Do as I do… Charles Harris flashes his affiliation with Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. while donating blood during an MLK Day of Service event sponsored by the NAACP. “Omegas are some of our biggest blood donors. They honor Dr. Charles Drew, their frat brother, who created the blood bank,” said Debra Brown, a senior donor recruiter for Vitalant (formerly LifeBlood). (Courtesy photo)

Last year was going to be a red-letter year for blood donations.

Sororities, fraternities, schools, colleges and corporate partners supporting employees in community projects all had blood drives scheduled to replenish the local blood bank.

However, before the first quarter of 2020 was done, COVID-19 hit. Vitalant, formerly Lifeblood, had to cancel every blood drive in the calendar year.

Debra Brown (Courtesy photo)

“High schools and colleges are 25 percent of our donor base,” said Debra Brown, senior donor recruitment representative. “Not only were schools and colleges operating virtually, but companies also had to do the same. Many were working from home. 

“And those who still had an in-person work force only wanted to concentrate on production. So, last year was not a great year for blood donations.”

Brown said 2021 is already looking up. 

Methodist Hospital South and Baptist Hospital have literally been lifesavers, with blood drives right inside their facilities.

“I don’t know what we would have done without them,” said Brown. “And on MLK Day of Service, we brought our mobile donation to the NAACP, who sponsored a drive, along with 100 Black Men of Memphis. That event alone every year gets us 100 pints. However, we didn’t quite get that this year.”

Brown said the deficiencies in blood donations generally hit communities of color the hardest.

“As you would imagine, there is a greater need for blood during a global event such as a pandemic,” said Brown. 

“In addition to that, blood donations from African-Americans are especially important for those who suffer with sickle cell. Most Blacks are either type ‘O’ or type ‘B.’ Type ‘O’ is universal. When sickle cell patients come into the hospital, they are given ‘O.’”

Sororities and fraternities are also an integral and important donor base for local blood donations. Brown said it’s safe to schedule a blood drive. Masks and gloves are used by all staff, and those making donations are socially distanced from others and wearing masks as well.

“We are taking every precaution recommended by the CDC and our Shelby County health officials,” said Brown. “We’re asking everyone who can to organize a blood drive, or call and go online to make an appointment to give blood. The pandemic has hit our community the hardest, and we need to respond in kind.”

Charles “Chas” Harris gets prepped for his blood donation. (Courtesy photo)

Charles “Chas” Harris, director of business development for Sodexo Food Service, donated blood at the recent NAACP King Service Day event.

“On a day like MLK Day, I guess we ask the question, ‘Are we doing enough to help our fellow man?’” said Harris. “I looked at all the events taking place in the city to serve others, and I felt that donating blood would be a great way to give back.”

Harris came dressed in purple and gold, the colors of his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. Brown was not surprised.

“Omegas are some of our biggest donors,” said Brown. “They are faithful to giving blood because of Dr. Charles Drew. He organized the first blood banks during World War II. Of course, he was an Omega. They will always want you to know that Dr. Drew was a frat brother.’

Harris said when considering the contributions of men such as Dr. Drew and Dr. King it’s logical to ask, “Am I doing enough? … It challenges you to want to do more, and you look for opportunities to do more. I encourage everyone who can organize a drive and set an appointment to come in and donate blood to please do so.”

Brown said a brief screening is done for every person who comes in to gauge the condition of their health.

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