The Mountain Times

°F Wed, April 16, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

Letter to the Editor: Blood drive reflects the best of community

Dear Editor,
If anyone needed their faith in humanity restored after the tragedy in Connecticut, the Gift-of-Life Marathon may have been the perfect tonic.

Just four days after the unfathomable Sandy Hill horror, nearly 2,000 people, from 16 to past 80, rolled up a sleeve, submitted to a needle, and gave a pint of hope, charity and kindness in the form of life-giving blood. People filed into the four sites on faith that we had solved problems that led to four-, five- and six-hour waits in 2011.

After last year's drive, itself an amazing exhibition of giving but a sign that the community might be outstripping the ability to pull off a seamless event, organizers at the Red Cross, WJJR and Green Mountain Power took several deep breaths and reconsidered the event's future. We agreed the waits were unacceptable, and that the drive's growth had been so dramatic that we had to consider major changes.

After lots of soul searching, hundreds of conversations with each other, volunteers and donors, the Red Cross concluded that though we were pushing the limits, they would work to give Rutland one last shot at the national record.

Even before we announced this year's goal, Rutlanders and Rutland businesses began lining up to help:
·         City Resident Tony Cirelli contacted us in August - AUGUST! - to let us know his students at Burr and Burton Academy would be there in force if we held the GOLM once again. Other schools quickly followed suit.
·         Folks at Omya, Long Trail Brewing Company, Westminster Crackers and Vermont Country Store offered whatever we wanted for donor gift bags, and dozens of others stepped up too.
·         The Paramount, College of St. Joseph, Rutland American Legion and Elks Club offered space and staff to host the drive.

Once we announced the goal and plans to improve the drive, community support snowballed.  There were some questions, no doubt, about whether we'd be able to dramatically improve on last year's number, and just as important, last year's execution. But that didn't stop the groundswell of folks lining up to help.

More businesses stepped forward with gift bag items. City leaders, including Rutland's police and fire chiefs and Mayor Chris Louras, helped spread the word.

Dozens of friends and supporters posted on Facebook and Twitter. News media, from our local Rutland Herald and weeklies to the state's TV stations and even WJJR radio competitors, provided broad and deep coverage, many of them also offering significant advertising support. And more than 1,800 people made appointments.

Your readers know the result: The Red Cross and our volunteers succeeded in producing a far-smoother, more efficient event than last year and we collected 1,954 pints, making it the second-largest community blood drive in U.S. history, and a bright spot during one of the bleakest periods in memory.  We set a national record for the number of individual donors to give blood on a single day. More than 300 people donated for the first time, including dozens of 16-year-olds.

Whether we broke the pint record or not, the drive succeeded in its ultimate goal, to significantly bolster the regional blood supply, and several unspoken ones: to bring the community together, build bonds and local pride, and put aside all differences, at least for one day.

We're often asked how a community as small as Rutland can even set such outrageous goals, or donate 1,954 pints, and we always give the same answer: there is a special spirit in the blood of this community.  That spirit lives on in everyone who helped, and in that spirit we say thanks, and the blood recipients and their families say thanks for the gift that this great little community has given to uncounted individuals and families.

Steve Costello, vice president of generation and energy innovation at Green Mountain Power, and Terry Jaye, program manager at Catamount Radio, are co-organizers of the Gift-of-Life Marathon.

~Steve Costello and Terry Jaye