It’s hard to imagine anyone in the western world hasn’t at least heard of the Red Cross. They’re the blood drive people, right? While it is true that they provide more than 40% of blood products in this country, they do much more than collect and distribute blood donations. According to their website, redcross.org, this amazing organization, founded in 1821 by Clara Barton, works to relieve suffering when it occurs but also to stop it from happening in the first place when that is possible. They do this by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. So, while collecting blood donations plays a significant role in their task, this is definitely not the only job the Red Cross does.
According to Sharon Kesselring, executive director of American Red Cross of the Ohio River Valley, the Red Cross has had a presence in the Mid-Ohio Valley since 1917. Since its beginnings in the early twentieth century, when it serviced only Parkersburg, the chapter has grown until it now provides for fifteen counties in West Virginia and four in Ohio. And those services include disaster relief and training of various kinds, such as first aid certification classes and swimming lessons.
During the pandemic, Kesselring said the local chapter, as was true for the whole country, faced challenges, the chief being, fulfilling their congressionally mandated mission. Unlike many businesses and organizations, though, the Red Cross did not have the option of simply shutting down. Disasters didn’t stop and people didn’t stop needing blood products, so for the most part work continued with enhanced safety protocols in place.
While some less urgent services, such as smoke alarm installation and certain activities to enhance preparedness were curtailed, every other job they do continued, though in many cases with fewer personnel. Existing paid staff had to fill in several gaps while hiring freezes were in place and volunteers were unavailable. Despite having to take temperatures at entrances, wear masks at all times, social distance, and increase sanitization practices beyond already stringent standards, blood drives and other critical services continued.
We will continue to help our supporters and those yet to support to understand how much their gifts of time, money, and blood make a difference in both their neighbors’ lives and those they don’t even know.
“Technology upgrades occurred practically overnight,” Kesselring said, allowing some types of disaster response to become virtual. Sometimes, though, the situation calls for boots-on-the-ground response and the Red Cross was there whenever such an emergency arose. An added service that has come as a result of COVID-19 is antibody testing of all donations. “Beyond this, the Red Cross led a coalition of blood banks to provide convalescent plasma for hospital patients,” Kesselring said.
In looking to the future, Kesselring said the need for her organizations services grows each year. And she wanted to make it clear that the Red Cross is not a government agency, but a non-profit organization, one that relies on the generosity of donors.
“We will continue to help our supporters and those yet to support to understand how much their gifts of time, money, and blood make a difference in both their neighbors’ lives and those they don’t even know,” she said.
Financial contributions slowed as a result of the pandemic, but Kesselring was happy to report they are picking back up. But they can always use more. In case you’re concerned about where your money will go, Kesselring reports that roughly ninety cents of every dollar donated to Red Cross goes to providing services. One of the ways this is possible is that 90% of their workforce is made up of volunteers.
Chances are you have been the recipient of services from Red Cross, even if you may not know it. Have you ever needed a blood transfusion? Chances are pretty good you have the Red Cross to thank for that blood being available. This despite the grim reality that, according to redcross.org, only 3% of people have ever donated blood.
Or maybe you’ve required assistance for some reason. Maybe you had a heart attack and required CPR, or you choked on some food and needed help, or you got a cramp while swimming and may have drowned if not for the aid of a lifeguard. Chances are really good the person who provided that care was trained by Red Cross.
Or you were faced with a disaster so dire you just didn’t know what to do next, and then you found out that Red Cross assistance was what was next.
If any of those things are true of you, perhaps you should consider giving back by donating blood or becoming trained in first aid or disaster relief, or even simply giving a cash donation. If so, or you simply have questions, just email Sharon Kesselring. She will be able to answer your questions, let you know where and how to donate blood or money, and help you discover all the other ways you can serve your fellow travelers through American Red Cross of the Ohio River Valley.