Donating hope

RIBC, Johnston High School teaming up for vital Thanksgiving blood drive

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Blood shortages have not ceased during the coronavirus pandemic, and the Rhode Island Blood Center and Johnston High School are once again teaming up to rise to the challenge.

Account manager Glenn Halvarson announced recently that RIBC would link up with the JHS National Honor Society and Student Council to host a Thanksgiving blood drive at the Johnston Senior Center. The event will take place Wednesday, Nov. 25, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Appointments are encouraged, as not every walk-in is guaranteed a chance to donate.

He said the need for blood donations has “never been greater,” as nearly 50 percent of blood drives have been canceled due to the pandemic.

“Especially heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, we see an uptick in usage and we see a downtick in collections just because everyone is so busy with the hustle and bustle of the holiday,” Halvarson said in an interview Monday. “Not only in Rhode Island are we significantly lower than usual, it’s also national … So even if we wanted to get blood from other centers to supplement, it’s just not happening because every blood center in the country is feeling the effect because of the pandemic.”

Halvarson said RIBC’s partnership with Johnston High School is “probably one of the best relationships we have with all of our sponsors.” He said JHS hosts the largest summer blood drive in the state, most recently held at the Senior Center in July, where more than 90 donations were taken this year.

“Those two groups, it’s almost like a rite of passage,” Halvarson said. “These students – when they are freshmen and they’re introduced to Student Council and National Honor Society – one of the community groups that they’re introduced to right away is the Rhode Island Blood Center and the need for blood, that we supply blood to the patients not only in Rhode Island, but in New England. These students, year after year, are being educated more and more about who we are and how their role in helping us is so great.”

He lauded those students, and gave special shout-outs to NHS adviser Emilia Ruggiero and Student Council adviser Greg Russo for their support.

“They’re the ones that help foster this relationship,” Halvarson said. “They’re the ones behind the scenes educating and talking to their students about the need for blood and what it is that the school does for us and how we need their help.”

Since the high school was off the table, Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena stepped in and offered the Senior Center as the new hub. Securing a location for the high school to conduct the blood drive, one way or another, was important – Halvarson said 20 percent of the state’s blood supply comes from college and high school events.

Halvarson said it’s a true community blood drive, calling on all residents from across the entire town to take part and help bolster the state’s supply.

“We felt a community-based blood drive in Johnston is not only needed, but because the mayor and because of the cooperation of the town, we wanted to put a blood drive on the calendar because, No. 1 it’s a big town and No. 2 we have a place that is welcoming us. So it’s hard to get them, but here we are, basically the mayor opened up the doors of the town, of the senior center and said you guys can use it, just let us know when,” Halvarson said. “It’s for the whole town of Johnston. We’re inviting the whole town out.”

Participants will even receive a T-shirt, featuring the phrase “Sasquatchin’ Blood Shortages,” and the famous cryptid himself strolling through the snow in a Santa hat and red armband.

Halvarson said the drive will take walk-ins if possible, but appointments are strongly recommended to allow for social distancing and proper scheduling.

“Like everything nowadays, you’ve got to make an appointment,” Halvarson said. “The way our appointments are set up for that blood drive, it’s set up strategically so if people make an 11 a.m. appointment and they come in around 11 – you know, people may not come in right at 11, but if they get there around that time, that dictates the flow of donors, which allows us to have social distancing.”

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