Wearing masks and gloves to protect against COVID-19, members of Second Congregational United Church of Christ went ahead with their regularly scheduled blood drive on Thursday, March 26, in Newcastle, Maine.
The coronavirus has so far hit Maine’s mid-coast region less hard than some parts of the country, but supplies of donated blood are growing ever shorter there, as everywhere, as regular donors stay home and some sites cancel drives.
That's why Second Congregational felt it important not to cancel, even though it meant moving to a bigger venue, said its pastor, the Rev. Charlene Corbett.
'We had to turn away walk-ins'
"We quickly determined last week that our space wasn't going to be able accommodate more than three beds in our fellowship hall with the spacing that’s required now," Corbett said. So she approached the local YMCA, which alternates months with the church in hosting the blood drive – and the Y said yes. "All appointments were filled and we had to turn away walk-ins," Corbett said.
The pastor joined Second Congregational members Pam Gormley, Rick Hagen, and Phil and Linda Blomquist in masking up to welcome and register donors. The local chapter of the American Red Cross made sure spacing, sanitation and other protocols followed U.S. Centers for Disease Control requirements. "We had 40 donors sign in to donate and collected 36 pints," said local Red Cross official David Stires. "Since each donation is separated into three products—red cells, platelets and plasma—the amount we collected can save up to 108 lives."
Nationally, the American Red Cross hopes more churches will step forward with offers of space and help.
Red Cross needs new hosts
"The Red Cross has seen an unprecedented number of blood drives cancelled during this coronavirus pandemic as workplaces, college campuses and schools are temporarily closing and more people are being told to work remotely and practice social distancing," a spokesperson said by email in response to an inquiry from United Church News. "Given these drive cancellations, there are fewer opportunities for blood donors to give. Right now, the Red Cross is working around the clock to identify new hosts and are adding new blood drives each day." Interested churches and other organizations can express interest at www.redcrossblood.org/hosting-a-blood-drive.
The agency has posted a video assuring donors it's safe to give blood, even in the midst of the current pandemic.
Maintaining essential ministries
Protective gear is becoming familiar to volunteers at Second Congregational, which, as Corbett put it, "is very committed to maintaining essential ministries" even though in-person worship and other church activities have been suspended and moved online.
One of those is a weekly food pantry, run by several churches, that Second Congregational hosts on Tuesday mornings. "Last week we were only allowing 10 people at a time to register and go in and maintain distance while selecting dairy, diapers, canned goods and perishables," Corbett said. "All of our volunteers were wearing gloves. This week we moved operations to curbside only, which required more volunteers." They prepacked bags with some items, went out to the curb to take clients' meat, dairy and produce orders, then added those items to a bag and brought them out – wearing gloves and masks all the while.
'There's a desperate need for it'
A social worker, usually present during the pantry ministry, was unavailable, "so a Baptist minister and I have been handling requests for gas cards, utility support and so on," Corbett said. "We weren't able to do it inside the building, so we were going car to car.
"What we've noticed is that we have fewer senior citizens coming in – some of them are probably afraid to go out – but we have more families coming in to register for food pantries and support, because we have a lot of layoffs locally." The region's economy is heavily seasonal, she said, and the virus has affected everyone from tourism and restaurant workers to fishing businesses.
All the more reason for the church to keep up its work, Corbett said. "It's needed," she said. "There’s a desperate need for it, and that's why we said we're not going to cancel."