This past Monday, September 27, the American Red Cross welcomed local dignitaries and members of the press to celebrate the recent opening of the San Francisco Blood and Platelet Donation Center 1663 Market Street. San Francisco Mayor London Breed thanked the Red Cross for the new community asset and emphasized the need for donors, especially given the current shortage. “You never know the impacts of what your blood can do for someone else.”
The center opened just in time. On September 14, the Red Cross launched a sickle cell initiative to grow the number of blood donors who are Black to help patients with sickle cell disease and improve health outcomes. You can learn more about the Red Cross sickle cell initiative here.
Tirtza Pearl of San Francisco figures she has deployed nearly 60 times since she joined the Red Cross in 1991 after the devastating firestorm swept through the hills of neighboring Oakland. Only recently, however, has she convinced her husband, Barry, to join her. Both Pearls worked in a Red Cross shelter in the Cameron Park Community Center in El Dorado County after the Caldor Fire in September. It was Barry’s second deployment.
“The people who volunteer for the Red Cross are an amazing group of people, ” Barry said. “They devote heart and soul to the clients.”
Barry says, so far, he’s only deployed with Tirtza. “I feel much more confident of all her years of experience,” he said. “I’m still learning the ropes.”
In addition to recruiting her husband, Tirtza has brought another special guest along on at least ten deployments – Gumby. The stretchy green figure represents the unofficial motto of the Red Cross “Semper Gumby” or “Forever Flexible.”
Natalie Allstead first donated blood in high school, almost ten years ago. “Part of it was a chance to get out of history class,” she says. “And they give you cookies afterward!” She donated regularly throughout high school and then returned to donating after graduating college.
“I’m not super religious,” she says. “But I stick to the values of my childhood – and love thy neighbor is a pretty good approach to most things. People have value – they don’t have to prove anything to deserve this care.”
Natalie says that giving blood is only mildly uncomfortable but fulfilling overall. She’s even taken friends with her on occasion to make it a social event. When not giving blood, Natalie works in marketing as a writer. She volunteers where she can, loves to play Animal Crossing and “chilling” with her cat, Merlin.
She keeps it all pretty simple.
“I try and confront myself with the question: ‘What if it was a stranger, would it matter less?” Natalie adds, “Thankfully no one [in my family] has ever needed that kind of care but someone else’s family has.”
The American Red Cross honored Suzie Hall with the Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership in Sonoma County for her extensive volunteer efforts. Named after the founder of the American Red Cross, this award recognizes a volunteer for service in a series of leadership positions held over several years.
The top-honor recipient joined the Red Cross back in 2014 through San Jose’s local chapter. Following her departure from a career in Silicon Valley at Apple Inc., Suzie searched for a new community to call home. Hall sought a slower pace of life and desired to be closer to friends and family, so she put down new roots in Oakmont in Santa Rosa. She quickly dedicated her time and energy to a volunteer leadership position within the Red Cross using her IT and seasoned management experience to serve the needs of the organization.
Her current focus is on the Volunteer Connection Tech Team and she works with two other volunteers – Linnea Dunn and Ayman Baydoun. Hall’s expertise and strong leadership help manage and streamline the system. If volunteers have an issue or question, they can write in for support. “It’s a huge system that runs the lifeblood of how we communicate with everyone.” Volunteers update their availability and accept shifts, among other things.
Historic Red Cross youth conference pivots to create increased access for students
This year, the American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region hosted a four-day virtual youth development conference from June 21-24, attended by more than 225 student delegates and 20 youth staff. While this year’s Leadership Development Center (LDC) was modified due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it still provided an opportunity for youth ages 13-18 to develop and cultivate core leadership skills such as teamwork, public speaking and diversity awareness through virtual presentations, workshops and small group discussions.
The staff prepared for seven months to plan the curriculum and activities for the conference, all from scratch. Camp directors Emily Elmore and Gaby Azcarate led the process, and while the directors and youth staff were afraid that some of the camaraderie that delegates get in their small groups would be lost in this modified format, they worked hard to make sure that planned activities included opportunities for delegates to get to know each other and work as a team, even in a virtual environment.
“A positive note on the virtual conference is that it opened the door to have students attend who otherwise may not have been able to spend a full week with us in person,” said Allie Parker, Red Cross Volunteer and Youth Services Manager. “We were also able to invite more guest speakers to join us who may have had more difficulties attending an event in person.”
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.