By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
From helping families who have lost everything in floods or house fires to providing blood donations to those in need, Phyllis Sheets spends every day ready to jump into action if disaster strikes.
Sheets serves as the emergency services coordinator and office manager at the Bluefield Red Cross office located in the Mercer Mall and said she became involved with the Red Cross because of the wide variety of relief services the organization provides.
“The Red Cross is always there,” Sheets said. “They are always one of the first on the scene to help people, and they do so many different things. We provide services to our servicemen and women, help during disasters, and teach classes like CPR and lifeguarding. The blood donation is another big thing we do.”
Since 1970, the Red Cross has declared January as National Volunteer Blood Donor Month as January is historically the lowest month for blood donations. Sheets said several blood drives will be coming to the area in January.
“We host blood drives at the mall regularly,” she said. “We have one here at Mercer Mall at least once a month and sometimes more than that. We try to host as many blood drives as we can in the area. We work closely with churches and other organizations to host blood drives for us whenever they can.”
Though she does not oversee blood drives herself, Sheets said she is a frequent donor.
“I am a regular blood donor myself,” Sheets said. “I have been giving blood since 2002. It goes back to my daughter who as in critical condition in the hospital following an accident. She needed a lot of blood, and I saw how critical the need was. Those donations of blood save lives.”
Sheets said blood donations are not the only medical donations the Red Cross helps provide.
“In addition to blood, the Red Cross also works a lot with organ donations,” Sheets said. “I donated a kidney to my sister, and when she was in the hospital she needed a lot of blood as well. All of the blood she received came from the Red Cross. I know how important these donations are first hand.”
There are certain qualifications all blood donors must meet, Sheets said.
“You have to be 16-years-old with parental consent, weight at least 130 pounds and be at least 5 feet and one inch tall to give blood,” she said. “You can donate every 56 days. Some people say they feel tired afterward, but for me I get a boost of energy. It effects everyone differently, but for me I am very energetic after I give blood. We want to help save lives and one pint of blood can save up to three lives.”
Though she regularly donates blood, Sheets said it wasn’t donation drives that originally led her to become involved with the Red Cross.
“I started out as a volunteer for the Red Cross in 2000,” she said. “We had the massive floods in McDowell County in 2000. I saw the need and wanted to help others. I was working at Sam’s Club at the time when I first volunteered.”
Sheets soon rose from being a volunteer to running the local Red Cross office.
“I was approached to become a board member after I had been volunteering a while,” Sheets said. “I was then elected as board chairman. Later, I was approached to be a staff member and run this office. My position has changed so many times over the years. Disaster services are now my main priority, to ensure we can be there in a time of need. We are always ready to help people in a disaster.”
Through her work Sheets has been called out to serve in a variety of disaster situations.
“We respond to house fires, floods and during snowstorms,” she said. “Our disaster goal is to make sure our clients have food, shelter and clothing. We always have to be prepared in case something happens. We have a utility trailer loaded with cots, blankets and other things needed to open up emergency shelters. Whenever Mercer County Emergency Services Director Tim Farley or McDowell County Emergency Services Director Teresa VanDyke call us to open a shelter, we respond and are ready to go. Our office covers Mercer County, McDowell County and Bluefield, Va. I work closely with other nonprofits in the area like the Salvation Army and Bluefield Union Mission to coordinate disaster efforts.”
Sheets said the Red Cross is often there to comfort others in their time of need.
“It is devastating to see people who have lost everything, especially in a house fire where you are standing there with people who are watching all of their belongings go up in ashes,” she said. “We have see a lot of lives lost in house fires over the years. It is very hard to see that.”
Sheets said the hot meals the Red Cross has in storage can also provide relief during disasters.
“We have hot meals ready to go whenever a disaster happens as well,” she said. “The meals are purchased through the Red Cross, and we have a wide variety of meals we provide. Several years ago, people were stranded on the interstate we gave a bunch of these hot meals to the local fire departments and police departments to hand out to the people who were stranded. It gave them something good to eat and helped them stay warm.”
In order to volunteer for the Red Cross, Sheets said individuals have to undergone several types of training. The Red Cross also offers training for everyone from lifeguards to baby-sitters, she said.
“All of our volunteers are trained in CPR and first aid,” Sheets said. “We also do disaster training for them. We offer several different classes people can sign up for online. Volunteers are encouraged to go online and see if there are any classes we offer they may be interested in. I have taught several disaster relief classes myself. We teach people how to operate emergency shelters. There is a class that discusses how to do mass feedings as well as how to assess damage following a disaster. We train caseworkers on how to meet with clients and open cases to provide services to them. We do health services classes, mental health classes, lifeguarding, CPR, baby-sitting classes, and disaster services classes.”
Many people the Red Cross have trained later report back their training helped save a life, Sheets said.
“We want people to always be prepared to help others,” Sheets said. “The person you end up helping might be your own family. A lot of the people we have trained for CPR tell us they have saved the life of someone who was choking or gave CPR to a family member in need.”
Sheets said she enjoys being to help others through her work.
“My favorite part of this job is helping people and working with the public,” Sheets said. “I enjoy meeting new people and working with our volunteers. I have made a lot of friends through the Red Cross. I love being able to help those in need. The best thing is when someone says ‘thank you,’ gives me a hug or tells me they don’t know what they would do without the Red Cross. I receive a lot of thank you letters and cards from people the Red Cross has helped. I keep all of them in a scrapbook.”
However, Sheets said she couldn’t do her job without the support of many volunteers and the community.
“I am the only staff member in this office, but I am able to do everything I do through the dedication of our volunteers,” she said. “We always need more volunteers. They pass a background check and then we train them. Volunteers can choose to work locally or travel to other places. We recently had a volunteer up in New Jersey to help out with the hurricane relief efforts there. We are very blessed to have this office here in the mall. They do not charge rent for our offices, which is a blessing. The mall has been a great supporter of the Red Cross over the years. The Red Cross couldn’t be there to respond as quickly without the generosity of the community. They not only provide us with financial support but with volunteers who provide endless hours of support and service.”�