John Muir, copyright wtk
Annette Beckstrand, director of public affairs for the Antioch Stake (left), displays an Interfaith Community Blood Drive sign with Justin Mueller, American Red Cross regional director, along with Sandy Heinlisch, who helped manage sign-ups for the Immaculate Heart Catholic parish in Brentwood. The Interfaith Community Blood Drive, started by leaders of Bay Area congregations of the LDS and Catholic churches, is believed to be the largest church-organized blood drive in American Red Cross history.

If there's one thing I've learned from working at the American Red Cross, it's that Americans are very generous. Our lifesaving work could not be done without donations and volunteers, like those from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Our 25-year relationship has changed lives all over the world, and I'm delighted to report that we recently signed a new agreement to strengthen our partnership.

The church works with us on several fronts. First, through financial and in-kind donations, the church and its members have helped ease the plight of millions suffering from disasters in our country and around the world.

In addition, close collaboration between the church and the Red Cross has enabled us to leverage the best use of valuable resources during disasters. Our two organizations pool information, share data, coordinate operations and seek ways to combine talents and expertise to maximize the relief effort to help those in need.

Under our new agreement, the Red Cross and the church will coordinate more on disaster planning — including training, drills and identifying shelter locations.

Second, the church has been an important supporter for our Measles Initiative, an aggressive measles vaccination campaign in sub-Saharan Africa. The church contributed $3 million to the Red Cross toward the measles campaign over the first three years of the project, provided volunteers to assist with community mobilization in Africa and helped to vaccinate 213 million children in more than 40 African countries.

Third, blood donations have been a vital part of our partnership. Every two seconds, someone in our nation needs blood, and time and again, church members have rolled up their sleeves to make lifesaving donations at church drives in stakes and wards, at Brigham Young University and at church offices.

In the Red Cross blood region based here in Salt Lake City, church members have donated more than 50,000 units of blood annually at church-hosted blood drives, and many members also donate at their workplace, school or other community blood drives. Overall, Church members provide more than 25 percent of the blood collections in the region.

At a time when blood supplies have been tight, these donations have been critical to us — and to the patients who depend on this lifesaving blood.

Finally, the Red Cross and the church both understand the vital importance of being prepared before disaster strikes, and our new agreement continues our work to get communities ready for the unexpected.

The Red Cross trains an average of 9 million people a year in lifesaving skills, such as first aid and CPR, and we also are working to help individuals and businesses become better prepared.

There's no question that it's a challenge to get people prepared. I often think that this is a testament to the optimistic human spirit in our country. We just don't think anything bad will happen to us. But since I joined the Red Cross four years ago, I've become more committed and determined than ever to help our country get prepared because it's easy, and we know it can save lives.

The church has created a strong culture of preparedness among its members that I believe can be a model for others throughout the country. The church counsels members to be prepared for a personal emergency or natural disaster by preparing emergency plans and having basic emergency supplies on hand.

And, because individual church members are prepared and resilient from disasters, the church can focus on helping other community members following an emergency.

Both lives and livelihoods are at stake when a disaster strikes, as many businesses fail to survive a disaster. So the Red Cross has created a Ready Rating program to help businesses, organizations, schools and governments find out how ready they really are for an emergency, and how they can improve.

And here's the best part: is free.

I'm grateful for the depth and breadth of the partnership that the Red Cross has with the church. Together, we are helping people in need down the street, across the country and around the world.

Gail McGovern is president and CEO of the American Red Cross.