By: John Rose, American Red Cross Volunteer
Community service is a longstanding quality of the church-going public, often associated with food pantries and free education. In Tennessee, one pastor has taken this even further by partnering his church with the American Red Cross to host blood drives that help treat sickle cell disease.
Rev. Cory Jackson Sr. the Senior Pastor for the New Covenant Seventh-Day Adventist Church located at 4335 Horn Lake Road in Memphis, Tennessee. He is now entering his fifth year leading the church, which has been active since the mid ‘70s.
For Rev. Jackson, New Covenant’s blood drives hold a particular significance. Its congregation of over 330 people come from predominantly African American backgrounds and some of them either have sickle cell disease or carry the genetic trait for it, such as his daughter.
Sickle cell disease is a genetically inherited and potentially fatal blood disorder. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every 365 African Americans are born with the disease and routine blood transfusions have become effective and essential treatment for these people, some of whom require as many as 100 units of blood (50 liters) each year. Donors with similar genetic backgrounds to the recipients have greater chances of being suitable matches, which means African American donors can make the biggest impact in the fight against sickle cell.
New Covenant’s first blood drive took place in early 2022. According to Rev. Jackson, the church discussed blood donation for a while, determining the best way to get started. They eventually connected with the American Red Cross. Now, New Covenant’s blood drives are a regular feature of the church’s community service.
“Many people, especially in the in the Black community, often don’t realize the importance of giving blood,” said Rev. Jackson. “And because sickle cell really attacks Black Americans, we have taken it as a challenge – so to speak – to make sure that we do our part on this small end of Tennessee.”
Despite making up 13.6% of the U.S. population, African Americans equate to less than 3% of blood donors nationwide. According to Rev. Jackson, this disparity could be fueled in part by a general lack of conversations surrounding blood donation in African American communities.
“If you ride around, you really don’t see Black churches doing blood drives. It has been more of a Caucasian [thing], and we want to change that narrative.”
New Covenant’s blood drives attract donors from throughout the Memphis area, though Rev. Jackson has noticed a few regulars, like his wife.
“She’s anemic, but she builds her iron up so that she can donate blood,” said Rev. Jackson. “And that to me is the sacrifice: Because we know that when we give a pint of blood, it can save multiple lives.”
Sometimes, however, new donors come in just because they happened to be at the right place at the right time.
“We even had a truck driver who was driving past. He saw ‘blood donation’ on our digital sign,” said Rev. Jackson. “He stopped in and gave blood as he was on his way to Colorado.”
Having seen the impact New Covenant is making, Rev. Jackson has no plans to slow down. The church has additional blood drives planned throughout 2023, aiming to have them take place every 56 days, which is also how often most individuals can safely donate blood.
“For me, this is part of the dream,” said Rev. Jackson. “It is part of Black history. It’s part of why we’re here. This is a mandate from God. This is how we help save lives.”
How to donate blood
Simply download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to make an appointment or for more information. All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.
Blood and platelet donors can save time at their next donation by using RapidPass® to complete their pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of their donation, before arriving at the blood drive. To get started, follow the instructions at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass or use the Blood Donor App.
Amplify your impact − volunteer!
Another way to support the lifesaving mission of the Red Cross is to become a volunteer blood donor ambassador at Red Cross blood drives. Blood donor ambassadors help greet, check-in and thank blood donors to ensure they have a positive donation experience.
Volunteers can also serve as transportation specialists, playing a vital role in ensuring lifesaving blood products are delivered to nearby hospitals. For more information and to apply for either position, visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides comfort to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; distributes international humanitarian aid; and supports veterans, military members, and their families. The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to deliver its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or CruzRojaAmericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.