Vikings of Solvang team up with Vitalant in two-day event
To aid Santa Barbara County hospitals feeling the impact of a nationwide blood shortage, brethren from the Vikings of Solvang teamed up with Vitalant to host a two-day blood drive this week.
While the COVID-19 crisis overwhelmed ICUs and prompted an all-hands-on-deck response in area hospitals, the need for blood has remained a constant concern.
As COVID-19 shutdowns restricted blood donations all over the nation, blood banks experienced significant deficits in donations, with hundreds of thousands of units of blood lost, Diana Frantela, donor recruitment representative for Vitalant, told the News-Press.
“Every single day, cancer patients need blood, people with chronic blood diseases need blood, trauma accidents — things like that never stop,” Ms. Frantela said. “Generally speaking, every two seconds someone needs a blood transfusion in this country.”
Upon learning of this blood shortage in the county, the Vikings of Solvang were ready to help.
During the Vikings’ blood drive Tuesday and Wednesday at the Solvang Elementary School gym, residents in the Santa Ynez Valley donated 158 units of blood. That was just one unit shy of the Viking’s record of 159 units collected during a single drive event, Kim Jensen, the Vikings’ head of blood drives, told the News-Press.
In the course of 25 years, the Vikings have developed a robust network of donors in the Santa Ynez Valley who are willing to donate consistently at the nonprofit’s spring and fall blood drive events. During this week’s two-day blood drive, Mr. Jensen said residents from across the county filled up each donation spot, prompting an impressive response during an unprecedented time.
“We have some die-hards,” Mr. Jensen said, adding that a number of locals come out to donate at the Vikings’ blood drives every single year.
One of these loyal donors is Solvang resident Carole Paaske.
Ms. Paaske began donating in the 1980s when her father-in-law needed blood, and since then, she’s never stopped. As a donor with O negative blood, Ms. Paaske said she knows when she donates blood, she’s able to help a lot of people.
“I can’t give millions of dollars away, so I’ll give my blood,” Ms. Paaske told the News-Press.
During Wednesday’s blood drive, Ms. Paaske donated blood alongside her daughter, Kaci Morrell. Growing up, Ms. Morrell said she remembers watching her mom donate blood consistently, and it now stands as an inspiration to her.
“I just remember her doing it (and me) going with her,” Ms. Morrell told the News-Press. “Then when I was old enough, I remember in high school I was so excited that I got to do what my mom always did and give blood. I just learned by watching her. I didn’t have a big experience; I just had a good role model.”
During the early months of the pandemic, blood donations dropped quickly all over the country as folks stayed home to prevent the spread of disease. With stay-at-home orders in effect, Vitalant was forced to cancel blood drives and forfeit the use of bloodmobiles, Ms. Frantela said.
“In the very beginning, we were like everybody else, just shell shocked by COVID because overnight we had to stop using our bloodmobiles, which more than half of our collections come from our bloodmobiles,” Ms. Frantela said. “We had to cancel blood drives left and right. It was heartbreaking in the beginning.”
The biggest hit to Vitalant’s blood supply came from the cancellations at high schools and colleges, which account for a quarter of the service’s donations.
Though blood donations remained an essential service throughout the pandemic, finding adequate space for social distancing and recruiting donors to come out for blood drives took some creativity, according to Ms. Frantela. A number of churches, community centers, gyms and even hotels opened up their doors to host blood drives on behalf of Vitalant during the pandemic, and as pandemic restrictions eased in the fall, donors were more willing to come out.
“At first, donors were a little skeptical because on one hand, everyone’s being told don’t go into crowds, don’t go where there are people, and on the other hand, we’re saying please come and donate at these places,” Ms. Frantela said. “But by the time (the Viking’s fall blood drive) happened in September, the public pretty much dialed in.”
Jennifer Gilbert, a Cottage Health nurse, attended Wednesday’s blood drive and has been a faithful donor for many years. Though her patients always get the amount of blood they need, the need for additional blood reserve is always an area of concern, Ms. Gilbert said.
As an O positive blood donor, Ms. Gilbert sees blood donation as a simple and easy way to help many people in need.
“I see firsthand blood being given to patients and how extremely helpful it is with them,” Ms. Gilbert told the News-Press.
For more information on upcoming blood drives, visit vitalant.org.