MCCARTYVILLE, Ohio – As “Santa Claus” Jim Goettemoeller pushed back the red sleeve and fuzzy white cuff of his outfit to donate Dec. 22 at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish holiday blood drive, Community Blood Center phlebotomist Daria McGinnis reminded him, “You know we’re going to be testing you for ‘Santabodies.’”

A little chuckle of Christmas cheer was welcome as Sacred Heart hosted its annual holiday blood drive in McCartyville during a pandemic.  COVID-19 restrictions meant no feast of hot food and home-baked cookies in the Donor Café.  Even though Santa made an appearance, he had to limit his visit.

Despite the dark year, the gift of life abounded in McCartyville, boosting the blood supply three days before Christmas. With 194 donors, Sacred Heart registered more than 52% of CBC’s total donors for the day.  It included 153 whole blood donors, 11 platelet/plasma donors, and for the first time in the blood drive’s history, seven COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma donors.

“Typically, it’s known we offer almost a full meal,” said Knights of Columbus blood drive coordinator David Poeppelman. “With the restrictions we couldn’t have open food and no volunteers. Some can’t donate and they want to volunteer to help out. We had to turn people away this year and that was kind of hard for us.”

“I miss volunteering,” said Marcia Bensman, who wore a homemade face mask with pink flamingoes in Santa hats when she donated. “This one is fresh off the presses!”

David and his wife Denise put together CBC gift tumblers with candy and local merchant donated coupons. “It’s a shame we can’t give out sloppy joe’s,” said Denise. “But I think we’re getting a big turn-out.”

“I definitely miss the food,” said Sarah Foltz, a senior at Ohio State. “They always have really good cookies here!” Sarah started donating while at Anna High School and made her 8th donation Tuesday, the equivalent of one gallon.

The humor about “Santabody” testing aside, David said CBC’s free COVID-19 antibody testing helped recruit donors. “A lot of people are interested in that, and it’s very good for helping get people to register,” he said. Donor registrations jumped nearly 8% compared to last year’s holiday blood drive.

“It’s a time of giving and we’re trying to promote the gift of giving,” said David. “It’s important for all of us in the Christmas season.”

Even at Christmas there is no escaping COVID-19.  A common discussion among donors was about family members who had been infected and their difficulties recovering. Even more unique than seeing Santa in a face mask was the opportunity to donate convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Versailles donor Katherine Knapke came to Sacred Heart to make her first CCP donation because all the appointments at the Versailles blood drive were full.

“I knew I had it, I lost my sense of taste and smell,” said Katherine. “All my muscled ached.” An antibody test confirmed her suspicions and made her eligible to donate CCP.  “My mom signed up in Versailles, she had COVID after I did. She knew I wanted to do it.”

Minster donor Brian Barhorst had planned to make his usual platelet donation. Instead, his milestone 150th lifetime donation was also his first CCP donation.

“This fall I had a sinus infection, like I typically have every year,” said Brian. “I got the letter yesterday that I was antibody positive, so I switched today.”

He was joined by Chris Wehner from Houston and Ron Bruns from Anna, all making their first CCP donations side by side.

The 100-year-old jingle bell harness that Jim Goettemoeller wears with his Santa suite barely rustled as Jim completed his 70th lifetime donation, then teased a few friends by handing them a chunk of coal instead of candy. Like everyone, he was disappointed by the pandemic restrictions but happy to keep a holiday tradition.

“It’s giving joy, said Jim. “Giving joy to everybody… and to anybody.”

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