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American Red Cross, LDS and Catholic churches unite in Bay Area blood drive

The uniting of the LDS and Roman Catholic churches to help the American Red Cross raise blood units in the Bay Area is a unique first-time occasion.

The Interfaith Community Blood Drive is so unique, in fact, that Jeff Meyer, the CEO of Red Cross operations in northern California, said he cannot remember another occasion in which the two churches and other denominations in the region have ever before combined for such an enterprise.

Though the effort provided a mere portion of the 6 million units of blood the American Red Cross collects annually, Meyer had been touched by the seven-month concordance of the two religions to assist in the temporal saving of lives.

"It's amazing to me to see this is actually occurring," Meyer said. "When I'm in a Catholic church seeing an LDS symphony perform and then I'm seeing a Catholic cardinal with elders from the LDS Church sitting next to him, it hit home to me, wondering where else this sort of thing would occur. It blew me away that other differences would be put aside for the common goal of saving lives."

Meyer says the blood drive is believed to be the largest single blood drive in the history of the region, as well as the largest church-organized blood drive in the national organization's history.

The program, which maintained a 1,500-unit goal for a normally slow July nationally, resulted in a donation of 1,284 units for the month, 899 which came from donations made in facilities located in 14 LDS stakes, including Walnut Creek, Moraga, Oakland and other chapels throughout the Bay Area. The Interfaith Blood Drive also raised 200 units last December and 36 this past April, a total that will count toward July's tally, said Justin Mueller, American Red Cross Bay Area regional director.

The chapels are among 62 mobile locations that include regional medical centers and a variety of other Christian and Islam places of worship. Don Eaton, the former LDS Church public affairs director for the Bay Area, said the region typically faces nearly a 40,000 unit deficit per year, with a total donation count of 92,000.

The neighboring churches exhibited their camaraderie this past Easter at the "Lamb of God" oratorio at the Cathedral of Christ the Light, where the blood drive was announced. LDS composer Rob Gardner and the Temple Hill Symphony and Orchestra, an LDS group, performed to prelude the announcement.

In a late-month push, the Interfaith Blood Drive participated with the American Red Cross across the country in promising a Baskin Robbins coupon for every donation made.

The Red Cross' northern California branch nearly reached its July unit collection goal of 7,660 with 7,486 units. The entire West Division, which includes southern California, the Pacific Northwest and Arizona, as well as the Lewis and Clark region, which includes Montana, Idaho, parts of Nevada and Utah, aims to receive 86,000 units per month.

"We went into this not necessarily looking for a significant increase, but for an adequate July," said Mueller, while explaining that the organization could at least count on one-fifth of its monthly allotment through the interfaith enterprise this year. "But for what the mobile team collects, it will be more than previous years. Now we just need to be able be more efficient and ensure that in the months before and after July, we're also able to continue to collect so we can continue that adequate supply."

July's Bay Area operation is a representation of the humanitarian work the LDS Church also provides in other areas of the American Red Cross, including the West Division.

Julia Wulf, chief executive officer of the Lewis and Clark Blood Services region, said that the church's involvement in the area has been the primary reason why the region was able to garner 221,230 units in fiscal year 2010, exceeding its previous goal of 217,000. She said that 24.3 percent of all annual donated units in the region came from LDS facilities during those 12 months.

With its collections, Wulf said the Lewis and Clark region ranks in the top half of the 36 regions in the United States with regards to its annual amount of units donated, while the Interfaith Community Blood Drive lies in a region that received 91,153 units last year.

"There is this community spirit and community support and willingness to volunteer and that makes a huge difference," Wulf said of her region's success and its relationship to its people and the church that provides much of the units.

"We hear over the pulpit to do something good in life outside of church, and donating blood is an easy thing to do," said John Petersen, the Lewis and Clark public relations manager.

In the region, the church averages 92 drives per month, with 49 units collected per drive. While nearly 70 percent of donors within the region have come back to contribute units more than once, 81 percent within the church will return, Wulf said.

Other faith-based groups within the Lewis and Clark region have contributed as well, providing 156 blood drives and 3,323 collected units annually in the region.

While the numbers can be encouraging, Wulf said that all Red Cross regions are always hoping for more, considering that approximately 38 percent of Utah residents are eligible to donate, though less than 8 percent actually do so.

When Eaton collaborated with Dean Crittle, president of the Oakland LDS stake, Meyer, Mueller, Rev. Salvatore Cordileone of the Catholic Diocese of Oakland and Marilyn Wright, an LDS clinical psychologist who was extensively involved in the organization of the blood drive, he knew the enterprise would potentially change the face of religious philanthropy in the region, not to mind the face of churches that have been highly visible in the public eye.

"The way that both of our churches have been taken by the media in interesting ways, it's time we define ourselves," said Eaton, while mentioning the Mormon Helping Hands created by the LDS Church in 1998 as an example of how the church has sought to improve its image and visibility through philanthropy.

"It's certainly been positive in bringing our religious communities together," he said. "The entire religious community in the Bay Area has been under siege by those secular in nature. We've really been building bonds of understanding and appreciating the commonality of our values and have made very large strives of especially knowing our Catholic brothers and sisters, in addition to building relationships with priesthood leaders and Bishop Cordileone."

It's an engagement that Cordileone has been likewise pleased to have been involved with.

"I felt strongly that we should do something to highlight blood as the gift of life," Cordileone said. "Christ gave his blood for us – his life, his very self – and he calls us to do likewise for others."

John Muir, who took over for Eaton, has been impressed by the project.

"Taking care of human needs transcends all beliefs in scripture," Muir said. "The underlying message of faith is that regardless of some differences in belief, we all understand the need to serve one another. This was easy because everyone recognized that in this instance it was not about our manner of belief, it was a matter of love, which is a part of our religion."