By Brianna Kelly, American Red Cross
When philanthropists Teresa and Byron Pollitt became involved with the American Red Cross over three decades ago, they were drawn to its mission of preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies.
It all started with Byron’s first blood donation with the Red Cross in 1984. He began donating when he and Teresa were expecting their first child. “I was just so thankful we were going to begin a family. I said, ‘how do I give thanks for what is about to happen?’” says Byron. He decided to give blood. When he found out that one blood donation could save up to three lives, he never looked back. In 2019, Teresa joined him in donating blood with the Red Cross and they have continued to donate blood together since. “At this point, we’re both retired,” says Byron. “We make our appointments back-to-back and we go together.” With Byron and Teresa’s dedicated blood donations, the Pollitts have rolled up their sleeves to give the precious gift of life to countless patients in need.
Although the Pollitts initially became involved with the Red Cross as blood donors, both Teresa and Byron became increasingly involved in supporting other areas of the organization, starting during their time in Orange County, then the Bay Area and continuing once they moved to San Diego.
Since joining the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross of San Diego and Imperial Counties in October 2019, Teresa has chaired the local Red Cross Real Heroes Awards event and served as the Chapter Chair of the Tiffany Circle in San Diego - a community of women leaders who advance the Red Cross mission through a focused investment of time, talent and treasure by engaging and embracing women locally, nationally and internationally. She currently serves as Vice Chair of the Chapter Board of Directors and Co-Chair of the Philanthropy Committee. In addition, Teresa is a member of the Tiffany Circle National Council and is serving as Co-Chair of the 2023 Tiffany Circle Summit.
When it comes to favorite Red Cross memories during her time with the organization, Teresa has greatly enjoyed her involvement with Tiffany Circle. She recalls a particularly memorable experience at the Tiffany Circle Geneva International Summit. “Just to see the impact of Tiffany Circle around the globe…It’s an amazing group of women from all over the world, funding and forwarding the mission of the Red Cross globally,” Teresa says. Back home at the national Tiffany Circle Summits, she has experienced similar feelings. “My Tiffany Circle experiences have been the most awe-inspiring,” she says.
Passionate about the work of Red Cross International Services, Byron volunteers as a Senior Executive Advisor to the American Red Cross International Services Division. He previously served on the Finance Commission of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and on the Red Cross Board of Directors for both Orange County and the San Francisco Bay Area.
In 2020, the Pollitts made a $1 million donation to the American Red Cross Southern California Region - the largest private donation in the region’s history. This gift funded key aspects of Red Cross Biomedical Services, Service to the Armed Forces and International Services. When it comes to their financial support, the Pollitts enjoy providing funding to many different lines of service within the Red Cross. “That’s the beauty of the Red Cross…you don’t have to choose,” Byron happily states. This is reflected in their generous giving across many areas of need.
Now, in summer 2023, the Pollitts have invested another $1 million into the mission of the organization, bringing their cumulative giving to well over $2 million in support of the Red Cross. “What we do in the Red Cross…these are specific, targeted investments around which we do our due diligence so that we know the money is going where impact is high,” says Byron. “That informs our other forms of philanthropy in terms of time, talent and treasure. I think the Red Cross is the only one [organization] where we actually give blood,” he says, smiling. Teresa shares this sentiment. “We do our homework, and we just want the dollars to go to the end user we’re targeting, and have a meaningful impact on their experiences,” she says.
“This generous donation will have tremendous impact for the Red Cross at the local, national and international level. This gift supports capabilities and capacity across our mission set, including disaster prevention and response, blood collection, service to the armed forces and international services,” says Sean Mahoney, Regional CEO of the American Red Cross Southern California Region.
Over the next two years, the Pollitt’s $1 million donation will support many critical programs and services, including:
- The Hero Care Network: provides confidential emergency communication, resources and assistance to veterans, military members and their families.
- The San Diego Hug-a-Hero Program: brings comfort to military families and their children by providing children with a doll in the image of their deploying parent.
- Blood Collection Services: funds the purchase of a Power Red Machine and community emergency vehicle – both powerful tools to help the Red Cross collect blood and ensure safe transport of blood products along their lifesaving journey—from collection to testing and processing to their ultimate destination of helping people during medical crises.
- The Sickle Cell Initiative: supports the Red Cross Sickle Cell Initiative and funds the purchase of an Ortho Vision Instrument, which will help the Red Cross perform automated phenotyping to meet the needs of blood recipients more efficiently and effectively throughout the region.
- Community Preparedness and Recovery: funding to support financial assistance for those affected by home fires, as well as funding for the purchase of smoke alarms for use in the region’s Home Fire Campaign, which provides free smoke alarms and home fire education for community members.
- International Services: funding for a Geneva fundraising volunteer who will serve the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), specifically supporting global fundraising efforts.
- Disaster Workforce in Vulnerable Areas: will help the Red Cross make significant staffing investments to build capacity in chapters and regions, enhancing the organization’s ability to serve the increasing number of people and locales affected by disasters.
“The funding for disaster will support our work in vulnerable communities and families on what may be the worst day of their lives. Our ability to collect lifesaving blood will benefit from a new van to transport products to hospitals, highly technical equipment to collect and process blood, and increased donations in diverse communities to fight sickle cell disease. Our service members will benefit from stronger connections to their families when they are deployed overseas. The span of the Pollitt’s support is astounding!” says Mahoney.
When asked what drives their philanthropic support of so many organizations, including the Red Cross, the Pollitts first and foremost refer to a Bible verse that states: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Both strong believers in this verse and in giving back, Teresa and Byron’s generosity has made a tremendous difference for the many organizations they support. “It's so fulfilling for us to know that we’re in a position to actually have meaningful impact in those organizations that we are pursuing our philanthropy with,” says Byron.
Certainly, the Pollitt’s impact can be felt at the Red Cross. “When I think of Teresa and Byron, I think “100% Committed!” It is a pleasure to work with them as they provide leadership and expertise at the chapter, national and international levels,” says Mahoney. “I have personally seen Teresa and Byron roll up their sleeves to donate blood and then make an incredibly impactful financial donation the same day. They live the mission of the American Red Cross every day.”
The Pollitts have created a legacy of giving. Since joining the Red Cross, Teresa and Byron have generously contributed their time, talents and treasure to the organization – compassion in action.
“There are few feelings that are as fulfilling as the one when we can contribute our time, our talent, our treasure — and our blood — to an organization like the Red Cross,” says Byron.
When the Pollitts see the work of the Red Cross day in and day out, they are inspired to continue supporting the organization and look forward to what the future holds.