Story and Photo(s) by Alice Gerard
Senior Contributing Writer
Venita Jackson, carrying a bottle of fruit juice, walked into the office of the Sokody Sales Team on the afternoon of Aug. 22. She had just donated blood on the ConnectLife bus in the business’ parking lot.
“When my loved ones go in the hospital, I don’t ever want there to be a wait,” Jackson said. “And also, I might need it one day. I’ve been blessed that I’ve never needed it, but a lot of my family has.”
Jackson, who has been donating blood for “at least 30 years,” said the process is easy. “It was seamless. They did all the work. You just lie there.”
She said she felt good about donating her blood. “I’m going to make more. There are people who need it. Some of them would be my family members and loved ones. Instead of just consuming, why don’t we actually produce and give?”
The blood drive at Sokody Sales Team, 1939 Grand Island Blvd., was the idea of Katie Beauchamp, the business’ general manager and administrator.
“I’ve always been involved with blood drives because we had a family member who had a blood cancer,” Beauchamp said. “The family always donated. We went down to Roswell to donate. I started just doing it on my own and then I was working with another agent from another brokerage, and she did a lot with ConnectLife, so I started donating blood through my office there. After I joined the Sokody team, we started talking about charities and I said, ‘I really like ConnectLife. It means a lot to me because I have a family member who passed away from cancer.’ It was blood cancer, so it goes hand in hand with that. I started bringing it up to the team here, and they were all excited about it. So, now we pack the bus every time it comes. We do it about once every three or four months.”
The family member who died was Donna Beauchamp, who was “my husband’s aunt. She was a wonderful person. We called her ‘Little D’ because she was about yay-high. We used to tease her and say she’d have to sit in a booster seat to drive. She was a sweet family member. She was always the one who was very attentive to the kids that were around. She was just Aunt Donna. She was the aunt you could go to for anything, and she would help you out.
“She came from a family of many sisters. When they found out she was sick, all the sisters went to get tested to see if they could be a donor for her. One ended up being able to donate. Unfortunately, it didn’t take as well as they were hoping. Anyone who could (donate) would. They did everything they could to help her out and to get her back. She went to Roswell. There is actually a plaque there for her, after she passed.”
Beauchamp said she organizes all the blood drives at Sokody Sales Team. Her goal, she said, was 17 appointments.
“We filled all 17 appointments. We have four walk-ins scheduled. We just had another walk-in show up. I actually had an appointment at 1:15, but I had to walk off the bus so some of my fellow agents could get on it. They’re working in the field, so they’re busy. I’m sitting here, so I can get on the bus whenever. I gave my appointment up because they’re so packed in there right now. They can’t take anyone on. They have people waiting outside. It’s awesome.”
One of the agents who was preparing to donate blood as Beauchamp spoke was Bethany Gonyou.
“I tried donating the last time they were here, but I had to be deferred,” Gonyou said. “My heart rate was too high because I had been working in the gardens beforehand. It had gotten really high, and I didn’t realize it. I was working hard.”
Beauchamp described the screening process that potential donors go through before donating blood on the bus.
“They do test you when you go in to make sure your iron levels are OK. You have to go through a series of questions. Based on the answers, they will determine whether you can give blood. And even after that, there are days when they can’t get any blood out of me. It depends on your veins. I’ve literally sat there, hanging on to the side of the bed, trying to get blood out of my arm. Sometimes, it works, and sometimes, it doesn't. I’ve got small veins, so it’s hit or miss with me.”
This time, Gonyou had gotten through the screening process without mishap: “I’ve already gone through, and they’ve accepted me.”
When asked what it meant to her to donate blood, Gonyou said, “I have a brother who’s had cancer. My dad has had cancer. They’re not necessarily blood-related issues. My dad had to have surgery. I don’t know if he needed transfusions. It feels like it’s a way that I can give back, to do my best to make the world a better place.”
Beauchamp explained, “Personally, I love this. It makes me feel really good. It’s no effort on my part. Needles don’t bother me. It costs me nothing but a little bit of my time, and it makes me feel good, knowing that the blood stays in Western New York and is saving lives.
“It's very convenient. I love that the bus comes here. Getting an appointment and having to go somewhere isn’t always easy for people. But having the bus come here … either they can make an appointment or walk in, so it’s great for people driving by. They see it and say, ‘Oh, I’ll stop in and do it now.’ ”
Beauchamp said that, after the current blood drive ends, she will work on planning the next one.
“You have to wait at least three months. That is the soonest we can do it again. Generally, four or five months is when we can get them to come back again,” she said. “There are a couple places on the Island where they go. They try to do ours in the afternoon, as people are coming home or leaving the Island, when we catch a lot of people on the main road here. We usually have a really good turnout.”
Venita Jackson, who has been a blood donor for more than 30 years, stands outside the ConnectLife bus, where she just donated blood.