I recently interviewed seven community leaders who have been instrumental in making many of Phelps' off-site blood drives successful. They spoke so eloquently and with such near-angelic fervor about the importance of blood donation that I've described them here as the "Seven from Heaven."

JoAnne Murray
Allan M. Block
Insurance Agency

A local chamber of commerce breakfast crowd erupted into laughter when a participant announced that "It's much easier to get people to donate money than to donate blood."

The speaker, JoAnne Murray, who is president of the Allan Block Insurance Agency in Tarrytown, had been planning a Phelps blood drive with Sleepy Hollow village administrator Anthony Giaccio, but the sign-up had been going painfully slow. "I thought we'd have a line waiting," she said, "I couldn't believe the excuses I was getting!"

While she and Giaccio, who arranged to hold the drive at the James Galgano Senior Center in Sleepy Hollow, were eventually able to attract a good many donors, their struggle mirrored national studies that find that only 5% of the public actually donates.

Kevin Kaye
OnTrack Sport Center

Getting Community Leaders Involved
Faced with the daunting task of providing enough blood for Phelps' patients, Carol Stanley, supervisor of Phelps Blood Donor Services, and I realize that it's not enough just to hold blood drives; the drives have to be inspired by local community leaders like Murray and Giaccio, who believe that it's their social responsibility to support their local hospital. They are two of the "Seven from Heaven" who have enabled Phelps to continue to collect more than 100 units month after month to fill the relentless demand for blood.
All seven have managed successful blood drive and are blood donors themselves.

Gerry Riera
Family YMCA
of Tarrytown

Social Responsibility
Kevin Kaye, General Manager for On Track Sport Center in Tarrytown, notes that unlike big-money contributors who get so much recognition, "all blood donors are on a level playing field. Blood is such a critical commodity, it's always in demand, and donating can make a huge difference where money can't. And everyone who donates is recognized equally."

Working with Kaye on setting up drives and recruiting donors, Jenifer Ross, owner of W@tercooler, a collaborative office space business for freelancers, located in Tarrytown, makes a similar point. Giving blood, she says, transcends social and cultural differences. "Your blood doesn't go just to your socio-economic group…it goes to help everyone!"

The Reverend David Harkness, pastor of the Irvington Presbyterian Church, muses that "This is your life blood… but you're volunteering it. There's something quite compelling about that."

Jim Farrell, director of the Ossining Public Library, puts it succinctly: "In half an hour, you can save a life."

"I don't have a lot of money to donate," says Gerry Riera, Chief Executive of the Family YMCA in Tarrytown, "but donating blood doesn't cost me anything. I feel it's a social responsibility for me to donate this valuable asset that I have."

And being socially responsible can be "empowering," says Ross. "You have this internal resource that is endlessly replenishable. It's always there to give and nothing will stop you but fear."

Jenifer Ross

When it comes to giving blood, Sleepy Hollow administrator Anthony Giaccio admits, "I'm kind of a wimp, but I do it and always feel good, like I'm accomplishing something. Some people think giving blood is scary. Why not just reach into your wallet instead? But giving blood is tremendously rewarding… more than giving a ten dollar bill."
Peer pressure and direction from the top of an organization can overcome fear. When they host a drive, Riera and his assistant, Sandra Wingate, donate blood first to show that the Family Y is fully behind the effort. They want employees to also feel a responsibility to give. The result? "Even if they feel queasy about the process, they go ahead."

Murray's message about fear comes with an offer: "Anyone who is afraid to give blood, call me. I will tell you that I was fearful for so many years, and you don't have to be."

Former Marine Jim Farrell gets a little impatient about fear: "Roll up your sleeve, squeeze the ball and go for it!"

Jim Farrell
Ossining Public Library

Convenience and Comfort Make a Difference
Going for it at the Ossining Public Library, where Jim is the director, can be a transforming experience. Blood drives are held in the beautiful Budarz auditorium where donors literally give blood on the stage, with the windows providing a panoramic, hilltop view of the city. The library is a perfect venue for a blood drive - the auditorium is large, comfortable and well lit, and there's plenty of parking for donors.

The same holds true for the venues of our other blood drive hosts. The Family Y in Tarrytown has convenient parking off Main Street, comfortable interior spaces and a membership base of 3,500 potential donors. The James Galgano Senior Center is just a block off Beekman Avenue, and many in the neighborhood are able to walk over to donate. The OnTrack Sport Center. located near the Tarrytown train station, offers a unique venue with indoor soccer fields and batting cages in operation. And at the Irvington Presbyterian Church, on Route 9, the community room in the Knox building functions well, used by a large enough church membership "so that it's possible to get the critical mass needed for a drive," Reverend David Harkness says.

But our blood drive hosts, like Reverend Harkness and two of his very active deacons, Debbie Crescenzi and Keira Smith, would not offer their ideal venues if they did not have a full appreciation for what their local hospital, Phelps, is doing.

The Reverend
David Harkness

Irvington Presbyterian Church

Phelps and the Business of Donating
"I think of Phelps as a great neighbor and an asset to the community - we're co-dependent," Giaccio says of Phelps and the Village of Sleepy Hollow. Rev. Harkness adds: "Phelps is a dream to work with because their mobile donor services team is efficient, really wonderful." Similarly, Farrell states, "Phelps phlebotomists are highly skilled, making donating a good experience."

"Most organizations want to be part of the community. By connecting with an organization like Phelps, which is so well respected in the community, it helps our business," adds Ross.

There is an added benefit: Kaye observes that he and his OnTrack patrons who have donated have become closer. By helping the community together, he and his customers have created a deeper connection. Riera agrees: "People who donate blood see beyond their everyday lives and realize that they're really contributing to something that's much larger."

Even so, Murray says, "We get so busy sometimes that we forget how important donating blood is for people in need. It shouldn't take a tragedy to recognize that."

"When tragedy strikes, people can press a button and send money," says Reverend Harkness. This high-tech mindset, he speculates, could lead people to believe that somebody, somewhere has already developed artificial blood and put it on the retail shelf. Nothing could be further from the truth. Recalling the Armed Forces recruitment poster of Uncle Sam pointing, Reverend Harkness says emphatically, "The blood has to come from YOU."

Anthony Giaccio
Village of Sleepy Hollow


Editor's note: We encourage our readers to patronize the establishments of these "Seven from Heaven" and to participate in their future blood drives:

Allan M. Block Insurance Agency, 24 South Broadway, Tarrytown, 914-631-4353

Family YMCA of Tarrytown, 62 Main Street, Tarrytown, 914-631-4807

Irvington Presbyterian Church, 21 North Broadway, Irvington, 914-591-8124

OnTrack Sport Center, 29 South Depot Plaza, Tarrytown, 914-909-2974

Ossining Public Library, 53 Croton Avenue, Ossining, 914-941-2416

Village of Sleepy Hollow, 28 Beekman Avenue, 914-366-5105

W@tercooler, 21 North Broadway, Tarrytown, 914-261-1470