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September 24, 2021

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Las Vegas volunteer finds rewarding work in helping drive mission to save lives

American Red Cross Volunteer Driver

Steve Marcus

American Red Cross volunteer driver Jerry Runyon unloads boxes from a van at the Red Cross offices after a delivery Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

Jerry Runyon repeatedly says “opportunity” when he refers to his volunteer position delivering life-saving blood to area hospitals.

Once a week, he can be spotted outside the Las Vegas headquarters of the American Red Cross of Southern Nevada, where he loads boxes with donated blood that can weigh up to 45 pounds into a small cargo van.

For the retiree and recent transplant from Illinois, volunteering is an opportunity to use his free time productively and a chance to give back to his new community.

More important, it’s an opportunity to know he’s making a difference, proven by the relieved faces of medical workers when he pulls up to hospitals, who say things like, “thank God you’re here” and “we’re glad you came so quickly,” he said.

American Red Cross Volunteer Driver

American Red Cross volunteer driver Jerry Runyon poses in the Red Cross offices after a delivery Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Launch slideshow »

That positive reinforcement couldn’t be more genuine than presently when Southern Nevada, as in the rest of the United States, is going through a severe shortage of blood donations.

Through blood drives, the Red Cross provides about 40% of the blood inventory in the country, stocking 2,500 hospitals and transfusion centers, including 14 facilities in Southern Nevada. The need stems from a return of surgeries postponed during the pandemic, and an uptick in activity at trauma centers, according to the organization.

With a positive demeanor and a smile on his face, Runyon, who has 150 blood donations under his sleeve, is doing his part. He’s one of about 30 transportation specialists for the Red Cross here, which has room for 45 more volunteers like him, according to a spokeswoman.

Runyon, of Henderson, has delivered blood for the organization for six years, five in Illinois before he and his wife of 38 years, whom he met in kindergarten, relocated here last July.

“Once they found out I was moving there,” the 62-year-old quipped, “they wouldn’t let me get away.”

Prospective transportation staffers go through online and in-person training in which they learn defensive driving, among other things. Once they’re ready to hit the road, they shadow more experienced drivers before they’re given their own routes.

At the Red Cross, “I’m having too much fun,” Runyon said. Besides driving his routes, he’s gotten to know and appreciate the vast community, which is still “new” to him.

Runyon shows up at the Red Cross blood bank no later than 9:30 a.m. every Wednesday. Once laboratory technicians package the blood products, which are shipped here from Utah, where they’re tested, he’s out the door on his way to five hospitals. He also makes deliveries to Pahrump.

“It really doesn’t take that much of my time,” he said. “And I enjoy it; I enjoy driving.”

At the Red Cross in Illinois he said he saw retirees in their 80s volunteering, hinting that he has a lot of volunteering left in him.

Runyon was born and raised on a small farm near Peoria, Ill. Driven by that acquired knowledge, he obtained a degree in animal science.

That drew him to Abbott Laboratories, which had a research farm, he said. At the Illinois-based company, he found a “diverse” career, to include working for the product development and diagnostic division, where his wife also worked.

During his 33-year stint at Abbott, he became “very familiar” with the Red Cross, which was a customer of the company, and its mission.

Finding himself newly retired, and still healthy, “relatively young” and with an active lifestyle, Runyon didn’t hesitate to volunteer for the Red Cross as soon as he found out the opportunity was there, he said.

And it’s not just there; he and his wife regularly volunteer in their Sun City Anthem community. In fact, it’s the spirit they’ve ingrained in their two children: Their son served with the U.S. Marines and their daughter is a public servant in Wisconsin, where she holds a community-service job associated with a mental health department.

“We’re happy to do it,” he said.

The way Runyon sees it, anyone can volunteer. “I think everyone has some amount of time in their lives,” he said.

He convinced a recently retired brother to take up the same position at the Red Cross in Illinois, which he did a few months ago.

Runyon has also been talking to an accountant brother-in-law who’s soon to retire, telling him the Red Cross could surely use his talents.

Runyon’s interactions with hospital staff is what most keeps him going.

“Being able to do this, it makes you feel good,” he said. “It’s very inspiring. ... I know that there’s a desperate need (for blood) and to be able to do my part just makes me feel good.”

Prospective volunteers can find more information at redcross.org.

Requirements for transportation specialists include a valid Nevada driver’s license, three years of driving experience and a clean driving record, and the ability to lift 45 pounds, according to the organization.