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.”
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.
“I see my job as being in customer service,” says Melissa Kaplan.
That is putting it mildly. Since Melissa joined the Red Cross in 2006, she has become one of the most dedicated and essential volunteers in the Northern California Coastal Region. She volunteers more than 1,200 hours a year and has performed multiple jobs in her 15 years with the Red Cross.
Fellow volunteer Angela Thompson Hunt nominated Melissa for the Gene Beck Award, named for the long-time volunteer and board member.
“She has worked tirelessly for Red Cross for such a long time and all those behind-the-scenes tasks that let other people make progress. I would not have been able to do the kind of work I’ve done if she wasn’t there with me, backing me up.“
On April 1, 2021, the American Red Cross Heart of the Valley Chapter honored Carl and Jane Knowles for their hard work and dedication at the annual volunteer recognition event (held virtually due to COVID-19 precautions). Located in San Joaquin County, this amazing couple collectively put in over 1,200 volunteer hours in 2020 in various locations and activities, despite a pandemic and quarantine requirements.
For Jane and Carl, 2020 was packed. They worked in disaster assessment for the Lake Berryessa area and served food during the Santa Cruz fires. Jane sewed 450 masks for family, friends, SAF (Service to Armed Forces) and a neighborhood school. Then the Knowles transported large quantities of blood donations, often working double shifts five days a week to compensate for the reduction in volunteer drivers due to COVID-19.
Giving blood is one of the most personal things someone can do. And it’s something that American Red Cross blood donor and volunteer Nancy Houghton does as often as allowed. Nancy has donated blood for years, first as a Red Cross volunteer during the Vietnam war, and then again more recently when someone close to her needed blood.
All blood donors at Red Cross blood centers receive a feedback form asking them why they chose to be a blood donor. Here is what Nancy wrote:
“I know someone who has been getting blood transfusions. Somebody somewhere gave their blood to help him through that. I can do the same for somebody else. We’re all in this together. So simple, so easy, and so important to someone somewhere. It could be you or your loved ones. It made such a difference in his well-being.”
Nancy’s poignant response prompted the public affairs team to reach out and learn more.
Central Coast Chapter Volunteer of the Year Megan Erk says love of community led her to the American Red Cross
By Marcia Antipa
“Showing kindness and getting help to people that need it without regard to anything else – that is how I was brought up.”
Megan Erk – the Volunteer of the Year for the Central Coast Chapter – credits her father for inspiring her dedication to the community. He was a military man who brought his daughter along on volunteer projects.
“I kind of grew up in that environment where people just volunteered in the community to help out.”
Now Megan is taking on multiple roles with the American Red Cross. From hurricanes to wildfires, from blood drives to blog articles, Central Coast Chapter CEO Michele Averill says Megan has more than earned her award.