When Cindy and Phil Ensley retired and moved back to Delaware County from Indiana, they wanted to volunteer their time.
Their first choice: the American Red Cross.
“If you think it’s worthwhile and you have time, why not?” said Phil.
Before retirement, Cindy Ensley had worked with the American Red Cross and also worked in a hospital in blood services as a medical technologist.
Phil Ensley donated blood regularly, totalling more than 50 units over his lifetime.
“Having given all that, I know how important it is to volunteer,” he said. “I was volunteering my blood.”
Now, he said he can no longer donate his coveted O- blood, so he volunteers his time.
It’s something the couple does together, and they agree something is changing: increasingly, there seems to be a shortage of volunteers.
Their anecdotal observation is right.
“It’s just a challenge,” said Sheila Thomas, territory manager for the American Red Cross, Delaware County. “It’s an ongoing challenge. Any organization that has a 94 percent reliance rate for volunteers for its functioning, it’s just a huge need.”
Blood drives use volunteers to do everything from check-in donors to operate the canteen that has snacks ready for those donors who have completed their donations. The Red Cross also uses volunteer couriers and drivers.
“It take a special person to fill some of those roles,” Thomas said. “For Delaware County, we’re challenged to recruit within the county. I believe there are people within the county who would step up.”
The number of drives scheduled by the Red Cross is based on hospital need and available equipment. Rodney Wilson, Central Ohio Blood Services region communications program manager, said right now the Red Cross schedule reflects hospitals’ need.
“We have not canceled drives due to lack of volunteers,” he said. “But we do need more volunteers for blood drives. We often have drives that we are not able to fill volunteer slots, but when that happens, the staff then oversee the areas a volunteer would typically do, which isn’t idea.”
It’s a role Cindy Ensley has seen from the staff perspective, as well as from a volunteer perspective.
“I’ve seen it from both sides,” she said.
“There are people – and Cindy was one – who do this for a living and if we can give them more time to do what they need to do instead of what we do … it helps the whole process,” Phil Ensley said.
“That’s why the need for folks like yourself is there,” Thomas told the Ensleys.
Right now, the Red Cross is also experiencing a blood shortage across 25 states; in central Ohio, dangerous weather in early January cased cancellation of 20 blood drives and a shortfall of 430 donors.
Upcoming blood drives are crucial to make up that difference, and volunteers are needed to man those blood drives; but after the demand for blood returns to typical levels, the need for volunteers is still there, Thomas said.
“It’s hot and heavy right after a disaster, but it’s day-to-day that we need those folks every day,” she said. “I think for us, and that’s aways be the challenge, how do you communicate to a wider audience?”
Even for eager volunteers like the Ensleys, getting the word out that blood drive volunteers were needed in Delaware County took a chance meeting with Delaware County Red Cross staff at an event in Toledo. Prior to that, they’d volunteered for the Columbus Chapter.
Now they put in time at both, they said.
“We’re doing something people appreciate,” Phil said. “The donors thank me for being there and I said, ‘Oh, I’m just a volunteer.’ And she said, ‘You’re more than a volunteer.’ And that makes it rewarding.”
Thomas said volunteering for the Red Cross can be as minimal as two hours, and it doesn’t have to be at a blood drive to help blood services or the American Red Cross as a whole.
“With community events, we’ve had to decline visibility and participation due to lack of volunteers,” Thomas said.
When the Delaware Chapter can’t get the visibility, it can’t recruit new volunteers and when it can’t recruit volunteers it has gaps at the blood drives. Thomas said she looks at it as a missed opportunity for people who want to give back their time and for the organization to fill those voids.
Phil Ensley said from time to time, he thinks about the lasting impact of donating his time to the Red Cross. His volunteered time turns into blood donations. The blood donations turn into saved lives.
“It’s ongoing,” he said. “You can sense the need – the ongoing need – every time you give or every time you volunteer.”
Thomas said the organization begins recruiting volunteers of all types at any age; she said some high school groups help and some elementary students recruit their parents and grandparents to donate.
“We’re just wanting to make people aware that at any age, they can start (volunteering) or wherever they go, they can get hooked up with local Red Cross.”
The American Red Cross website, www.redcross.org, has a volunteer tab with a search for volunteer opportunities by ZIP code and a volunteer line at 1-800-RED-CROSS. The Delaware County Chapter can be reached at 740-362-2021, and the stationary blood donation center at 1327 Cameron Ave., Lewis Center, can be reached by calling 1-800-733-2767.