The Kenai Peninsula Center of the Blood Bank of Alaska marked its second anniversary Thursday. But thanks to contributions of peninsula residents, the center has much more to celebrate.
Center manager Suzie Kendrick beamed with delight while describing the center's new Kenai Peninsula Express, a full sized 15-passenger cargo van, while residents donated blood during the open house celebration Saturday.
"It meets our needs absolutely perfectly," Kendrick said.
The van was purchased with donations from area residents and corporations in a one-year time frame.
All together, with a change drive, quilt raffle and individual donations, the center collected $34,341. The fund drives allowed anyone to donate, and with the change drive, any amount, including a fist of pennies, was appreciated.
"It was heartwarming to see those kids bringing in their change," Kendrick said.
Those contributing more than $5,000 include BP Exploration Inc., the Kenai Native Association, Soldotna Lions Club and the Rasmusson Foundation.
Kendrick viewed the van as necessary for blood drives because blood bank employees were using their personal vehicles to transport equipment, including donor chairs, phlebotomy supplies, health screening equipment and blood bags to and from the drive sites.
Also, the van enables the center to store equipment, in turn reducing time and effort it takes to constantly move it.
So with cash in hand, Kendrick called car dealerships throughout the state to find the van that met the criteria. She found it at Worthington Ford in Anchorage.
Kendrick said there are no bells or whistles on the van, the only feature that cost extra was four-wheel drive. She said that feature was important because of the location of many of the blood drives and the safety factor.
Once the van was in the center's possession, Kendrick said she needed a place to park it so it would be visible to the public. Her concerns about it being vandalized when unattended were solved by Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Warner, who arranged that the van could be parked outside the police station, across the street from the center.
"It will be a constant reminder that the Blood Bank of Alaska is alive and well," Kendrick said.
The center is now looking to visit Homer, Ninilchik, Anchor Point, Seward, Cordova and Kodiak.
"We much prefer the community atmosphere," she said. "Our blood drives have basically turned into community events."
As Seward resident Terry Pollard, owner of Terry's Tires and Lube, prepared to leave after his donation, he looked to Kendrick and offered her a donation of a full set of tires and wheels for the van.
Kendrick said Pollard has driven from Seward to donate since the center opened. He is a three-gallon donor, she said.
With tears in her eyes, Kendrick thanked Pollard, with both words and an embrace.
"That is a major thing," she said after he left. "It increases our level of safety more."
With all the donations, Kendrick said she greatly appreciates the kindness of area residents.
"We would not be operating on our current level without all of the support we have gotten from the community," she said.
The efforts to attain the van did not go unnoticed, she said. The Matanuska-Susitna center is raising funds to purchase a similar vehicle.
Another major task the blood bank is working on is getting its blood processing laboratory fully functional.
Currently, donated blood must be flown to Anchorage to be processed. The center is waiting on needed furniture and permits from the Food and Drug Administration.
The equipment will need to be validated and different scenarios simulated to insure proper working order before blood can be tested. Also, maintenance manuals are needed for all equipment, and standard operating procedures -- approximately 70 -- will need to be modified.
"All that needs to be in place before training people," Kendrick said. "It is a very big project. It is very overwhelming, that's why we are taking it step-by-step."
She estimated the project would be up and running in the fall.
"If we are lucky," she added.
While Kendrick has been at the head of the projects, she said she doesn't take all the credit.
"Without the donors and the staff, the doors would be locked," she said.
Although the doors won't be closed, cutting the number of blood drives and center hours are not out of the question.
"We are not having as many donors at the center as we like. In order to make sure hours are not cut, the center needs to have more local visits," Kendrick said.
She said although goals are being met, and the center did collect 13 percent of the 2000 totals for the state -- equaling about 27,000 units -- she would like to see the time 15 to 20 people visit the center per day. The daily average now is seven donors.
"I would like people to remember to not take your local blood center for granted," she said.
Kendrick said Blazy Mall merchants donated prizes and discounts for the second anniversary. Also, Le Croissant Shoppe is offering a free bowl of soup and a croissant to all blood donors during March.
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