In times of tragedy, both natural and man-made, the American Red Cross dispenses vital relief to those impacted, from sheltering fire evacuees to caring for survivors of mass shootings.
But with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the 139-year-old humanitarian organization was forced to reevaluate and restructure its operations to protect not only the lives of those it serves, but also its hundreds of thousands of volunteers and employees across the country.
“The pandemic really turned our entire sheltering process upside down,” said Colin Williams, who manages the Red Cross’s communications for the Arizona and New Mexico region.
The American Red Cross of Greater Phoenix is one of more than 100 Arizona nonprofits supported by The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com’s annual holiday giving campaign, Season for Sharing.
‘Gone were the shelters’
In the past, The Red Cross relied on congregant sheltering — in the moments after a tragedy they would set up cots and starting preparing meals in gymnasiums, arenas and community centers.
But when the pandemic made that impossible, the organization had to get creative with its sheltering strategy.
“Gone were the shelters and in came the hotels and dormitories,” Williams said.
The Red Cross began partnering with hotels so they could house people in a way that allowed for social distancing. Instead of the buffet-style meals served pre-pandemic, Red Cross volunteers began dropping meals off for people to eat in their hotel rooms and dorms.
The Red Cross is a volunteer-driven organization, said Williams, and a large percentage are older people and therefore more likely to suffer complications from COVID-19.
The Red Cross took the dramatic step of drastically reducing its number of volunteers, instead implementing “strike teams,” small groups of people to tackle Red Cross field operations.
“From the beginning, The Red Cross has been overly concerned and very protective of our volunteers,” said Williams.
During this year’s wildfire season in Arizona, the Red Cross got by with just 10 to 15 volunteers — down from the 100 volunteers they would have in a normal year.
Another pandemic problem: Fewer blood donations
A major component of The Red Cross’s lifesaving work is managing blood donation drives that often happen at school, businesses and places of worship, many of which were shuttered through much of the pandemic.
As a result, blood drives were canceled. “Almost everybody in the blood drive world canceled,” said Williams. “It was absolutely insanity.”
At the same time President Donald Trump and Gov. Doug Ducey were issuing pleas for the public to donate blood, the Red Cross was scrambling to secure locations to host the blood drives.
In the summer, the Red Cross announced that they were below their five-day blood supply goal.
Williams said The Red Cross began to connect with community partners able to safely host blood drives.
The public responded to the calls to donate — almost too well.
“Then we got to the point where we actually had too much blood,” Williams said. The challenge was finding the balance.
Williams is concerned that blood donations will dip once again during the holiday season, as schools close for winter break.
“It’s a challenge but I also know people are very giving during the holidays.”
While blood drives are still being canceled, Williams said he is heartened by community partners willing to open their doors to host blood drives, such as Chase Field, State Farm Stadium, the Civil Air Patrol and even private businesses like karate dojos.
“When the history books are written about this pandemic, they should be in there because they’re the ones that took that opportunity … to help the situation,” Williams said.
To donate blood through the Red Cross, you can go to redcrossblood.org and enter your zip code to find the donation site closest to you. The Red Cross also relies on monetary donations from the public. To support The Red Cross you can go to their website at redcross.org/donate or donate to Season for Sharing.
How to donate to Season for Sharing
With the help of our readers, we’ve raised — and given away — nearly $68 million to nonprofit organizations around the state over the past 26 years. Help us continue that support.
Here are four ways to donate to Season for Sharing:
- Fill out the secure, online form at sharing.azcentral.com.
- Text “SHARING” to 91-999 and click on the link in the text message.
- Go online at facebook.com/seasonforsharing and look for the “DONATE HERE” post.
- Clip the coupon on Page 4A of The Arizona Republic, fill it out and mail it to P.O. Box 29250, Phoenix AZ 85038-9250.
Where does the money go?
When you give to Season for Sharing, your donation goes toward helping nonprofits that support education, feed the hungry and help struggling families.
Every dollar of your donations and matching funds go to Arizona nonprofit organizations, because all overhead and fundraising costs are covered by The Republic.
Matching your donation
Through partnerships with our community partners the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and the Arizona Community Foundation, your charitable donations have even more of an impact.
Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust matches 50 cents on the dollar up to $100,000.
The Arizona Community Foundation provides the grant application portal and manages the collection of donations and distribution of grants.