How One Blood Drive Coordinator Moved Forward with Passion and Purpose When COVID-19 Changed the Rules

Story by Harriet Vanderbilt / Red Cross Cascades Region

Carolyn Sunderman defines her volunteer job as coordinator of the Stayton Blood Drive as “a perfect fit for me.” 

She throws her passion and energy into this volunteer position. In 2020, neither wildfire, nor ice, nor COVID-19 has impeded her efforts to hold the drives. She knows the value blood donation has for the recipients as well as for the rural community of Stayton, Oregon.

Carolyn Sunderman, Blood Drive Coordinator for the Community of Stayton. Photo submitted by Carolyn.

“My first donation was when I was in my mid-20s,” Carolyn said. “A co-worker encouraged me to go to a blood drive with him.”  

The State of Oregon office where she worked at the time gave employees time off to donate. 

Her commitment remains strong as Carolyn still donates regularly. “I reached 18 gallons in April”, she said proudly.  

When Carolyn retired from her state job in 2013, the coordinator of the Stayton Community Blood Drive, Wilma Shelton, asked her to take over the job. Carolyn quickly became “the new Wilma.”  

With fire in her belly for her new calling, Carolyn organizes each and every blood drive event in detail.

Carolyn explains that “we have six drives per year, always on the third Monday of the odd months.” They run from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at Foothills Church, which the time and day were chosen by the church to fit into their calendar. 

“I normally have between 75 and 89 slots open per drive. Pre-COVID, I was able to fill over a hundred slots!”

Many of the appointments are filled by regulars who appreciate a regular appointment time.  

“These dedicated donors show up for each drive”, Carolyn explains. Among the donors are friends and neighbors from the communities of Stayton, Sublimity, Scio, Aumsville, and Santiam Canyon east of Stayton.  

“Volunteers help sign-up donors for the next drive. Sometimes, the next drive is 75 percent full when we finish a current drive. Two weeks before each drive, another volunteer and I work to fill all the remaining donor slots. Because Stayton is a small community, many residents know me. I see them at the store or the park. I’m the ‘blood drive lady!'”

File photo by Jody Lane/American Red Cross.

During a blood drive, Carolyn enjoys greeting the donors. She hands out her personal card with her phone number, asking them to call if they have concerns. First-time donors and donors who complete gallons always get a note of thanks.  

“At least once a year, I send notes to all my donors and volunteers.”

Currently, Carolyn works with six volunteers. “Since becoming blood drive coordinator, I’ve gained many new volunteers. They have all approached me, asking if I needed help with the drives. Many of them were, or are, donors. While everyone is working, I like spending my time on the floor visiting with all the donors.”

That personal connection helps turn first-time donors and occasional donors into regular donors.

“We used to also enjoy making homemade cookies for each drive. We’re all looking forward to the end of this pandemic so we can serve homemade cookies again.”

The Stayton Community Blood Drive is the largest non-school blood drive in Oregon.  

“I set the bar high,” quips Carolyn. “I have a goal of collecting 100 units at a drive per day. We once hit 98 units!”  

There is a strong sense of community and a desire to help others. Each drive is like a reunion, with donors greeting each other and catching up on what’s new.”

The pandemic changed the rules but Carolyn simply adjusted, accepted, and moved on with passion and purpose. She is a perfect fit and an inspiration for the Stayton community.