Gift-of-Life Marathon concludes 12 Days of Giving

Article published Dec 17, 2014
Gift-of-Life Marathon concludes 12 Days of Giving
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer
The 2014 Gift-of-Life Marathon blood drive was more of a victory lap.

The event, which was stretched out through 12 days at 12 locations in the region this year, concluded Tuesday at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland. Previous drives in the series started at the home of Castleton State College’s president and popped up at area high schools, businesses and community organizations before returning to where it all began.

“From my perspective, all the events have been great,” organizer Steve Costello said. “The three high schools did phenomenally well. They organized their own drives. We had a large number of first-time donors.”

In contrast with the crowds that packed the theater in recent years, seats were mostly empty Tuesday afternoon as donors were moved quickly through the process.

Last year’s Gift-of-Life set a national record for one-day blood drives, collecting 2,350 pints, and ended an era for the centralized event that has become a major part of Rutland’s identity.

Costello said the atmosphere Tuesday was “way less stressed” but had not lost any of the energy of previous years.

“To me, it still feels really fun and exciting,” he said.

Organizer Terry Jaye, who was once again broadcasting live from the Paramount for WJJR, said he felt the same sort of energy during the kick-off at CSC earlier this month, even if the Paramount was relatively quiet.

“This feels more like the end of the night than the middle of the afternoon, but if a lot of people aren’t waiting, it means it’s moving smoothly,” he said. “That’s a good thing. Do I miss having a live audience I can make a fool of myself in front of? Yeah, I miss that, but I have a microphone.”

As of 8 p.m., Costello could only give an unofficial number of 343 pints collected for Tuesday, and estimated the total for the 12 days was between 1,400 and 1,500. That’s well under the record set last year, and if Costello’s number for Tuesday is correct, it’s less than the 368 the very first Gift-of-Life Marathon back in 2003.

“This isn’t about bragging rights any more,” Jaye said. “We know who we are. This is about doing the right thing.”

The American Red Cross declared that it did not want to devote the resources to massive one-day drives, prompting the change to more and smaller drives. 

When the new format was announced, organizers said they had no specific goal. Tuesday, Costello would not even say that they had expectations.

“I know it sounds funny but we weren’t focused on the numbers,” he said. “We were focused on giving the opportunity to a number of different communities in the area and to give people the opportunity to donate. ... A typical blood drive collects 40, maybe 50 pints in Vermont. Every drive we’ve done has collected what would have been a pretty big number a few years ago.”

Ryan Schmoldt, district manager for donor recruitment with the American Red Cross, said New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine — the states in his district — use about 600 pints of blood a day. While demand is constant, supply takes a dip during the holidays.

“Schools close,” he said. “Universities close. We lose 20 percent of our blood supply. That’s hard to make up and we rely on corporate sponsors like Green Mountain Power to catch us up.”

Costello, who was distracted from organizational duties by his day job at Green Mountain Power, said the drive went especially well in light of last week’s weather.

“I was up to my neck in utility work as well as wondering if people would turn up,” he said. “They did. ... Had we ever gotten a snowstorm like last week on a day we were trying to get 2,000 pints, that never would have happened.”

Costello said the risk of inclement weather was one of the reasons the Red Cross wanted to move away from such large-scale, one-day drives.

He said organizers were pleased with how the new format worked, but a number of other ideas had been bandied about and next year’s Gift-of-Life Marathon may see further changes.

“Bottom line — we’re really pumped over how it went,” he said.