The American Red Cross, a nonprofit humanitarian organization known to practically everyone in the U.S. and abroad, now celebrates a 75-year anniversary of a presidential proclamation naming the month as Red Cross Month.
"I request that during that month (March) our people rededicate themselves to the splendid aims and activities of the (American) Red Cross," President Franklin D. Roosevelt said of the first proclamation in 1943.
In addition to month-long awareness, Wednesday, March 28, is the official American Red Cross "Giving Day."
As the world's largest volunteer foundation, found in 187 countries — and partners with several other like-minded organizations, the American Red Cross has been a staple to blood donations and supply, human needs, disaster recovery, education and awareness since 1881.
I am proud to be a Red Cross donor, but my donations are minimal when compared to other generous givers in Starved Rock Country.
Stephanie Broadus, of Ottawa, began donating over 20 years ago because she wanted to help those in need and thought giving blood was a good way to do so.
And for Broadus, the ability to help runs in her blood, literally. Just a few vials short of equaling the number of years Red Cross Month was proclaimed, Broadus recently celebrated donation of 72 units.
"My blood type is O negative. I'm considered a 'universal donor,' but if I should need blood, I can only receive O negative blood. I know that the need for donations is great, especially type O negative blood. It's something I do because it makes me feel good to help and I meet people from all walks of life," Broadus told The Times.
One of the many benefits from taking just about an hour out of a day every couple of weeks is the feedback donors receive from the Red Cross. Broadus has enjoyed this welcomed perk.
"I have received emails and postcards from the Red Cross telling me my blood has been sent to a few hospitals. I remember one donation was sent to South Carolina, Wisconsin, Chicago and I believe one was sent to St. Elizabeth's here in Ottawa," she said.
The Red Cross refers to blood donors, monetary donors, medical professionals and volunteers as local heroes — and like Broadus (and many people in La Salle County) Darlene Ray, of Serena, also is one of them.
Ray began donating decades ago and shares the same rare, highly-needed blood type as Broadus.
"I began donating in 1985 for Heartland in the western suburbs and continued with the Red Cross when I moved to Serena, in 1997, she said."My blood type is RH O negative which is somewhat rare. Anyone with another of the eight or so blood types can receive my blood type, however anyone with RH O negative blood type can only receive that same blood type. Only about 5 percent of the world's population are RH type O negative," she explained.
Ray told The Times of her own milestone and why it is so personally gratifying for her to donate.
"I have donated over 100 times and over 25 gallons of blood. I have been told that there is some sort of immunity substance in my blood that can be used for small babies and mothers, but I'm not sure what that substance is. This makes my donations even more meaningful and special for me," she said.
For me, the Red Cross has been a lighthouse in the night. Like me, many Ottawa, Marseilles and Utica residents were helped immensely following the Tornado of 2017. And while some correlate the Red Cross with blood donation, there is so much more the organization does for communities like ours all over the world.
For example, in 2017 alone, in response to disasters, needs and poverty, the American Red Cross provided:
• 13.6 million meals and snacks.
• Seven million relief items.
• 658,000 overnight shelter stays.
• 267,000 health and mental health contacts.
And, through the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, the organization has saved 348 lives, installed 1,135,679 smoke alarms, installed safety measures in 471.735 homes and reached 1,019,644 youths in a specialized awareness campaign.
In other words, if there is a disaster or need, the American Red Cross will be there.
I am extremely grateful for the American Red Cross and the volunteers that make it work. I hope I never need it's services again but feel comfort knowing it is there if I do. And by donating, I feel a sense of "paying it forward" for the help it has given me.
Thinking about donating or helping out?
Broadus and Ray offered advice for those considering blood donation but are not yet quite sure.
"I never have any bad reactions afterwards like fainting, nausea, etc. I benefit because it makes me feel good to give someone in need a chance to get better or it may even save a life. That's a pretty big thanks for such a simple procedure," Ray said.
"Just make an appointment. It's quick, easy and painless. Besides, who knows, maybe you'll save a friend or loved one's life," Broudus said.
Additionally, the American Red Cross accepts monetary donation and volunteer services that help as well.
For more information about the American Red Cross and/or its affiliates, to offer help or to request assistance, visit Redcross.org.
• CHECK OUT the Tuesday, March 13 edition of The Times for a feature article about the American Red Cross. Times correspondent Marj Nelson reports on efforts, Red Cross apps and where to find local blood drives.
• ANGELA ACCOMANDO, a correspondent to The Times, has found herself wondering, "It's National What? Month." Follow her each month as she digs into some of the special designations and causes that fill the calendar. If you have a day, week or month observance you'd like to see addressed, call 815-431-4073 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.