Canadian Blood Services (CBS) relies on its volunteers — all 17, 000 of them — to operate. They hand out cookies, pour coffee, help to promote and organize clinics and, most importantly, encourage first-time blood donors to come back.
But not all volunteers connect with donors like Catherine McGraw and Dorothy Joy do.
“We can relate to them and we listen to them and we can carry on — nothing stops us — you know, if someone tells us they had an abortion, that’s fine,” McGraw said. “We’ll go on and talk about that with them.”
The two volunteer about 12 hours a month, mostly at the mobile clinics in high schools and at Memorial University.
This team, known to some as the “dynamic duo,” has a system.
“The minute we walk in the door we take over the table,” said McGraw. “Now, lots of times when we get there it is set up — the ice is to the side, the cookies are laid there — but then we do it our way.”
Though they each have specific jobs, they both work tirelessly to make sure donors are comfortable and feel welcome.
“Dot looks after the cooler and the cookies, and I do the paperwork and look after the recycling and the garbage — but we talk, we talk to them,” said McGraw.
Over juice and snacks, students talk to them about all sorts of problems: depression, anxiety and other health issues.
“Some of them are so lonely,” McGraw said. “They just sit for a half hour or an hour sometimes.”
From almost three years of volunteering, Joy said, they could write a book based on the stories they’ve heard.
“They like to tell us what their goals are going to be, especially in high schools,” said Joy. “And they talk to each other, too.”
Occasionally, students who want to donate can’t because of a new tattoo or piercing, medication, low iron or simply an empty stomach.
“Sometimes their pulse is low, and they’ll come over and have something to eat, and then they go back and they can give it,” Joy said.
McGraw and Joy assist donors in any way they can, but they know when and where to draw the line.
They know not to touch donors if they are bleeding and to call a nurse if they need help or have a question.
McGraw and Joy joined CBS in March 2010, after retiring from administrative positions at Memorial University. They only had to be told once to thank, inform and invite donors back again — the CBS policy. The two are old family friends and have known each other for about 40 years.
The expression “opposites attract” certainly rings true for this pair. McGraw is more definite and rigid, while Joy is easygoing and funny.
SheriLynn Kavanagh, clinic supervisor for mobiles, is one of many CBS staff that can attest to McGraw and Joy’s contribution to Canadian Blood Services.
“They’re kind of like my eyes and ears when we’re not able to attend to the coffee area on a regular basis,” Kavanagh said, adding she has yet to come across volunteers as enthusiastic as the pair.
Volunteers have to be on their toes at the busy mobile clinics, which Kavanagh said generally collect more units of blood than the main clinic on Wicklow Street in St. John’s.
“In our busiest clinics, for instance, say Bay Roberts and Carbonear, we could collect anywhere from 100 to 120 units in a day,” she said. “In the centre we’d probably collect about 30 units.”
In a perfect world, the refreshment area would be within sight of the clinic, so nurses can keep an eye on those who have just donated blood. But in the case of mobile clinics, where space is an issue, it isn’t always possible.
“In Clarenville, for instance, coffee’s in another room down the hall,” she said. “If we didn’t have volunteers there, we couldn’t have donors out there by themselves, so that’s what our volunteers are there for.”
McGraw and Joy are two of 1,300 CBS volunteers in Atlantic Canada.
Kavanagh said the duo check on donors regularly, paying special attention to new donors, who are more likely to experience discomfort after donating.
“They want to make it such a joyful and a pleasurable experience for them,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing that stands out to me about the two of them.”
Kavanagh said volunteers such as McGraw and Joy help get donors — especially new ones — back through the clinic doors next time they’re eligible.
“Without volunteers Canadian Blood Services couldn’t do a lot of the things that they do,” she said. “It’s wonderful when you have people out there who really want to be there and that are there for the right reasons.”