Red Cross staffer Abby Thompson helps Roberto Esquivel donate blood at Ascension Parish.
Red Cross staffer Abby Thompson helps Roberto Esquivel donate blood at Ascension Parish.

Some people care enough to give a part of themselves – literally.

Every year, dozens of Catholic parishes across Oregon host blood drives for the American Red Cross.

Those who donate are among 9.2 million people who give blood every year, which fulfills the need for more than 41,000 pints of blood every day in the United States.

Star of the Sea Parish is one of few spaces in Brookings that is able to accommodate the blood drives, so the small parish opens its doors to community members who donate alongside parishioners. After each event, Red Cross sends the parish a report, said Carol Richardson, parish secretary, and the parish community almost always meets or exceeds the number of donors Red Cross has requested.

Planning is underway for a drive in September at St. Matthew Parish in Hillsboro.

“As Christians, we are always called to help those in need,” said Father Hugo Maese, M.Sp.S., pastor. That includes giving blood, he said, but also offering hospitality to community donors.

Parishes help by providing space, volunteers and sometimes snacks to supplement the Red Cross’ standard-issue cookies, juice and boxed raisins.  Parishes also help with donor recruitment.

Recruitment is particularly important in parishes with large Hispanic populations, because prevalence of blood types varies by ethnicity. Approximately 57 percent of Hispanics have type O blood (compared to 45 percent of Caucasians and 51 percent in African Americans), which is often in high demand by hospitals because it is the most common blood type.  

At parish drives, a phlebotomist helps pack blood donations into coolers with ice, which are picked up and delivered by volunteers to the Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter in Northeast Portland. Blood samples go to a testing laboratory near Airport Way in Northeast Portland. The lab tests for HIV/AIDS, West Niles Virus and other infectious diseases. Most people who are at risk for these diseases are weeded out during a pre-donation screening process, but if the laboratories do find problematic samples, the Red Cross contacts the donor and offers health counseling.

Once the donations reach Red Cross headquarters, the blood goes into centrifuges, which separates the blood into components – platelets, plasma and red cells.

According to Daphne Mathew, communications director for regional Oregon Trail Chapter, parish blood drives are extra important during the summer months because one of the Red Cross’s biggest pools of donors – high school and college students – are on vacation. Types O negative, B negative and A negative blood are especially needed right now.

Blood donated in Oregon is distributed to hospitals throughout the region. Most hospitals have daily orders, and request extra units when something unusual happens. If a region’s donors can’t sustain need, nearby regions pitch in extra pints. Blood donations from Oregon were sent to Southern California after the Mass campus shooting this spring, as well as after the shooting last year at the Los Angeles airport. The Pacific Northwest region also increased blood collections in October and November 2012 in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
A single car accident victim could require as many as 100 pints of blood.

At Southeast Portland’s St. Ignatius Parish, volunteer Jim Mumby organizes two blood drives each year. Though the church campus is currently under construction, dedicated volunteers made sure the drives continue. Instead of using the church, Red Cross will send blood mobiles.

“We try to do a blood drive every six months to stay on a routine schedule that our parishioners can count on,” said Patty Frangipani, parish administrator.

St. John the Baptist Parish in Milwaukie has offered space for the Red Cross to hold monthly blood drives since 2004.

According to parish leaders, “this partnership helps the Red Cross be able to fulfill its mission to provide a safe and reliable blood supply to the greater community.”