Photo caption: Collection Specialist Molly Roberts monitors the progress as David Cummings donates blood at the Red Cross in Waterloo Thursday, March 7, 2013. (BRANDON POLLOCK / Courier Staff Photographer)
U.S. Navy veteran David Cummings, 69, laid back on a cot. He teased American Red Cross collection specialist Molly Roberts as she searched for just the right vein. She placed a ball in the Evansdale man's right hand.
"Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze and hold, please," Roberts said.
Cummings complied but looked away as Roberts deftly pushed a needle under his skin. Blood quickly moved down a tube and into a collection bag.
Cummings stepped up his efforts as a blood donor and started scheduling regular appointments five years ago after learning he was a so-called universal donor because his blood type, O negative, could be transfused to anyone.
"Before that, I really didn't know how important my donations were," Cummings said. "I try to get in here as often as I can."
March is Red Cross Month. This month, the national organization is recognizing those who donate life-saving blood and encouraging others to consider becoming donors.
Donations are necessary year-round. However, coming off a hard flu season and harsh winter weather, Red Cross staff remind veteran and new donors to consider making an appointment.
One hundred Red Cross blood drives were canceled in the Midwest and central U.S. in February due to severe weather, which resulted in a shortfall of almost 4,100 blood and platelet donations, according to Bobbi Snethen, a Red Cross spokeswoman. None occurred in the Cedar Valley, but drives in other Iowa communities were affected, as was the nationwide pool.
Of the seven Red Cross blood drives canceled March 5 due to inclement weather in the Red Cross Badger-Hawkeye Region, two were in eastern Iowa, including a Janesville stop.
"We are seeing, obviously, a decrease of donations, so we are encouraging people to come out when it's safe to drive," Snethen said.
The Red Cross needs to collect 17,000 donations a day to keep up with transfusion needs, Snethen said. Right now there isn't a shortage and snow days are expected during winter months, staff said. That said, the Red Cross wants to keep collection levels up, especially with summer — a season that typically sees fewer donations and drives — only a few months away.
In Northeast Iowa, staff and volunteers also promote the other aspects of the Red Cross' mission and job description, according to Pami Erickson, chapter support officer within the multistate Red Cross Badger-Hawkeye Region. Her territory includes Waterloo and Mason City.
The Red Cross works to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies and disaster at home or far away. This could mean responding not only to Superstorm Sandy but to the scene of a local house fire.
"We are there to meet whatever needs that they have," Erickson said.
The Red Cross also helps provide communication between military personnel and their families.
Volunteers are needed to aid with everything from disaster response to mailings and remain the heartbeat of the Red Cross, Erickson said.
Reprinted with permission from the Waterloo Courier.