By Gordon Williams 

Responding to help a disaster victim in Bellingham, WA

March is American Red Cross Month — first proclaimed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1943 and just reaffirmed by President Joe Biden. And while you can observe the occasion by donating money or blood, you could do the greatest good by becoming one of the organization’s 300,000 volunteers. 

Around 90 percent of all Red Cross workers in the United States are volunteers — doing jobs as diverse as assisting at blood drives, helping members of the military get through family crises, and bringing relief to disaster victims. Asked who might volunteer for the Red Cross, Regional Volunteer Services Officer Katie Prettyman replies, “Anyone who has time.”  

You can pick a volunteer position that fits your time schedule. “Assisting at a blood drive might involve one day a month,” Prettyman says. “If you are on a Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT), responding to disasters, you might be on call for a full week every six weeks.”  

At the scene of a multi-unit apartment fire in Bellevue, WA

Any special skills you bring to the Red Cross will be put to good use. Individuals with training in nursing or mental health are always needed at disaster scenes. If you are trained in first aid or water safety you could teach those skills to others. Prettyman says the only thing you must have as a volunteer “is a desire to be there for people in their time of greatest need.” Once you volunteer, she says, “the Red Cross will teach you everything you need to know.” 

Some volunteer positions can be demanding — physically and emotionally. As a disaster responder, you can expect to be called out in the middle of the night to assist victims of a home fire or a flood. You could be deployed for a week or more helping victims of a hurricane in Florida or wildfire in California.  

Some volunteer opportunities are just right for younger people. Helping at a disaster scene could involve heavy lifting of cots and other supplies. Installing smoke alarms as part of the Red Cross Home Fire campaign means time spent atop a ladder. The demands of school or a job could make it hard to find free time. But you would commit only as much time as you have available to becoming a volunteer. “If you are in school or working, you can still volunteer to work on weekends or holidays,” Prettyman says. 

A King County DAT volunteer supports client casework virtually

Nor is advanced age a barrier to becoming a Red Cross volunteer. “Many Red Cross jobs are virtual and can be performed from the comfort of your own home,” Prettyman says. “Thirty-three percent of our workforce is seniors 65 and older.” 

One of the best-known and most visible Red Cross functions is responding to disasters as members of a Disaster Action Team. The Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 disasters a year across the United States. Many are home fires, involving just a single family, But some are storms or floods or wildfires, where those needing assistance might number in the hundreds.  

You might work in a shelter for disaster victims — keeping them housed and fed. But there is always a demand for volunteers with special skills, such as providing nursing care where needed and helping disaster victims with mental or spiritual care needs. Even in a shelter, many jobs don’t make heavy physical demands on volunteers. Plenty of Red Cross disaster responders are retirees who want to give back to their communities. 

The Red Cross collects more than 6.4 million units of blood per year from nearly 2.6 million donors. Anyone 18 or older and in good health can donate blood. Nor is there an upper age limit on donating blood. This blog has reported on Carl Garrison, a 95-year-old Washington resident who still donates blood on a regular basis. 

If you can’t donate blood, you can help in other ways. Blood ambassadors assist at blood drives —signing donors in and helping them through the collection process. Blood needs to be transported to the hospitals where it will be used. All you need to transport blood is a driver’s license and some spare time. A recent blog item introduced you to John Trudeau, a Yakima retiree who delivers blood to a local hospital at least once a day, every day. 

The Red Cross office at Joint Base Lewis McChord, WA

The Red Cross helps more than a half-million service members each year, both active duty and retired. Red Cross volunteers help service members and their families get through emergencies. Volunteers help with resiliency training — teaching service members and their families how to cope with the stresses of military life. There are two huge military hospitals in the region — Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis McChord and Navy Hospital Bremerton.  Red Cross volunteers assist in many ways at these hospitals. 

What if you want to volunteer but need to work from home? It takes mountains of data to keep tabs on Red Cross volunteers and those they assist. Prettyman says there is a constant need for volunteers to process all that data. “We need all the data entry we can get just to onboard new volunteers into the Red Cross,” she says. 

If you do want to make the most of Red Cross Month by volunteering, go to redcross.org/volunteertoday. That will show you available volunteer positions and start you on the volunteering process. Volunteer now and you could make a positive difference in someone’s life long before Red Cross Month comes to an end. 

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