Finding meaningful human connection during COVID-19

By Mary Spellerberg, Red Cross volunteer transportation specialist 

Volunteering has always been so many things for me: a way to connect, give back, be productive, have purpose and find satisfaction. After losing my job in 2020, it became cathartic, too 

Before the pandemic, I volunteered with hotel industry associations and educational groups. When the pandemic hit, and I saw my fellow hospitality brothers and sisters lose their jobs, I knew I needed to reach out and help.  

But how could I do that and stay safe?  

The American Red Cross was the first place that came to mind.  

In May 2020, I signed up to be a Red Cross Blood Transportation Specialist. In simpler terms, I drive blood from the donation site to the processing center and then to the hospital. I have logged more than 180 hours with the Red Cross, delivering blood to hospitals across the Greater Los Angeles area. By delivering blood and plasma, we reduce administrative fees and save lives with our timely deliveries.  

Human connection can still happen even in these COVID-19 times. Red Cross volunteer Rick Carberry took the time to show me the ropes as I shadowed him at a couple of hospitals. This ensured my success when I did my first shift on my own 

I prefer morning shifts and look forward to seeing Clarence and Lenny. They are always happy to see me, and I them. The volunteers are a wonderfully wide range of people, from pre-med students to retirees, people working from home that want to give back to ones looking for jobs like me. 

[Blood Center staff members Lenny (left) and Clarence (right)]

It is easy to sign up for shifts that fit your schedule during the week or the weekend, early or late. Everyone finds time that fits into their widely-varied schedules.  

A day in the life 

At the start of each day, I get my temperature checked by either Clarence or Lenny. Then I check out my Red Cross van and set it up for my shift. 

Most of the time, I am in the Red Cross van by myself driving from the blood distribution center to a hospital or clinic that needs blood or blood products. When I get to the hospital, I go through their screening process and make my way to the blood bank. The blood technicians see that I am a volunteer and some even thank me for what I do. My contact with people is minimal, which is what I need to feel safe during the pandemic.  

I have been to more than 30 hospitals in the Greater Los Angeles area and some of them multiple times. It has been eyeopening to see Los Angeles change througthe stages of shutdown and to see how hospitals are constantly adapting their procedures to keep their patients, vendors and staff safe. 

There is still a need for volunteers, particularly now when people may be less inclined to volunteer because of the surge of COVID-19 cases. However, I feel confident Red Cross is following the proper health and safety protocols to ensure safe volunteering.  

If I did not volunteer this year, I would not have had this anchor to my community. I thrive on being around people, whether it be in real life or virtually. I always want to be useful. The Red Cross was able to provide that for me. 

Are you willing to answer the call? 

 

Become a Blood Transportation Specialist. 

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