American Red Cross volunteer – and recent transplant to Fairfield – Susan Reese always planned to work with the Red Cross when she retired. When Susan finally retired from the restaurant industry last year, she became a volunteer wildfire associate. While working at a Local Assistance Center (LAC) during the North Complex fires in Yuba City, disaster response leadership called for people to join the feeding team. Susan jumped up, and said, “Feeding is what I love doing!” Just like that, Susan’s first deployment brought everything full circle.
Susan first had contact with the Red Cross in 1997 when she lived in Klamath, California. That year, the Klamath River breeched and flooded the town. Susan says that the entire area “was wiped out.” The Red Cross arrived and began to feed survivors and evacuees by bringing in food from a neighboring city.
The first time Juanita Ellington donated blood, she was in her late 20s and became a little woozy during the process. She opted not to donate for a while, but then COVID hit. In December 2020, Juanita fell ill with COVID-19, which left traces of the virus’s antibodies in her blood. So, after a 30-year hiatus, Juanita decided to donate her platelets and plasma, specifically to help those who were sick.
As Juanita explains, “I had COVID; I know what it feels like. I feel very fortunate that I was not in the hospital like others, suffering.”
Before Juanita took ill, her father experienced a rapid decline due to an unrelated, pre-existing condition. Sick and isolated, Juanita endured her father’s failing health, his subsequent admission to the hospital, and his untimely demise. After a horrific year of unrest, sickness, and death, Juanita is determined to turn her tribulations into positive outcomes through regular blood donations.
When Tracy Pico walked into the American Red Cross blood donation center in Pleasant Hill, California to donate blood, she was on a mission. She was determined to help another person in need just as others had donated blood for her 14-year-old daughter, Brandi. Last year, Brandi endured a long and arduous course of treatment for cancer which included multiple transfusions.
Tracy’s family have all been blood donors for years. In fact, her father has been a regular donor for over 30 years at the Red Cross facility in Pleasant Hill. But it was Brandi’s ordeal with cancer that ignited her personal commitment to become a blood donor.
In June of 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brandi was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. Ewing’s Sarcoma is a rare form of bone cancer that typically occurs in children and young adults. Her early symptoms, which included a painful bump below her left knee, were initially thought to be caused by another condition that, although painful, would eventually resolve. Unfortunately, the first diagnosis was wrong, and Brandi faced a devastating cancer diagnosis at an incredibly young age.
Penny Mount likes to have her hands full of projects and people for whom she cares. During a recent phone chat to talk about compassion calls she made on behalf of the American Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program, she was also looking after her 11-month-old great-granddaughter, Jolene. “She’s headstrong, just like her mother,” Penny says. By the end of that same call, Jolene had “creatively decorated herself” and Penny’s counter with her lunch. “Her mother’s not going to be too happy with me,” Penny chuckled.
And that’s just how it is with Penny: breezy, light and full of gratitude.
The compassion calls were part of SAF’s month of service this past February. Volunteers from across the Northern California Coastal Region placed calls to the nearly 3,000 families served by SAF in the last 18 months. They checked on the families’ health and welfare and extended a hand of assistance should any be needed. The purpose was to deliver the Red Cross mission of providing care and comfort to service members, veterans and military families.