During the first 15 minutes of the seventh annual Gift of Life Marathon, 97 volunteers were on hand to donate blood at a busy American Red Cross station set up inside the Paramount Theatre in downtown Rutland.
Sponsored by CVPS and local radio stations WJJR and WSYB, this popular event seems to bring out the spirit of giving here in Rutland County. Even a holiday visitor to Rutland got in the mood; this full-time resident of Florida heard about the Red Cross drive and signed up immediately to donate blood.
By all accounts, the record-breaking downtown blood drive has shattered the New England blood drive record, including last year when Rutland donors blew away Boston's donors. A record of 856 pints was donated in a single day.
Amor Ostojik, a Red Cross manager, said he believed Rutland donors had reached the goal of 1,000 pints. "I have faith in the Rutland community. It's a honor and pleasure to be here where the giving is unprecedented for a town of this size. Per capita, Rutland is the best blood drive in the State even when this town has some of the worst struggles with unemployment, health issues and much more. I have the utmost gratitude for the volunteer spirit of this town."
To meet the high demand for blood, Ostojik said employees from the Manchester, N.H., Red Cross chapter pitched in to draw blood at the theater and at an additional satellite site at the recently vacated Ladabouche Furniture store (the furniture store moved to a new site on Route 7).
For the first time, the Gift of Life drive offered eligible donors the option of making a double-red cell donation and collected 106 usable pints.
Not a single complaint about waiting was heard, according to Red Cross workers and volunteers. In fact, there were several volunteers stopping by sitting donors with beverages and snacks to help keep morale and energy high.
Kim, a Rutland resident, said that "when I had my baby, I received a needed blood transfusion. So, now it's my time to give back." Kim's sentiment was audible throughout the cavernous theatre space.
As a "thank you" for the donor's personal time and blood, participants received a bag of goodies provided by several local businesses.
How did Rutland donors do in reaching the New England record-setting goal of 1,000 pints collected? The final pint count reached 1,024.
By beating the drive's 1,000-pint goal, Steve Costello, CVPS spokesman, and Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras both received Mohawk-style haircuts courtesy of Mazzariello's of Star Barber; both men kept their end of a compact they had announced last week; it served as a challenge to the community.
While the American Red Cross of Northern New England was thrilled with last week's Gift of Life Marathon in Rutland, it also provided an urgent reminder: "The need for blood donations is constant."
To learn more about how to donate blood in Rutland County, contact the Red Cross at 658-6400.