A group of Toronto area high school students arrive at 12 division headquarters in cruisers, not for the proverbial slap on the wrist but rather a needle in their arm. It was all part of a partnership between the Toronto Police Service, students and Canadian Blood Services (CBS) to save lives one pint of blood at a time.
The initiative was the brainchild of 12 Division administrative co-ordinator Sandra McQuade. A long-time blood donor, McQuade thought it would be natural for school resource officers to encourage eligible students to donate blood at the station. The response was overwhelming, said 12 division S/Insp Dave McCormack. “The (students) were excited and taking a great deal of pride in what they were doing.” McCormack challenged school resource officers at four other divisions to inspire eligible students to donate blood. They already had a good rapport with the students because they were in the school every day, explained McCormack, so “It just made sense.” Initially, CBS community development co-ordinator Len Rosen was a little hesitant about the idea because “It’s not the protocol we usually follow when we do mobile blood donations.” The Bloodmobile usually operates with the knowledge of how many people are donating in advance, he said. That practice had to be waived in this case. CBS launched its new mobile clinic, a climate controlled tractor trailer that can be set-up curbside or in a parking lot, in Sept. 2010. One of its perks is that it attracts more first-time donors because it can reach new neighbourhoods, Rosen said.
The motivation for police to get involved was obvious, said McCormack, “As emergency responders we see the need for blood far too often.” CBS and police have a longstanding partnership through programs like Sirens for Life and this latest initiative only enhances the relationship. “When an event like this happens, Canadian Blood Services wins, the police service wins and the community wins,” said McCormack.
Events like this also enhance police presence, McCormack said. “We want to teach kids how we can give back to the community... It sets (students) and the community up for life.”
McQuade has organized many blood clinics for police over the years and saw the new program as a chance to teach students how to help in a unique way. “I saw the opportunity to create more of a bond between police officers and students. A new experience to share together, a partnership in life saving,” she said.
The student donation event was a smashing success, not only because of the participation rate but because all the students were first-time donors. Currently, only 3.5 per cent of eligible Canadians donate blood, according to Rosen. The donor population is aging and fresh blood is needed to replace people who can no longer give. He hopes the event planted a seed in some of the students. “Young people today are socially aware and are very much connected to what is going on in the world.”
“Many see the act of donating blood as a social responsibility. When they find out that their single donation saves three lives they become very motivated to get involved.” Often, it is a challenge getting young people to become regular blood donors, said Rosen. Students may donate for short period of time but often stop after university.
The police made it into a fun event for the students, said McCormack. “We wanted it to be a party type atmosphere... There was a raffle for an Ipod Nano. We had pizza. It was a great chance to build relationships with students.”
In particular, McCormack recalls one heartwarming conversation he had with a donor about becoming a police officer. “It’s crucial that we’re interacting with students so we’re seen as ordinary people who students can turn to and ask for help and advice,” he said.
Thirty two units of blood were collected over four hours at the station, said Rosen. Each unit of blood is separated into plasma, red blood cells and platelets.
The success of the clinic was so overwhelming that Rosen said CBS plans to hold events in other areas, including 42 division, which signed up for a mobile clinic scheduled for late February. Community Relations Officer Dale Nichiporik said it was a no-brainer.
“(The police) want to be approachable for students,” he said. “Instead of showing up at schools arresting people, we are helping them give back to the community.” The campaign involves putting up posters at schools across the area, he noted, although he admits to being unsure how many students will take an interest. The eligible donor pool is quite small at high schools because the minimum age for donating blood is 17-years-old.
Twelve division plans to host an encore donation clinic in April. McCormack said the initiative was such a success he’s happy others are getting on board. “We’ll take full credit for them copying us,” he joked.
McCormack said he looks forward to the opportunity to interact again with students, adding “I’ll do this the rest of my career. There is no reason not to.”