Give the gift of life for the holidays on Whidbey

Hundreds of Whidbey Islanders are giving the gift of life this holiday season by donating blood.

Coupeville resident Mike Millenbach shares a laugh with Puget Sound Blood Center phlebotomist Becky Brown at a blood drive this week. Millenbach gives blood regularly and knows Brown from previous visits. He’s given nearly three gallons over the years.

Hundreds of Whidbey Islanders are giving the gift of life this holiday season by donating blood.

While the Puget Sound Blood Center conducts mobile blood drives hosted by various community groups throughout the year, a string of seasonal collections began earlier this month.

Before the end of the year, at least six drives will have visited locations from Langley to Oak Harbor. One of the first was held at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland, resulting in 112 donors and 95 pints of blood.

“This was a fantastic turnout and a great help to the low blood supply,” said Gayle Richards, the blood center’s donor resources representative for Whidbey Island.

According to Richards, one pint of blood can save up to three lives. That means the Freeland drive alone collected enough blood to save up to 285 patients.

Hosting blood drives is a lot of work. “Organizing the event, setting up a space and then cleaning up is work but it’s a labor of love,” said Robin Edgman, the blood drive coordinator for Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.

“Why do we do it?” Edgman said. “Because it’s a good thing.”

“People just consider it a community service,” she said.

Although this was just one of four blood drives the church holds every year, the Nov. 5 collection resulted in a better than average turnout, welcoming 18 first-time donors as well as many regulars.

Port of South Whidbey employee and Langley resident Molly MacLeod-Roberts has been donating blood for years and she was there Monday evening.

“It’s just really important,” MacLeod-Roberts said. “My dad was a lifelong donor. He gave over 10 gallons.”

“He’s gone but someone has to keep giving,” she said.

While MacLeod-Roberts isn’t afraid of needles, which makes the giving all the easier, not everyone was so lucky. Clinton artist Dan Freeman, who came with a group and was donating blood for the first time, said that was one part of the experience he was not looking forward to.

“I’m not fond of needles at all,” Freeman said.

But he didn’t let a little personal phobia stand in the way and gave up his arm to the awaiting blood center phlebotomist without a tremble.

“This is nothing compared to what someone who really needs the blood is going through,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing to do. I’ll do it again next year.”

A blood drive in Coupeville this week was also held, though statistics about the collection were not immediately available. Coupeville Lion’s Club organizers, however, said they hold four drives a year and average about 80 people each time.

The secret to getting lots of people to participate is all the home-baked cookies they put out, said Sue Hartin, an event co-chair.

“That’s the big draw,” she laughed.

Like the drives at Trinity Lutheran Church, many who come to the Lion’s Club drives, such as Coupeville resident Mike Millenbach, give blood regularly.

“One more time and I get my three gallon pin,” said Millenbach, with a proud grin.

“I just give because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Contributions this holiday season are especially important, Richards said, as the blood center is planning to assist New York and New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“This is a huge success for the patients awaiting blood transfusions,” she said, referring to the recent blood drives.

Whidbey Islanders tend to be generous donors. On an average year, 13 local organizations hold a total of about 50 separate blood drives each year. Collectively, 1,950 people donate with each person giving about one pint of blood.

“I’m telling you, Whidbey Island is phenomenal,” Richards said.

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