On the front lines of blood donation during Covid-19

By Kerissa Kelly-Slatten, Red Cross volunteer 

The American Red Cross collects on average 40 percent of the national’s blood supply. And that need does not go away, even during a global pandemic such as COVID-19. Hence blood donation and collection was declared by Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the director of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, as an essential task. 

Blood donor ambassadors like me are the first to greet people as they arrive to donate blood. And now, we are the volunteerswho take donor temperatures, to ensure they are healthy and able to donate. We could not serve a more important role, as we are on the literal front line to protect both other donors and blood services staff.  

That is why I am sharing my Blood Donor Ambassador story: 

The Red Cross has always held a special place in my heart. It is where I have made some of my truest and dearest friends. Volunteering with the Red Cross allows you to meet people from all walks of life with one thing in common – the desire to give back and make a difference. Like many Red Crossers, I have held multiple roles in my time with the organization from volunteering at the West Los Angeles VA Hospital with Service to the Armed Forces to serving on the Hometown Heroes committee 

But it took the COVID-19 pandemic for me to add a new position to my Red Cross résumé: Blood Donor Ambassador. 

Just a few months ago, as I reflected on my time with the organization, I realized it had been years since I had last volunteered. Work, school and family kept me busy, but I truly missed my Red Cross friends and volunteering.  

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, I had been looking for ways to give back to the community. So many people needed help, and I wanted to do my part and contribute. So when I heard the Red Cross needed volunteers to help at blood drives, I kneit was my chance to get involved 

Judith, the staff member who onboarded mewas so friendly and helpful during our call that I felt like we had been friends for ages. With so many blood drives happening across LA, it was easy to find shifts at locations close to my home and it was not long before I had signed up for my first shift. 

On my first day as a Blood Donor Ambassador, I arrived early to check in and prepare my station. The nurses had already arrived and greeted me warmly. They showed me the welcome area where I would help to check and screen temperatures before bringing donors inside to check them in for their scheduled appointment. 

The day was beautiful with blue skies and a light breeze. The welcome table was outside the building, so I enjoyed the sunshine and birds chirping as I cleaned and disinfected the table and check-in materials. I felt so lucky to be able to participate in such a crucial and lifesaving mission.  

As donors began to arrive, I felt sense of connection with each one. Here we were, all trying to do our part to give back during this difficult time. Even as public health orders mandated physical distancing to keep everyone safe, we still felt a need to help and a desire to connect. I felt this as each donor checked in and waited for their appointment.  

Most donors came alone, but a few came together: son with mother, brother with sister, cousins and even a group of college friends. As they waited, some would share with me how COVID-19 had impacted their lives and how they saw donating blood as their way to support the community and give back.  

A young woman told me she wanted to be a trauma surgeon and had plans to transfer to a program that would develop these skills. COVID-19 had put a wrench in those plans, as her classes were cancelled or moved online.  

Despite the uncertainty of her future, her hope and enthusiasm were infectious. After she finished donating, she stopped by my table to thank me for my time. I thanked her for coming in to donate and wished her well on her future journey.  

As each donor departed, I wished them good health. Their smiles were hidden behind their masks, but I could still see smiles in their eyes. 

The sun shone brightly as my shift ended and with each small act of generosity, I felt our future looked bright as well 

Together we could hope. Together we could save lives. 

If you are interested in becoming a blood donor ambassador, please apply here. 

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