15 Things the Red Cross Wants You to Know

Red Cross reps dish on the things they wish people knew, from preparing to give blood to responding to disasters.

They do way more than host blood drives

Let’s be honest: “When people think about the Red Cross, they usually think of the organization responding to large disasters like hurricanes or hosting blood drives in their local communities,” says Greta Gustafson, spokesperson for the American Red Cross. “However, the Red Cross does much more than just that.”

For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve been recruiting recovered patients for plasma donations, assessing the antibodies to see if the convalescent plasma could provide a treatment for the illness caused by the virus. From providing CPR and first aid training courses to sending specialists to work with disaster survivors, to preparing families for military service, the Red Cross’s impact reaches far beyond your local blood drive.

You don’t need to know your blood type to donate

Over 53 percent of people believe they need to know their blood type before giving blood, a 2018 national survey found. But according to Jessa Merrill, spokesperson for the American Red Cross, that is simply not true. “We need donors of all blood types to ensure a sufficient supply for patients,” she says. Once you donate blood, you can learn your blood type by creating a profile through the Red Cross Blood Donor App or requesting to receive a blood donor card. Here’s why O is the most common blood type.

Alexa can schedule your next blood donation appointment

Signing up to give blood has never been easier. Long gone are the days of putting pen to paper; now, eligible donors can make an appointment from the comfort of their own homes. Schedule a blood donation by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, or calling 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767). According to Merrill, you can also enable Amazon Alexa’s “Red Cross Blood” skill via the Alexa app and find a nearby blood drive by saying “Alexa, find a blood drive.” From there, you can book an appointment.

They install free smoke alarms

At the Red Cross’s “Sound the Alarm” events, volunteers team up with local fire departments to canvass neighborhoods in at-risk communities across the country, installing free smoke alarms, replacing dead alarm batteries, and teaching fire safety to residents. This effort has already saved over 580 lives nationwide, Gustafson says, and that number will only grow as the word spreads. She suggests visiting SoundTheAlarm.org to learn how you can join this year’s campaign in all 50 states. Find out some more things firefighters wish you knew.

Their apps could save your life one day

Emergency situations can occur when you least expect them—and unless you are a medical professional, it’s not always clear what you should do if you encounter one. Luckily, both the Red Cross First Aid app and the Emergency app can deliver lifesaving information right to the palm of your hand. These tools offer step-by-step first aid instructions, safety tips for severe weather like tornadoes and hurricanes, and more. To download them, search for “American Red Cross” in your phone’s app store or go to redcross.org/apps.

Always keep an emergency preparedness kit handy

Don’t have an emergency kit? It’s time to make one. Not only can it store first aid items like band-aids when you’re in a pinch, but it could also save your life in a true emergency. According to Gustafson, “your emergency preparedness kit should contain food, water, and other basic supplies for each family member to last at least three days.” She also suggests including medications, copies of important documents, and special items like toys for children and pets.

Donating money really does help in a disaster

Disasters can strike anywhere and at any time—COVID-19 has made that clearer than ever. With a financial donation, you can help the Red Cross provide relief to disaster victims around the world and in your own backyard. “Donations are used to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters big and small,” Gustafson says. “This includes providing food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support, recovery planning, and other assistance as well as supporting the vehicles, warehouses, and people that make that help possible.” These are the useful ways you can help after a natural disaster, too—besides donating clothes.

Only 3 in 100 Americans give blood

When it comes to giving blood, “the most frequent mistake that people make is that they simply don’t,” according to Merrill. In fact, only three out of 100 people in the United States donate blood, she says. Yet the Red Cross estimates that one in seven hospital patients need a blood transfusion, from kids battling cancer to new moms recovering from complicated childbirths. That can add up to nearly 13,000 units a day, according to their website. When push comes to shove, every drop of blood counts—and yours really can make a difference. Especially right now, as people have been (rightly) staying home for months, the Red Cross is in need of donations. Blood drive facilities are taking utmost precautions, including temperature checks and mandatory face masks, to make sure that employees and donors stay safe.

blood bagsplenoy m/Shutterstock

Sleep and eat well before donating blood

Before arriving at your local blood drive, experts say it’s important to rest up and chow down. Getting a good night’s sleep, eating a heart-healthy meal, and hydrating ahead of your scheduled appointment will help the entire process go more smoothly. Merrill suggests that donors drink an extra four 8-ounce glasses of fluids and eat nutritious foods rich in iron and vitamin C—such as red meat, fish, poultry, beans, and spinach—before giving blood.

You’re more likely to lose your home in a fire than win the lottery

Two in five people believe they are more likely to win the lottery than lose their home to a fire, according to a recent survey by the Red Cross. But the reality is quite the opposite: The odds of winning the lottery are one in millions, while the chance of dying from exposure to fire or smoke is nearly one in 1,500, Merrill says. To keep you and your family safe, Gustafson recommends checking your smoke alarms once a month and practicing a fire escape plan at least twice a year.

Plan and practice a family emergency procedure

Most people don’t think about preparing for an emergency until it’s too late. That’s why Gustafson recommends reading up on common disasters or emergencies in your area, finding out how to get in touch with local officials for information, and taking first aid and CPR courses ahead of time. You should also make a plan with your family in case you are separated, coordinating it with your child’s school, your work, and your community’s emergency plans, she says. To get started, learn how to survive just about anything.

Got the sniffles? It might prevent you from giving blood

If you wake up the morning of the local blood drive with a telltale tickle in your throat, consider calling to cancel your appointment. The Red Cross will turn away donors who are not feeling well, and even “seasonal illnesses like the flu can affect a blood donor’s ability to give,” Merrill says. It’s an added precaution to keep both the people receiving the blood, as well as the other donors at the blood drive, healthy and disease-free—which is crucial especially right now.

Give your time as well as your blood

Donating blood is not the only way you can make a difference through the Red Cross. “Another way to help is by signing up to volunteer,” Gustafson says. Volunteers make up about 90 percent of the American Red Cross workforce and respond to an average of more than 62,000 disasters every year, according to Gustafson. If you’re interested in volunteering, visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more.

Come to your blood donation appointment prepared

The process of donating blood takes approximately one hour from start to finish, according to Merrill. With that in mind, arriving prepared for your appointment is key to making the experience more comfortable for you. Merrill suggests wearing a t-shirt or top with sleeves that can be rolled up easily, in addition to bringing along your favorite book, movie, or music to help you relax.

You’re never too old to donate blood

Most states require blood donors to be at least 17 years old, but there is no upper age limit for donating, according to Merrill. “In fact, many elderly individuals are some of our most dedicated blood donors, and we encourage others to join them in helping ensure blood products are available for people in need,” she says. Next, learn the heart-wrenching history of the moment that began the Red Cross.

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Brooke Nelson
Brooke is a tech and consumer products writer covering the latest in digital trends, product reviews, security and privacy, and other news and features for RD.com.