When you first walk through the doors of a blood drive at the Towamencin Mennonite Church in Harleysville, Montgomery County, you'll come face to face with a Red Cross poster featuring a boy who survived cancer, in part, thanks to lifesaving blood. Walk a few feet down the hall and you’ll find that same boy, now a young man, hard at work to make this blood drive, and hundreds of others, a reality.
Peter Zucca was only 10 months old when he was diagnosed with cancer. Within a year, he received 51 units of blood during various operations, and those transfusions helped save his life. When he was 12, Peter called the Red Cross asking to host a blood drive so that he could help give back those 51 units. Now Peter is almost 18 and he hasn’t stopped giving back since.
"Growing up in the hospital environment you just know that everybody’s getting it,” he said referencing donated blood. “I have a great connection with the Red Cross now and it’s just my own will to help and to continue helping because I know that what I’m doing is making a big difference in people’s lives.”
Several years ago, Peter and his mother Dawn founded the Peter Powerhouse Foundation, which seeks to improve the lives of children who are currently fighting cancer by providing donations to pediatric cancer treatment facilities and financial support to childhood cancer survivors and their families. This foundation has become an important partner to the Red Cross, with Peter and Dawn hosting hundreds of blood drives and collecting thousands of units of blood at their church. When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, shutting down businesses, schools, and other blood drive locations, the Zuccas offered their church as an emergency blood drive site every day for two weeks. In the 52 weeks that made up 2020, the mother-son team organized 44 blood drives, collecting nearly 4,800 blood donations for patients in need.
“Dawn and Peter Zucca are the most extraordinary people I’ve met during my 38 years with the American Red Cross,” said Rosanne Marks, a donor services account manager with the American Red Cross. “The Peter Powerhouse Foundation blood drive has become the ‘go-to’ blood drive in Montgomery County. The donors are treated like gold and often fed and pampered so that they have a great experience giving blood and come back over and over."
Look behind the scenes and you’ll notice that Peter and Dawn aren’t just the face of these drives, they do the leg work as well, including frequent communication and outreach to donors, enlisting support from their church to host blood drives, physically setting up and breaking down from blood drives, and more. Recently during a snowstorm, Dawn called and followed the township salt truck to make sure the route to the church parking lot was cleared to prevent delays at that day’s drive. She also personally shoveled all the church sidewalks to allow Red Cross staff to move equipment and start on time. For Dawn, that effort is fueled by painful memories.
“It’s really easy for me and my husband to look back and to know that without blood, we wouldn’t have our son,” she said choking back tears. “I can shovel a lot of snow to open a church to know that somebody else’s child gets to live.”
Peter Zucca is now an accomplished high school senior who is also taking college courses. He’s a member of the Red Cross Delaware Valley Chapter’s board and is already an accomplished humanitarian. About 17 years ago his mother was grappling with a baby going through chemotherapy, surgeries and more. Now she’s a proud mom of a teenager, getting ready to send him off to college in the fall. She said Peter double checked to make sure they host blood drives on campus so he could take his work with him. While he’s paid his 51 units back many times over, it’s probably safe to say he’s not done paying it forward quite yet.