Volunteers are invaluable to the daily operation of the American Red Cross and are truly the heart and soul of the organization. Every day Red Cross volunteers are out in the community responding to disasters; supporting the armed forces; aiding international services; teaching lifesaving health and safety skills; and assisting donors at blood drives.
The work performed by these compassionate individuals is inspirational and one might wonder what originally inspired them to volunteer?
For Joe Fantozzi of Nutley, it was experiencing the illnesses of two loved ones which led him to volunteer with the Red Cross North Jersey Region.
In 2012, Joe’s close friend, Ron, was rushed to the emergency room where tests concluded Ron had a dangerously low white blood cell count. Ron was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and would need a blood transfusion and bone marrow transplant.
Joe decided it was time to take action. He registered to donate bone marrow in hopes of helping his dear friend. Unfortunately, the lengthy testing and registration meant that even if Joe turned out to be a match it would be too late for him to help Ron.
Joe sat by his friend’s side while he underwent chemotherapy and blood transfusions.
“I thought joining the marrow registry was enough,” Joe said. “One day I watched him, shivering, barely able to speak, still getting blood transfusions. Ron did not know I was even in the room with him. I was crying into my own coffee because I knew there was absolutely nothing I could do to take his pain away. Wishing that I could change places with him, even for just an hour.”
Ron’s leukemia is now in remission and Joe says he’s doing great.
As Joe cared for his friend, there was no way for him to know that only a year later his family would face leukemia.
The morning after his wedding to his wife, Deana, Joe learned a family member had been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.
“My heart sunk,” said Joe. “I was heartbroken. I knew I had to do something.”
When Joe returned from his honeymoon in the Dominican Republic he drove to the Red Cross Blood Donor Center in Fairfield to donate blood and platelets. As a result of his recent trip, Joe was deferred from donating blood for a year due to potential exposure to Malaria.
“I wept. Yes, I wept right there in the chair in the blood center,” Joe recalled.
Still upset that he was unable to donate blood, Joe was determined to find a way he could help.
“With everything that went on around me and hitting so close to home, it made me realize how fragile life is and that things can change from one day to the next, literally,” said Joe. “What’s to say I wasn’t next? I realized it was time to stop procrastinating and give back.”
Joe joined the Red Cross and serves as a Disaster Preparedness Team Leader and Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteer. Joe is out in the community arming individuals with preparedness information to help keep them safe in the event of an emergency. When a disaster like a home fire occurs, Joe and fellow DAT members respond to provide comfort and emergency assistance to the families affected. Joe helps ensure these families, many having fled their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs, have shelter, food and clothing.
Sadly, this past week Joe’s family member lost his battle with leukemia.
Joe continues to encourage individuals to find ways they can help. Red Cross volunteers respond to home fires, staff blood drives, visit veteran’s hospitals and much more. View the complete list of volunteer opportunities.
Those who don’t have the availability to volunteer can support the Red Cross by donating blood or by making a donation. Donations can be made online or by texting REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.
More than 3,000 volunteers serve with the Red Cross North Jersey Region. Nationally, the Red Cross has nearly 400,000 volunteers, which represent more than 90 percent of the Red Cross workforce.
Last year, North Jersey Region responded to 485 local homes fires, providing emergency assistance to 1,269 displaced families; collected more than 26,500 units of blood through blood drives and Red Cross Blood Donation Centers; provided 1,985 military family case services with emergency messages, helping families find assistance and/or get counseling and referrals; and trained 79,341 individuals with lifesaving skills in preparedness, CPR, AED use, first aid and aquatics.
The Red Cross invites the public to sign up to volunteer and be a part of the lifesaving work it does every day.
BECOME A RED CROSS VOLUNTEER -- The Red Cross relies on the generosity of its volunteers to fulfill its mission. There are a variety of ways people can get involved and the Red Cross is looking for diverse volunteers of all ages and skill levels.