Barbara Maynard offers her arm to Jen Simpson of the Kenai Peninsula Blood Bank during a remote blood drive earlier this year.
Clarion file photo by M. Scott M
A van, formerly known as the Kenai Peninsula Express, was adopted recently due to mechanical problems but there was nothing wrong with the van itself.
Blood Bank of Alaska reassigned the 15-passenger van to Anchorage because it was not serving its purpose at the blood bank satellite location, the Kenai Peninsula Center in Soldotna's Blazy Mall, in helping reach monthly blood collection goals.
Five years ago, former Kenai Peninsula Center manager Suzie Kendrick headed a campaign to raise funds for the full-sized cargo van in hopes of collecting blood donations at community functions and surrounding small towns. It was purchased with donations from residents and corporations in one year. Altogether, with a change drive, quilt raffle and individual donations, the center collected $34,341.
Kendrick left the organization soon after and the center grew quiet.
Gregg Schomaker, director of marketing and public relations for Blood Bank of Alaska, said the reason for the drop in proactivity at the center is staffing.
The center has faced challenges with meeting the blood collection goals for the peninsula recently, with roughly 66 percent of the monthly objective of 325 units of blood, Schomaker said. One unit of blood equals nearly a pint.
The challenges of finding effective center management started approximately three years ago. The staff expressed difficulty in meeting the goals, keeping consistent hours and facilitating community collections, Schomaker said.
"We've been through four managers and four community coordinators in four years," he said. "We needed to coordinate this better on both ends."
Barry Thomas, interim manager of the Kenai Peninsula Center, said Wednesday morning he is confused about the transitions taking place.
"I don't really know what's going on right now," he said. "The van is in Anchorage."
By early Wednesday afternoon, Thomas was not allowed to speak to the press, as instructed by Schomaker.
Kendrick said the dwindling blood drives in recent years are disconcerting and the people of the peninsula are owed an explanation for the van's reassignment.
"This is a nonprofit organization I believe has been in trouble for a while," she said. "But you cannot penalize our community for a lack of good management."
Though the van was funded heavily through local donations, Blood Bank of Alaska sees more potential for it statewide. CEO Jack Williams said the off-site collection van was only used five days per month while in Soldotna, and he doesn't understand why it sat idle.
"What good does it do sitting out there rusting?" Williams asked.
He added that, logistically, there are not enough donors on the peninsula to make effective use of the van and said the van was being used about 20 percent of the time.
"That means it's sitting behind the Blazy Mall 80 percent of the time and not serving its purpose. The van is about 4 years old and only has 8,000 miles on it. We need to get it running more and keep up with demand."
Kendrick sees the situation differently.
She said she led the Kenai center to reaching as many as 70 units collected in one day.
"There are plenty of people here willing to give blood," she said. "We had some blood drives here that blew their socks off."
Today's numbers under different management have dwindled in comparison, she said.
In regard to the local groups who donated money to the home-grown and short-lived effort of the van, Schomaker said he believes the donating groups' intention was to save lives.
"(Central Peninsula General Hospital) will still get the blood it needs," Schomaker said.
The Rasmuson Foundation got on board the van project and put down $7,500 for the cause. Rasmuson Foundation Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Clarke said this was the first he has heard of the van's reassignment.
"Normally we make awards for specific purposes. In this case, I'm not familiar with it I have not been contacted about it," Clarke said.
The grant reads that $7,500 was awarded to the Blood Bank of Alaska's Kenai Peninsula Center for the winter-ready cargo van to transport staff and equipment to blood drives throughout the peninsula and Kodiak.
Schomaker said due to costs, van visits from Anchorage with Anchorage staff will be limited but become more regular in the fall.
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