Red Cross "Hugger" gives blood donors gift from the heart
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- At first glance, the Red Cross' East End donation center looks like any other -- until you glance over toward the canteen, where donors go to replenish. Here among the usual fare of cookies crackers, water and orange juice, donors get an extra treat before they walk out the door: a hug from one very special lady.
"The Hugger," as she's become known, is 86-year-old German native Annaliese Griffin, who's been a Red Cross volunteer for nearly 29 years. She says she's simply paying back a big favor from years ago when a former national head of the Red Cross gave her mother-in-law her dying wish: to see her son -- a soldier serving in Germany -- one last time.
"Blood donors are extremely wonderful people," Griffin said. "I would say 99.99 percent, absolutely wonderful. And, they do something they don't get paid for."
Annaliese has an extra soft-spot for children. On this day, she went out of her way to comfort a teen donating for the first time.
"So glad you came out," she told the teen. "Just think of something beautiful."
And then, there are the times when those hugs are crucial: when she volunteers for blood drives at high schools and encounters teen donors from troubled homes who don't want to let her go.
"They just hold me and say, 'I wish you would be my mother,'" she said. "And it always makes me feel like crying."
But, to really get to know who Annaliese Griffin is, you have to pay a visit to her home in St. Matthews, where she's lived with her husband -- also a German native -- for 51 years. Inside, you'll find memories from a very dark past in Nazi Germany, when hugs were among the few things Annaliese and her family could enjoy.
She tells of how, as a young teen, her father -- a railroad worker -- rejected Hitler and refused to join the Nazi party, turning her family into outcasts and plunging them into a life of poverty. And, the girl who was about to go to business school, instead was forced to work for Hitler and deal with abuse.
"One time one guy just beat me -- hit my head on the post office, and they have all that stucco on the post office, and my whole face," she said.
Now, Annaliese is doing the kind of work that she truly loves, and those who work with her says there's no doubt many have given that gift of life simply because of her.
"People come in here, and if she's not here, they're so disappointed because she's not here, because she provides them with...I hate to say it's good customer service, because it's all from her heart," said Gaye Calloway, a Red Cross employee.
She's a German native who escaped the horrors of Nazi Germany -- and now she's doing what she's always wanted to do: show love to the people who need it.
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