Though Sarah McNeil, Manager of Red Cross Foundation Relations, is fairly new to the organization, she is not new to a commitment to service.
Growing up in Portland, Maine where there was a big refugee resettlement community, she saw poverty every day. Even as a young child, she says, she was asking herself and those around her, “Why is life unfair to some people?” It seemed natural to her later in high school and college to do what she could to level the playing field.
She volunteered in summer reading programs, worked on after school enrichment projects and, at University of Vermont, planned for a career in public policy. Though she chose an academically oriented field removed from the front lines, she says she carried with her images of the children she had tutored and one compelling thought. “How can they learn when these kids don’t even have lunch?”
After some time in New York working on public policy research and traveling the country visiting a variety of non-profit programs, it was becoming clear to her, she explains, that she needed to be on the ground in a direct service organization.
“The Red Cross fascinated me. How could an organization be so large and yet have such local appeal? That is unique!” So she pulled up stakes, moved to Boston, a city close to her hometown and a city she loves, came to the Red Cross, rolled up her sleeves and went to work.
Every day through her fundraising work, she says she understands more about the organization’s curious ability to serve in the highly public and most dramatic ways in disasters and, yet, at the same time, in the grassroots and perhaps most intimate ways like providing food security to the underserved. And it’s the Boston Food Pantry that she often shows potential donors and that she says, reminds her “at a visceral level’ the absolute importance of an organization like the Red Cross. The food pantry and the uncomplaining volunteers she sees daily coming and going in the building, she says, “make it impossible to lose sense of what I’m working for.” And what about that haunting image that stays with her of the food-deprived kids she tutored way back when? She answers modestly. “The pursuit of equity just seems to follow me through life.”