By Kyle McLellan, American Red Cross intern
In 2005, before joining the American Red Cross, Laura Tolbirt set up a donation center in San Bernardino to support relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina hit the South. After seeing the community turnout to the donation center, and hearing about the Red Cross response to the hurricane from Yevette Baysinger, Executive Director of the Red Cross of San Bernardino County, Laura knew she wanted to get involved.
It didn’t take long for Laura to join the Philanthropy Committee and the Red Cross Board of Directors for San Bernardino County. Now, with more than ten years as a board member, including three years as board chair, Laura has not only continued to help others but has also been a recipient of the very services she helps provide as a Red Cross supporter.
In 2017, Laura’s father passed away after battling leukemia. During his treatment, he received seven blood transfusions. Thankfully, blood was available because of blood collection organizations like the Red Cross and its network of dedicated blood donors. Thanks to these blood donors, Laura and her family were able to spend precious extra time with her father.
After her father's passing, Laura traveled to Kansas City, Missouri for a celebration of life. The hotel that she was staying at was hosting a blood drive, and Laura signed up to donate right away. “It was a sign from my dad,” said Laura. Laura now donates blood on a regular basis in honor of her father. “To me, it is one of the simplest, painless ways I can give back and it helps other people,” Laura said.
Three days after her father’s passing, Laura was in Kansas City with her mother when nine and a half inches of rain fell in six hours and flooded her mother’s house. The disaster prompted a multi-agency response, which the Red Cross was a part of. A Red Cross team came to her mother’s house and determined that extensive damage was caused. Red Cross volunteers provided Laura’s mother with recovery resources, funds for temporary housing and a cleanup kit that included brooms, gloves, cleaning agents and more. This type of recovery support and assistance is vital for families impacted by disasters.
Laura has seen the Red Cross jump into action after other disasters as well. In 2016, she visited a Red Cross shelter set up for the large Blue Cut Fire in Southern California. She also had the opportunity to visit the Orange County command center, where she witnessed Red Cross volunteers working around the clock to assist with the wildfire relief efforts. Laura has also helped the community prepare for disasters by installing free smoke alarms in local homes during Sound the Alarm events. “I’m just amazed at the level of experience and knowledge that the Red Cross volunteers have,” Laura said. “Volunteering with the Red Cross is so easy for me because I believe in the mission! There is something for everyone.”
During her time on the board, Laura challenged Yevette to continue teaching her more about the Red Cross. “I learned more about Service to the Armed Forces and how they work directly with our nation’s military personnel and our veterans,” said Laura. “I learned a lot about blood and truly how important it is to not only donate but to host and promote blood drives.”
As a Red Cross board member, Laura continues to make an impact in San Bernardino County and beyond. Visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more about how you can make a difference as a Red Cross volunteer.