(State College, PA) – In March 2020 as the nation began to realize the full impact of the Coronavirus, businesses, educational facilities, and even places of worship began to close their doors; closing with them the opportunity to host blood drives.
These closures reverberated at blood collection centers across the country and at the American Red Cross; an organization that provides nearly 40% of the nation’s blood supply, ensuring life-saving product for patients facing transfusions, cancer treatments, trauma, and other critical illnesses.
More than 80% of the blood that the Red Cross collects comes from drives held at places of businesses, college campuses, and schools, so these closures resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of donated units of blood.
At Penn State University, the second largest collegiate blood program in the country, nearly 60 drives were canceled resulting in over 1,600 units of blood not donated in the five months between March & July.
“In a typical year, over 6,000 are collected during this time, so this was a significant hit to our local blood supply. The loss of these 1,600 units translates to nearly 5,000 people not receiving the lifesaving blood product they need when they need it. We were at a critical point in time.” said Melissa Wolf, Account Manager / Donor Recruitment.
Already challenged with a decrease in donors due to the seasonal decline and now facing hundreds of closures across the country, the Red Cross immediately began working to secure new blood drive locations and stand up additional drives as quickly as possible to ensure that life sustaining blood products would continue to be available.
Issuing an urgent call to action to businesses and educational facilities, asking them to open their doors - not to resume business operations, but instead, to host blood drives; the Red Cross simultaneously issued a plea to encourage healthy individuals to donate blood as soon as possible and fill a much needed role during this global health pandemic.
One of those who stood up to meet this need was long-time Red Cross Mid Central Pennsylvania Board Member and CEO of Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Steve Brawley. Steve recognized that many businesses, including his own, at Technology Center at Innovation Park (a Penn State owned facility) were deemed ‘essential’ and continuing normal operations. This made for an ideal location and space to host a blood drive.
“We knew that we needed to remain open to do the business we do, as we are considered an essential enterprise. So, in collaboration with Innovation Park at Penn State and with the University, we determined we could open our doors for more than just business. This really allowed us to step up and say to the Red Cross, ‘please use this space’, Brawley shared.
Together with colleagues, Dan Leri, Director of Innovation Park, Melissa Wolf, Account Manager, and Hope Roaten, Mid Central Pennsylvania Chapter Executive Director and PSU Alum ‘15, Innovation Park opened their doors for their first blood drive during the pandemic on March 23, 2020.
As the drive began that day, Melissa Wolf had reservations, not about the location, but about the response of donors.
“Our first drive was so successful. We had used this location prior to COVID-19 and so our staff was familiar with the layout and expectations. I had no reservations logistically when they said they would open their doors, Steve and his team really stepped up by hosting the drive; but our donor turnout was the unknown. With so many employees at home, we didn’t know what to expect.”
With the lives of those in need of transfusions and lifesaving blood donations on the line, everyone waited to see if the donors would show up.
Steve Brawley shared, “What we watched happen was so many in the community who wanted to give help but didn’t know how, or even where. All of the conventional drives were canceled, so many who had been asking, ‘How can I help?’ found a way by getting involved with the Red Cross and coming out to donate. There was certainly a need and a pent-up desire in the community to give and help others. People wanted to make a difference and there were and are still, very few outlets in the community to do just that. By being one of the few businesses in our community to open our doors, we provided an avenue for donors to help others. And we are so happy to be one of them.”
Steve, Melissa, and the entire team at Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Innovation Park have continued to host blood drives throughout the pandemic. Since March 2020 they have hosted 30 blood drives and exceeded initial goals by collecting 842 units of donated blood for those in need.
“What we have found is that, in times like these, people want to help. This is evident by our entirely new roster of donors. Our first-time donors have come back two and three times since this pandemic began. Whole blood donors are returning every 56 days, it’s incredible. We have additional drives being scheduled throughout the fall and winter and I’m encouraged by the response. I hope that we can see additional locations open their doors to be an outlet for those who want to help as Steve and his team have done.” Melissa Wolf shared.
“This has been a really positive experience for everyone involved and we want other organizations and employers to know that this need is continuing. The Red Cross can’t schedule as many drive locations as they used to at schools, churches, fraternal organizations, etc. because so many are offline. We hope other organizations who are online will join us and step up and identify themselves. There is truly no downside to offering your location and network of contacts to encourage more blood donations.” stated Brawley.
“When so many doors were closing, one after another, and the field of potential spaces was narrowing, Steve, Dan, and the partners at Innovation Park stepped up to fill a critical need for so many.” Roaten said. “Through their efforts, nearly 850 units were collected, with potential for so much more. These blood donations are literally life or death for many. When you equate units of blood to the number of lives that can be saved, you can truly get a sense for the impact of canceled blood drives and of what has been collected. The nearly 850 units donated through the drives held by this team equate to more than 2,500 patients receiving lifesaving blood product to sustain, heal, and recover”. added Roaten. “We all have a role to play to help support the blood supply for this area and region. The times have changed, but the mission of the Red Cross remains the same.”