When two children at Northlea school were diagnosed with leukemia in the same week of November 2003, people were overwhelmed with a desire to help, but were at a loss as to how.
Both children suggested that people could donate blood. A group of 10 mothers joined together to make that happen. When we started these clinics over 10 years ago, we were lauded for wanting to host one clinic, and warned not to set our expectations too high.
Our liaison from Canadian Blood Services (CBS) at that time told us that a community-run clinic our size could expect to average about 60 units of blood. I remember our committee of volunteers told them that Leaside was different, and that they should be prepared for an unusual response.
We were also told that clinics like ours tend to lose steam once the initial crisis has passed. At that time we committed to five years of clinics, 10 in total, until the theoretical time by which the two children in whose honour we began the clinics would be deemed cured. Our CBS liaisons smiled and continued on with their usual plans.
We were all stunned at the end of the first night, when CBS finally closed the doors, after running hours overtime and having had to turn away people because over 206 showed up to donate.
Leaside donated 172 units of blood that night, saving over 516 lives. It was the largest community-run clinic in CBS history.
The neighbourhood has continued to exceed expectations every single time, with over 100 units collected in almost every clinic, even though one of the children died in October 2012.
None of the blood collected can be directed toward any one patient in Canada, so it doesn’t necessarily benefit anyone in the community.
However, everyone who participates, from patients who have lent their names to the cause, to family members who drive hours to participate, to vendors who donate food and services to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere, to the Girl Guide and Scout units who used to volunteer to comfort or entertain waiting donors, to the thousands of donors themselves, help to keep donations at double what anyone predicted.
Two One Match Stem Cell Donation swabbing clinics have also been held in conjunction with our clinics to help those in need of transplants.
The most important legacy of this project is the new donors who were once Leaside students themselves.
I hope this community and its neighbours continue to carry this legacy forward, so others can feel that support as Leaside moves into its second 100 years together.
Our 23rd clinic is on Wednesday, April 9, 2-8 p.m. in the north gym at Northlea Elementary and Middle School, 305 Rumsey Rd.
You can make an appointment at 1-8882-DONATE or www.blood.ca (walk-ins also welcome).