Giving however they can: Parishes, K of C councils continue much-needed blood drives

People donate blood at an Italian Red Cross center in Rome March 17, 2020. While the COVID-19 crisis has shut down much of life across the United States and the world, local parishes are continuing to host American Red Cross blood drives to meet the critical need for blood during the health pandemic. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

With American Red Cross stepping up safety precautions, drives ensure COVID-19 doesn't create a second health emergency: blood shortages

BERKLEY — The American Red Cross always needs more blood, even under normal circumstances. With the COVID-19 epidemic, the need is paramount. 

Schools, Masses most workplaces and social events are shut down, but blood drives — with proper precautions in place — are still happening. And they could save lives.

Knights of Columbus Council No. 3830, based in Berkley, hosted a blood drive at its hall on 12 Mile Road from March 23 to March 26 at the request of the Red Cross, which is experiencing difficulties with so many potential host sites closing. 

Our council hall in Berkley wasn’t being rented out, based on the governor’s request, so with nobody using the hall, we thought it best for the Red Cross to use it as needed,” Jim Nitkiewicz, deputy grand knight of Council No. 3830, told Detroit Catholic. 

Nitkiewicz said Red Cross staff and volunteers organized and directed the blood drive, with the Knights providing logistical support, managing the check-in table to ensure people came into the hall at the appropriate time, encouraging social distancing and staffing the refreshments table for blood donors. 

“In terms of resources, the Knights of Columbus doesn’t have to provide much other than opening the hall,” Nitkiewicz said. “The Red Cross is pretty self-sufficient. We basically come in, open the hall for them, and the Red Cross sets up everything they need for the blood drive.” 

Msgr. John Kasza, pastor of St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township, donates blood March 18 as Chris Piebeck and parish nurse Marilyn Cito stand by. (Courtesy photo)

Likewise, St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township had long planned its March 18 blood drive before the COVID-19 pandemic became more pronounced and measures were taken to stop the virus’ spread. Msgr. John Kasza, the parish's pastor, wanted to keep the blood drive going as long as the Red Cross approved.

“The Red Cross said they still wanted to come here, and Msgr. Kasza said ‘absolutely,’” said Chris Piebeck, communication and media coordinator at St. Therese of Lisieux. “Blood is always in high demand, particularly right now, with so many drives being shut down.”

Extra protocols and procedures were taken at St. Therese of Lisieux to ensure the safety of blood donors and those working the drive, including an online registration form where people could sign up and answer questions about prior medical conditions, travel outside the country and securing a time slot to ensure no large gatherings of people waiting to give blood. Upon arrival, donors’ temperatures were taken.

“Anyone with the slightest fever was turned away,” Piebeck said. “That was directly through the Red Cross. When had the blood drive, all the time slots filled up; the response of people to come forward and give was outstanding.”

The St. Therese of Lisieux community produced more than 50 pints of blood, the parish’s largest donation in its history, with some people waiting 2 to 2½ hours to donate blood. 

“It simply shows our people are helping neighbors in need,” Piebeck said. “They have no problem rolling up their sleeves to help anyone who needs help.”

Msgr. John Kasza, pastor of St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township, wears a facemask as he assists with the American Red Cross blood drive at his parish on March 18. (Courtesy photo)

St. Louis Parish in Clinton Township hosted a blood drive on March 23, filling all of its 62 time slots for the one-day drive.

“We couldn’t take any walk-ins unless someone said they weren’t coming,” said Tina Bawks, one of the organizers. “They set up beds and chairs six feet apart, did check-ins by the doors, taking temperatures before coming into the room.”

The parish already was planning to have a blood drive, but with the pandemic, the need seemed even greater. 

“We realized there was a big need,” Bawks said. “We have a number of parishioners who undergo cancer and other treatments, and we realize how important this is.”

Beyond blood drives, parishes are getting creative with how they can serve the community while following Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe,” orders. 

For instance, St. Therese of Lisieux nurse Marilyn Cito has worked with the parish’s “Circle of Friends” sewing group to sew and knit together protective masks to give to area hospitals and medical facilities.

“The work of Marilyn Cito, a registered nurse at the parish, and what she does for the community is phenomenal,” Piebeck said. “The Circle of Friends, who can’t meet in person right now, are knitting from home, gathering supplies and making masks for local hospitals who need it. Every small part of every community can help.”

To find an American Red Cross blood drive near you, visit