by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Wednesday was Barbara Rodgers's birthday and the library media specialist at Niagara Falls High School had a special request for her colleagues and the students.
She wanted them to pledge to donate 100 units of blood through a UNYTS drive at the school on her big day.
Everyone came through for her.
"They came out in droves today," Rodgers said. "These people can't go out and buy gifts for other people because many of them don't have enough themselves. But showing up like this shows they're investing in themselves, investing in the community. And it teaches them it's not just about their blood donation, but also about giving the gift of life."
Rodgers has served as the school's advisor to its Donate Life club, which is responsible for organizing the high school's four annual blood drives. Wednesday's event was the second since October. The others are scheduled for February and April.
With this drive in particular, more than 120 students and faculty members, ranging from 17-year-old students to some of the district's highest ranking faculty members, gave blood.
Even Dean of Students Marc Catanzaro rolled up his sleeves to help the community.
"Any chance I get, I donate," Catanzaro said. "Having it here at the school is nice and convenient, but really, the kids bring me here. They're a good group and it's a good cause."
According to UNYTS Relationship Development Manager Linda Castellano, blood drives like this and at other area schools and colleges account for about 35 percent of the blood donated each year. She said about 60 Donate Life clubs exist throughout the eight counties of Western New York, responsible for setting up and facilitating the drives.
The blood donated locally also remains local, she said. UNYTS, formerly Upstate New York Transplant Services, exclusively supplies all blood to Niagara County's hospitals and several others in the region, including Erie County Medical Center.
"Each donor saves three lives," she said. "Everyone who goes to those hospitals and needs a transfusion, it's coming from us."
This time of year is also a very important season for service providers like UNYTS. Castellano said the holiday season is usually a decreased donation time while need increases. Therefore, events like Wednesday's birthday party for Rodgers – complete with birthday cake and several presents, though they were given out by Rodgers instead of to her – are even more important, Castellano said.
For Rodgers, the birthday celebration brings back memories of why she got involved with UNYTS in the first place. It was six years ago, when her father passed away. Her mother made the decision to donate his bone tissue through UNYTS, changing someone's life for the better.
She said she's hopeful the students especially learn the donation really does help those in desperate need, even if it's just blood.
"It's not about attaining a goal, it's about the journey we're all on," Rodgers said. "Kids came out today and some of them donated double reds when they've never donated before in their lives. Studies have shown if we get them in their teens, they're more likely to be life-long donors. And it's more than just blood. It's tissue and organ donations, too.
"I'm a big believer in paying the gift of life forward."