Today at Berkeley Lab

Marissa Smithwick Gives Life to Lab’s Red Cross Blood Drives

— By Theresa Duque

If you’ve ever thought of giving blood but have been too busy to do it, you’ll have your chance at Berkeley Lab this Thursday. Just look for the American Red Cross bloodmobile when it sets up shop in the cafeteria parking lot from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 15. It will be the first of six Lab-sponsored blood drives scheduled for 2018, and the 27th led by Marissa Smithwick since she volunteered to coordinate the drives in 2013. (The Lab blood drives are currently sponsored by the Facilities Division.)

A classic case of ‘volunteer-itis’

As a project coordinator in the Projects and Construction Office, Smithwick — who joined the Lab in March 2002 — has a long career devoted to workplace safety supplemented by a daily dose of volunteering, she said. For as long as she has worked at Berkeley Lab, she has been a voluntary member of the Lab’s Building Emergency Team program, and last year, became a certified Emergency Medical Technician to join the Lab’s Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT). “I’ve worked in construction since high school and have always volunteered on safety teams,” she said. “I like to get involved. I like to volunteer in any way I can.”

Smithwick’s voluntary role as the Lab’s bloodmobile coordinator started in 2013, when the president of the Philanthropy Club left the Lab. “The club president asked me if I wanted to take over coordinating the blood drives. And of course, I said, ‘yes,’” she recalled.

Since then, even though the Philanthropy Club eventually disbanded, the blood drives have continued – with bloodmobiles visiting the Lab six times a year, which is “the maximum number of times a year that a person can donate whole blood,” she said.

Over the past five years, the Lab’s donations have reached “premier sponsor” levels, with 985 Lab employees becoming registered donors, giving close to 890 pints of blood — or approximately 200 pints a year. (In Northern California, the American Red Cross bloodmobiles need to collect between 1,600 to 1,800 pints of blood a month to meet the needs of the 40 hospitals they serve in the Bay Area.)

Although her busy schedule teems with meetings to make and deadlines to beat, Smithwick gives up to 10 hours outside her full-time job to coordinate just one drive. “I sometimes think of giving up,” she said. “But I continue on because I have volunteer-itis.”

How to help out

With the Facilities Division sponsoring the blood drives for the past few years, Smithwick no longer has to bill the Red Cross for parking on-site, she said. But to ensure that the blood drives continue at the Lab, she’d like to recruit a few volunteers to help with posting flyers, and submitting parking and barricade requests for the April, June, August, October, and December drives. “I’d also like to set up additional blood drives at the Lab’s off-site locations, such as Potter St. or Emeryville, but I’d need a couple of people to help me do that,” she added.

In the meantime, the easiest way to help right now, according to Smithwick, is to register to give blood this Thursday. “Someone once said that to give without knowing who you’re giving to is the highest form of charity. And giving blood takes as little as 30 minutes of your time. It’s a great opportunity to help other people,” she said.