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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!

“I had nothing the next day.” – Advice from a home fire survivor

By Alex Keilty

Photo courtesy of Minh Tran

“I ran out of my house with slippers – that’s everything,” says Minh Tran. “I had nothing the next day.” 

On a night in November 2019, a fire spread from Minh’s fireplace to engulf his home in Gilroy. While his family made it out alive, the house was totally destroyed.

Minh knows how close he came to losing his family and credits the house’s smoke alarms for saving their lives. “Without the alarm we might be dead,” he says.

Now as an American Red Cross Community Volunteer Leader, Minh is determined to raise awareness of the need to be prepared for home fires and other disasters.

“In this area we have earthquakes, wildfires, flooding, home fires, power outages,” Minh says. “From my experience of the fire, I know the need to be better prepared.”

Minh’s advice? Install working smoke alarms, make sure to have adequate home insurance, and keep a disaster kit ready to go.

“Everybody should have a disaster kit in the home – water and food for three days – so when disaster hits they can grab that bag and run,” says Minh.

Joining the Red Cross last year, he has been acting as a liaison with the Vietnamese community. Minh came to San José from Vietnam 28 years ago to reunite with his family and live in this area since. 

This year, he helped recruit volunteers from his community for Sound the Alarm, a program of the Red Cross to provide home fire safety education and install free smoke alarms in local homes.

“Volunteering is fun and fulfilling,” he says. And he recommends more people from the Vietnamese community join him in furthering the Red Cross mission.

To find out more about volunteering for the Red Cross, please visit redcross.org.  

Looking back on 2021

Please join us as we say goodbye to 2021 with a look back at some of our favorite stories of the year from all of our lines of service.

Service to the Armed Forces

Lisa Ann Rohr was one of nine Red Cross SAF Mobile personnel who left the U.S. for overseas duty from August 2020 to April 2021. Lisa Ann was one of two Red Crossers initially stationed in Iraq, at the diplomatic post Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC).

She says: “My entire ‘boots on the ground’ experience providing virtual services in Emergency Communications Messaging Delivery and Service Member follow-up with my peers, to creative ‘no contact’ distribution of incoming holiday donations, gifts and personal care items, to organizing cooking classes, language classes, and cultural history classes for U.S. and Coalition military forces serving their deployment rotation at BDSC, was a dream come true!”

You can read more about Lisa’s experiences here.


Lifesaving Blood

Blood donor Jennifer Sahni credits the Red Cross for saving her life after a challenging childbirth. After delivery, Jennifer’s cesarean incision would not stop bleeding. She received two units of blood, which stabilized her. Two days later, she had to receive a second transfusion with an additional two units of blood. She was able to go home the next day.

“I am so grateful to the people who donated the blood I received,” Jennifer said. “Because of them, I was able to go home and be with my kids. You can read more about Jennifer’s story here.


Training Services

On Tuesday, March 16, two local residents were honored with American Red Cross commendations in a virtual ceremony hosted by the organization’s Central Coast Chapter.

“These two individuals exemplify the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies and are to be commended for their willingness to help others in distress.” – Michele Averill, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Central Coast Chapter. You can read more about Linda and Robert here.


International Services

Red Crossers and the public at large were invited to a speaker series to learn how the American Red Cross International Services team provides relief and hope in communities around the globe by reconnecting families separated by crises, helping rebuild communities devastated by disasters and working alongside health organizations to eliminated global disease. 

Featured panelists included Chris Losavio, Executive Director, Heart of the Valley Chapter American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region; Patrick Hamilton, Head of Delegation for the United States and Canada International Committee of the Red Cross; Koby J. Langley, Senior Vice President, Service to the Armed Forces and International Services American Red Cross; Christine Medeiros, Pacific Division Lead, Restoring Family Links American Red Cross. You can view a recording of the discussion here.


Disaster Services

Navy veteran Michael Ocaranza awoke earlier this year to flames engulfing his apartment. He had just enough time to grab his dog, Sparky, and race out the door as fire licked around his head.

American Red Cross volunteers and case managers, Betsy Witthohn and Cindy Jones, first contacted Mike during his hospitalization and began to put together resources for his welfare following his stay. During the recovery process, Mike says they became “like friends from the past that I never had before – it’s a good feeling all over.”

You can read more about Mike’s story here.


From all of us in Communications, Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year!

If you have a story lead for any one of our writers, please email us at NCCRPublicAffairs@redcross.org.

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