The news showed immense devastation and volunteers from the Red Cross were already on-site providing comfort and relief.  I immediately checked in with our local Red Cross office, which was buzzing with community members taking various trainings, ready to lend a hand. This was my calling; I knew my experience moving resources in the Marine Corps could be used to help with disaster relief efforts. Within a few weeks, I had taken all the classes needed and was deployed to Texas. The service I was able to provide alongside thousands of other volunteers was immeasurable. We looked into the eyes of those who lost so much and through generous donations from across the nation, we were able to provide hope.

Those moments sparked something in me that has continued to fuel my passion for service through the Red Cross for the past 17 years.  Every day I get to work alongside community members who volunteer their time and talents to support our military personnel, assist families after a disaster, provide lifesaving blood, and so much more. I am honored to have the opportunity to continue serving our beloved country. 

Semper Fidelis!

Diane St. Denis
Pacific Division Disaster Health Services Advisor

Photo courtesy of
Diane St. Denis

I spent 3 years in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and it was there that I realized how little I knew about the world. I also saw discrimination and limitations on what I, as a young woman, could expect as far as deployment opportunities, but also made lifelong friends, saw the Blue Angels up close and personal, and met the love of my life, my partner in crime, my Marine, my husband.

As a naive 18-year-old (who thought I was very worldly), I joined the Navy with no idea what to expect – I only knew that I wasn’t ready to do the college thing.  After a battery of tests, I was told I was going to Air Traffic Controller “A” school after bootcamp.

I was promoted to AC3, learned how to handle a stressful but exciting job, and how to live on a minuscule paycheck. To this day, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is a meal near and dear to my heart. All of the experiences I had in the Navy molded much of my future and made me realize how blessed I am to have learned the value of service to others.

After my discharge from the Navy and getting married, I found a job as a police dispatcher, utilizing the skills I learned in my time in service, but I finally recognized that my life was really meant to be in healthcare. Parenthood delayed my nursing education, and it took many years before I finally obtained my nursing license, but it was worth the wait. Nursing is what I was meant to do all along. I joined the Red Cross while I was in Nursing School, and I haven’t looked back.

I have seen many changes in Red Cross over the years. My training in the Navy taught me to deal with adversity, change direction on a dime, value friendships, the importance of organization, and believing in the mission. 

I eventually became the Disaster Health Services Lead for my Red Cross Chapter and was later appointed the advisor for the Pacific Division. At some point, I will relinquish the advisor role, and when I do, hope to have more time so that I can become more active in Service to the Armed Forces and serve our military community.

Reflecting on early my life, I learned the value of giving to others from my parents, particularly my mother. The Red Cross allowed me to utilize my nursing skills while helping others in need.

I have devoted myself to a life of service, including volunteering for organizations outside the Red Cross. It all started by serving my country and I continue to do that through my service in the Red Cross. And, like most of us that volunteer, I couldn’t do it without the support of my family. Their support of the mission and my passion allow me to do all that I do.

Kathleen Lenihan
Services to the Armed Force Volunteer Partner

Photo courtesy of Kathleen Lenihan

I joined the Army Nurse program in 1970 when I was still in nursing school. After graduation I was lucky to be stationed stateside at Fort Ord, California, for a year and then at Letterman Army Medical Center in San Francisco. I was the first army nurse to have a baby and stay on active duty at the Letterman Army Medical Center.

After I was released from active duty, I joined the Army Reserve and provided medical support to the active duty who were in training. We also set up a combat support hospital in various areas of the U.S. and provided medical care for those who were ill or injured during their time in the field.

While I was on one of these training missions, we had a briefing from a Red Cross volunteer who gave us the number for the Hero Care Center to give to our family members. My son was 17 at the time and staying home alone, having this number was a relief. If he needed to get a message to me, he was able to do it through the Hero Care Center, so in my personal experience, it does work.

One of the highlights of my Army Reserve training was going on a medical mission to a small town in the northern Andes mountains, called Cajamarca (Perú), at 9,000ft height. We went there for two and a half weeks and provided medical care to the local residents. We also brought along our veterinary team to provide veterinary care to the animals. Most people don’t realize the number of medical missions that the U.S. military provides throughout the years to countries that have very little medical or veterinary care.

Kathleen is now the Volunteer Partner for the region’s Service to the Armed Forces team, she is a Red Cross representative at the VA Hospital in San Francisco, and she is a member of the Disaster Health Services team, deploying to support people affected by disasters big and small.

Larry Dietz
Regional Public Affairs Volunteer Partner

Photo courtesy of Larry Dietz

I began my military service in September 1963 when I joined Reserve Officers Training Corps at Northeastern University, Boston. It was either ROTC or gym class, and I hated going to the gym, so it was an easy decision.

I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, Military Intelligence, US Army on August 1, 1968. In April 1969 I was assigned to the 509th Radio Research Group in the Republic of Viet Nam, where my first assignment was as a Radio Research Platoon leader in support of the 1st Infantry Division in Quan Loi, Dau Tieng, and Xian.

September 1969 found me reassigned as a Communications Security (COMSEC) Officer and responsible for Crypto Facility inspections. My tour in the Republic of Viet Nam was over in April 1969 and I was released from active duty in September 1970. I served four years in the inactive Army Reserve and was discharged in September 1974.

In 1980 I decided that I wanted to go back into the Reserve and was reappointed as a Captain and commanded the 519th ASA Company, providing support to warfighters such as the Marines and the 7th Infantry Division. Subsequent assignments in the Reserve took me to Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia.

In August 1989, I joined the Strategic Intelligence section. From July 1997 to February 1998, I served as the Deputy Commander of the Joint Information Campaign Task Force, Sarajevo, Bosnia, and I was promoted to Colonel in November 1998.

After my retirement, in April 2002, I graduated from the US Army War College. I served as a volunteer instructor for deploying personnel at Fort Hunter Liggett in December 2003 and April 2005, and was elected Honorary Colonel of the US Army in 2003, and served in that position until 2010.

In the summer of 1999, I attended a Red Cross Northern California Coast Region Training Symposium in Pebble Beach, Calif. where I was certified as a Public Affairs Associate. I volunteered sporadically until December 2016 when I was assigned as the Volunteer Partner to the Regional Communications Director.

In addition to Public Affairs, I am active in Service to the Armed Forces and serve as an International Humanitarian Law Instructor. I have deployed for the San Jose Flood, numerous wildfires and two mass casualty events.

Being a Red Crosser has certainly afforded me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s very refreshing to work for an organization that has a universal humanitarian cause. It feels that you’re actually helping others and Red Cross volunteers are genuinely nice people – they just want to help out and do good.

To learn more about how the Red Cross supports active military, veterans and their families or volunteer to work alongside them to make our communities stronger, visit redcross.org/SAF.

Why I Help: Edmund Tang’s Story

By Sharon J. Alfred, Red Cross, Senior Journalist Volunteer

Photo courtesy of Edmund Tang

Edmund Tang started volunteering with the American Red Cross at an early age. He was just 16 years old when he became heavily involved with the Red Cross Youth Corps. During his high school years, Tang was a dual volunteer in both Northern and Southern California regions. Then he went to the University of California – Santa Cruz.

Settling in the Northern California Coastal Red Cross Region (NCCR), Tang found out there were no formal youth programs there so he met with his Red Cross chapter and region team and AmeriCorps representatives to start official youth programs.  This four-year project was one of his favorites. Tang proudly asserted that “by the time I left my position in 2021, we had a small Youth Corps in our chapter that was linked to the region’s Youth Corps.”

Now, Tang identifies his main volunteer region as the NCCR, though he sometimes volunteers in the Los Angeles area. He said, “I spend a lot of my other time volunteering in NCCR as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) Administrator and Information & Planning (I&P) Coordinator. I am also a medical responder, assistant station leader for the First Aid Stations team in the LA Region for the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA. I deploy nationally in Disaster Health Services (DHS) as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Shelter Associate.”

Photo courtesy of Edmund Tang

Tang continues to volunteer with the Red Cross because of the valued connections he makes in the communities. Even as a busy medical student, he keeps up his Red Cross volunteer activities. “On my breaks from school, I schedule myself available to volunteer at any capacity from tabling events, chapter logistics to community events in both the LA region and NCCR, and I also spent some time virtually as a DAT Dispatcher, taking information and sending DAT responders to calls,” he remarked.

Tang plans to remain a Red Cross volunteer for a long time. He loves to hear disaster victims’ stories of recuperation, progress and recovery, such as: “I am fully recovered from the hospital”; or, “my insurance got everything handled”; or, “I finally got my house rebuilt.”

A Community of Helpers

Photo by Virginia Becker/American Red Cross

Disaster mental health services are an often lesser-known, behind-the-scenes Red Cross resource that is vitally important to the recovery of families affected by disasters. Equally vital are the disaster mental health volunteers that give their time and expertise in support of those who need them. Enter, Sharon Parker.

Sharon is a dedicated disaster mental health volunteer from Santa Cruz, California. She combines her 30 years of work as a psychotherapist with her humanitarian volunteer service as part of Red Cross disaster responses from coast to coast. Although Santa Cruz County has been the principal beneficiary of her many talents, Sharon’s volunteer work has served countless people both throughout Northern and Central California and across the nation.

“When any of us is affected, we are all affected — either directly or indirectly,” she said. “Individuals and communities need a boost in the wake of a disaster, large or small. I’ve belonged to a community of ‘helpers’ for more than 30 years, and I am proud to be part of an organization that steps in following a devastating event and effectively and impartially plays a direct role in easing people’s suffering.” 

Sharon enjoys being on the ground, reaching affected communities and helping folks move forward after a life-changing event like a disaster. From cooperating with her fellow Red Crossers on a “common mission to be of service”, to seeing the work she does become part of a solution to a difficult life situation, to connecting families with local resources so that they may begin the long road to recovery, the time and energy that Sharon dedicates to the Red Cross mission has resulted in many memories and experiences that have remained with her, even years later.

Another aspect of Sharon’s work as a disaster mental health volunteer is being present and offering support to her colleagues who are also deployed. “For example, if we notice a case worker, or another volunteer who is showing signs of needing a break, we approach them and ask if they’d like to take a brief walk, have a bottle of water, or in some other way give them a bit of respite,” she said. She also makes check-in calls, offering counseling and support when fellow Red Crossers come back home after a deployment.  

For all this work and more, Sharon was recently honored with the Clara Barton Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership for the Central Coast Chapter of the Red Cross. Named after the founder of the organization, this special award highlights the significant contributions of volunteers who serve in a series of leadership positions held over a period of years. It is the highest honor of volunteer achievement at the chapter level.

Throughout an ever-changing landscape and advancements in mission delivery and technology, Sharon has met every obstacle with a willingness to learn and adapt, striving to provide better service to those in need.  

“I am humbled by having been nominated for — and then received (!) — the Clara Barton Award for Meritorious Leadership,” she said of the recognition. “This is particularly true because I know very many other volunteers who are truly much more deserving.” 

When asked what advice she would lend to those who may be interested in becoming part of the Red Cross team, she recommends talking with several current volunteers, to gain perspectives regarding the roles they might like to explore. “There really are so many ways to be of service!” she said.

Sharon is a true example of compassion and empathy, and volunteers like her honor the legacy of our founder. Thank you and congratulations on this well-deserved award, Sharon!

“A powerhouse of wonderful human beings” – Meet some of our Emergency Response Vehicle drivers

Stuart Chessen delivering food and supplies to those affected by the Mountain Fire in California in 2013.
Photo courtesy of Stuart Chessen

When disaster strikes, the American Red Cross is there to help, from large-scale events, like floods and wildfires to local emergencies, like home fires. And the response to these situations is possible thanks to the combination of volunteer work and our fleet of Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) which are the keys to reaching communities in times of need.

Stuart Chessen

People like Stuart Chessen, the Specialty Vehicle Lead for the Pacific Division, oversee the maintenance of our ERVs, Mission Ready Vehicles and sheltering trailers. In particular, Stuart also handles the training of our drivers across the Northern California Coastal Region.

Stuart – a Red Cross volunteer in San Jose since 2009 – has always enjoyed volunteering. He feels that there is a special sense of purpose in it. “That is our mission in action,” he says. “I like the way we all work together to help people. We are there to ease some of their pain in this difficult situation, where they just don’t know which way to go because their world’s been turned upside down.” 

Stuart has deployed to many disaster response operations, not only in our region, but also nationwide. The longest and furthest was to New York as an ERV driver after Hurricane Sandy. “We took the vehicle here in San Jose and drove it all the way to the East Coast. We had a small delay in Pennsylvania avoiding bad weather and we reached our destination on Long Island after five days. We did mobile feeding around the neighborhoods where people had no gas or power. They were in cold homes, waiting for us to arrive with a hot meal for them.”

Art Sullivan

For Art Sullivan, being an ERV driver is a rewarding job that fits well with his skillsets. He describes ERVs as a beacon of hope — as a way to “present to communities the visual idea that they are not out there alone. That someone’s thinking about them. That there is hope.”

Art Sullivan standing outside a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle while on a disaster relief deployment.
Photo courtesy of Art Sullivan

Art started volunteering with the Red Cross in 2005, supporting the disaster relief operation after Hurricane Katrina. When asked why he became an ERV driver, he said it provided him with the perfect opportunity to see the Red Cross mission in action following disasters, because volunteers that drive and work inside ERVs are so dedicated to offering aid and service to the victims of these devasting events. After each one of his many deployments, Art has arrived home with good memories and the rewarding feeling of helping folks when they need it most. He says he is always humbled by his encounters with different people and is grateful for the chance to help.

“During floods in Texas, our ERV Team went to a donut shop and asked employees if they knew about communities that could use Red Cross help and they directed us to where they lived,” Art recalls. “We went there and found that hardly anybody was home or that could speak English. But we did find one household in the neighborhood with a resident who was at home, could speak English, and knew everybody in the neighborhood. Trust was built up and her household became the neighborhood pick-up center for disaster supplies. Turns out, almost all of that neighborhood was off working or helping others. This senior citizen re-reminded me of what can be done when you are trusted.”

Virginia and Albert Becker

Virginia Becker has been a Red Crosser for the past 10 years and since her husband Albert also signed up as a volunteer following his retirement in 2017, they have enjoyed being deployed together as a team.

Albert Becker unloading supplies from a partner truck during a disaster response.
Photo courtesy of Al & Virginia Becker

“Being with people is my oxygen.  I am not a desk person; I am a people person,” says Virginia. “With the Red Cross, I can pick assignments that are best suited for me. There is something for everyone to do in the Red Cross – plenty of work for those that want desk work or to work remotely, and plenty of work for those that want direct contact with the people we serve.”

After the Beckers started their Red Cross volunteer journey in public affairs — using their photography expertise to help tell the Red Cross story and ensure the right information reaches right people at the right time — they expanded their volunteer service to include operating ERVs and ensuring the right meals and supplies reach the right people at the right time, too.

“Without ERVs, the heartbeat of the Red Cross would be silent. Everything is moved and put in place using these vehicles. ERV drivers also see the disasters on the ground and can gather information,” Albert said, and Virginia agrees. “This is the real work. Going out into affected communities to bring food and supplies makes a positive difference in the lives of someone who has lost everything,” she said.

For Virginia and Albert, there are a lot of things to love about being ERV drivers –- the comradery of the drivers, the many opportunities to communicate directly with community members affected by disasters, and the constant change of scenery and variety in day-to-day activity that comes along with the role. “You get to meet so many community members when you’re out. You hear their stories and see how the community is doing. You also see parts of the country you otherwise may never visit,” Albert explained.

Photo courtesy of Al & Virginia Becker

“It is a fast-paced role that challenges me at times. The work is never the same. Some days I pass out cleanup supplies, some days it’s food, and some days it’s transporting goods from one Red Cross location to the next. Also, I have never met an ERV driver that I didn’t like! Such a powerhouse of wonderful human beings,” Virginia said.

Virginia and Albert both pinpoint the help ERV drivers provided to those affected by the Lightning Complex Fires in Santa Cruz in 2020 as one of their most impactful experiences yet. Because those displaced were staying in multiple hotels rather than shelters due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the planning and scheduling of routes was more challenging than ever. “No individual or family went without food during this time thanks to the impressive logistics team and the actual drivers themselves. I thought that was a herculean effort by the Red Cross. I was proud to be just a small part of such an important team,” Virginia said.

We thank all the volunteers who sit behind the wheel of our ERVs, helping to deliver comfort and hope to everyone who needs it across our region and beyond.

“It’s not just the support you bring, but the positivity that comes along with it.” – An Interview with Wyn Davies, Red Cross Disaster Action Team member

Photo courtesy of Wyn Davies

American Red Cross volunteers come from many diverse backgrounds, with different life experiences, but they all have something in common: they want to help others in their time of need.

In 2018, Wyn Davies was working for a company that made an in-kind donation to the Red Cross response during the Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties. He had the chance to meet John Ruiz, our Regional Disaster Officer. Wyn was already familiar with Red Cross disaster work because one of his friends was a Disaster Action Team (DAT) supervisor and often shared stories about how the Red Cross helped the community in times of need. Soon after, he decided to join as a volunteer.

What motivates you to dedicate your time to help others and how do you integrate this into your everyday life?
In my professional career, I help large companies with all aspects of their desktop and mobile computing needs. By digging into the issues, I work with extended teams to help alleviate issues people are having, or things that are holding them back. I feel that by being a part of DAT, I am doing the same things but with their immediate life needs. I’m always here to help.

I love to give back to the community and although I generally see people during the darkest of their days, I know what I am doing will help them and that gives me great motivation to keep moving forward.

After a disaster response, one of the residents told me that he and his family have been donating to the Red Cross for years and never thought they would be at the receiving end of our disaster services. You never know when you will need that help yourself, so I always want to make the most of what I can give and do.

Which part of the work with the Disaster Action Team do you enjoy most? What do you think is the most important thing about this role?

I enjoy being with the people we serve in their time of need. I love being able to bring them some kind of hope when they have experienced some kind of loss. It’s hard sometimes but I always have to look at it from the point of view that we are bringing them some much needed help and services. I think that being a beacon of hope for them is the most important part of the job. It’s not just the support you bring but the positivity that comes along with it.

How much time per week or month do you dedicate to your volunteer work?

I try to be on call or at least generally available several days a week, depending on my work schedule.
I also do some other volunteering outside the Red Cross, so I need to balance my time.

What are some of your favorite memories during your work with the Red Cross?  

There have been lots of things I could talk about but it’s really the everyday interaction with those affected by disasters that stand out in my mind. I have been to countless home fires of all types where someone has lost everything they own, and it’s always the interactions with the residents that sticks with me. Hugs too, I love the hugs folks want to give us.

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing that might help people understand and share the work of the Red Cross?

When I tell people what I do for the Red Cross, they immediately start asking about all the different aspects of the help we can provide. I always encourage people to reach out and start the journey themselves to become a volunteer. There are so many different ways you can help that it doesn’t really matter about your background or specific skills, there is always something that can be done to (help people) our clients. Give a little of your time or a lot, it all helps.

The Red Cross is always looking for volunteers just like Wyn. They play critical roles in their local communities making sure families don’t have to face tough times alone. For more information and to apply, visit redcross.org/volunteertoday

Note from the editor: This interview has been edited for clarity.

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