By Gordon Williams
Filling the nation’s need for blood is a full-time job for the Red Cross, supplier of 40 percent of all the blood needed by U.S. hospitals. A Red Cross team was recently at work collecting blood at Olympic College in Bremerton, WA.
More important than the sheer quantity of blood collected is the quality and diversity. What’s needed is a supply of blood diverse enough to meet the needs of a highly diverse American population. All human blood may look alike, but antigens that the immune system responds to create more than 600 distinct types of blood. Some blood types, such as “A” and “B”, are common. But some blood types are rare and specific to racial and ethnic groups.
The theme of the Olympic College blood drive was diversity. The flyer promoting the event asked the question: “Why should a diverse blood drive matter to you?” The answer, the flyer explains, is that, “The best blood match for patients often comes from donors of similar race or ethnicity. It is extremely important to increase the number of blood donors from all racial and ethnic groups.”
The event was billed as the Dr. Charles Drew Community Blood Drive, in honor of Dr. Drew, the mid-20th century African-American doctor and scientist who invented the collection, storage and distribution of blood as we know it today. Drew went on to create the first blood bank for the Red Cross in the early days of World War 2, earning him the moniker “the father of blood banking.”
The Red Cross in Seattle held its first Dr. Charles Drew blood drive last February at the Central Area Youth Association, a center of African-American life in Seattle for more than 50 years. Portland, Oregon has been holding Dr. Drew blood drives for the past 14 years.
The catalyst for the Olympic College blood drive was Cheryl Nuñez, the college’s Vice President for Equity and Inclusion. She is also of the board chair of the Bremerton-based Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas chapter of the Red Cross.
Nuñez may have helped get the ball rolling, but it was students who made the event happen. While professional phlebotomists from the Red Cross collected the blood, students from the College’s Reentry group, Black Student Union, Student Veterans of America chapter, along with the Health and Wellness representative from the Activities Board made posters, helped recruit and check-in donors, and educated their peers about the need for blood diversity and the contributions of Dr. Drew. The Offices of Multicultural Programs and Military and Veterans Programs also provided organizing support.
The drive helps highlight the Red Cross fundamental principle of Humanity, which obliges the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found.
In the end, the Olympic college drive produced 23 pints of blood and drew 24-first-time donors. Nuñez said she was pleased with the turnout of volunteers as well. As she put it, “diversity invites everyone to show up and serve.”