Torcon 2003 Blood Drive

Heinlein Society members pitch in across the globe

by Mike Sheffield

from The Heinlein Society October 2003 Newsletter

Over Labor Day weekend some 4,500 science fiction fans descended upon the city of Toronto, Ontario for Torcon III, the 61st World Science Fiction Convention. Naturally, the Heinlein Society was there as well to, among other things, hold a blood drive.

Unsurprisingly, there were some snafus awaiting us there. The blood drive location was changed not long before the convention began (along with nearly everything else). Fortunately, all the convention publications had the correct location shown. Unfortunately, they listed the start time of the drive as 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, which was when the setup began.

Blood collection actually began at 11:30 a.m.

But the fans were undaunted in their quest to give blood. Throughout the day they waited in line to donate, some for nearly 3 hours! No bed was empty longer than it took to get one person off of it and another on. The drive was scheduled to end at 4:30 and though no more people were allowed to sign up after that time, Canadian Blood Services continued to work until 6:00 to get through those already waiting. By the end of the day they had collected 74 units of blood from 99 who attempted to give. And there would have been more. Many people who came by were unable to make the protracted wait due to scheduling conflicts and left without even being screened. All in all, the blood drive was very successful and we thank Canadian Blood Services, the Torcon III committee and most especially the fans who made it possible. It is no surprise that they rose to the occasion. And they were duly rewarded for their efforts. Each donor received, in addition to the cloisonne pins given at all of our blood drives, a signed bookplate donated by David Brin, and a chance to win signed book covers from Elizabeth Moon and an original drawing by artist GOH Kelly Freas.

What may surprise you is that this was not our first blood drive outside the United States. Just 4 weeks before, on Aug. 2, we ran a blood drive at FinnCon X in Turku, Finland. Kullervo (Kultsi) Nurmi, a Heinlein Society member, coordinated the drive for us, and it was a definite triumph thanks to the cooperation and enthusiasm of everyone involved.

Things got off to a late start, as I didn’t know of the convention until just over two months before it happened. Then, after I e-mailed Kultsi to ask if he would be able to run it for us, it took almost a month to get his response because my spam filter was blocking him for some reason. Luckily he persisted and we were able to proceed with only five weeks to go before the convention.

In general it would not be possible to set up a blood drive on such short notice, but the convention committee was very helpful and supportive and made room inside for the drive even though they had to rearrange their room assisgnments to do so. And the Finnish National Red Cross, after talking with Kultsi and walking through the convention site, agreed to send out a team.

And the fans didn’t disappoint. More than 80 people tried to donate, though unfortunately a lot of them were deferred, many for being too young. If this is the youth of fandom we have a great future to look forward to. The final tally was 37 units of blood collected – 18 of them first time donors! And though this was fewer than the Red Cross had targeted, they were still pleased with the result and are eager to come back again next year.

We are indebted to Kultsi for all his hard work and perseverance, and grateful for the enthusiastic support of the FinnCon committee and the Red Cross. And, as always, my hat is off to the fans.

Moving south, on the same day we were collecting blood in Canada, Alan Koslow was handling the first of a two day blood drive at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia. This was another example of how hard work and determination can really pay off.

Though we first contacted the convention in early May, we didn’t learn until July that the Red Cross had decided not to do the blood drive there this year after having done so for the last several years. A convention of this size – it’s the largest SF convention in the U.S. with more than over 20,000 attendee – was too valuable to let slip away without making every effort to salvage it. We contacted LifeSouth Community Blood Centers and they were more than eager to step in and run the blood drive. However, the Dragon*Con convention committee had become somewhat discouraged after the Red Cross dropped out, and had some reservations regarding space for the drive inside.

Enter Brad Linaweaver at the request of Bill Patterson and Peter Scott, with just six weeks to go. Brad was able to convince the board of the merits of setting aside space for the drive, and to add a Heinlein panel to convention schedule. A very persuasive fellow is Mr. Linaweaver.

There were still more hurdles to clear. The blood drive hadn’t had much pre-convention advertising apart from a brief mention on the website and it didn’t appear in the printed program, so we had to get the word out. Alan, who had brought his whole family with him to help, and Wendell Broadwell – another Heinlein Society member – engaged in some very effective guerilla advertising as well as running a fan table for the Society. Brad mentioned the drive on all of his panels. And, of course, fans can sense a blood drive a mile away (they can sense chocolate two miles away, but that’s another story).

The end result was better than we could have hoped for given the circumstances. One hundred and thirty people tried to give blood and 92 units were collected. Donor demand was so high that the blood drive, originally scheduled for six hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday, was continued on Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p. m.

Kudos to everyone involved. LifeSouth was a great organization to work with, even producing a special t-shirt for the blood donors and running the drive on multiple days to accommodate the con-goers’ schedules. The Dragon*Con committee really came through in the end, making space inside an already crowded convention, which always results in a better turnout than the bloodmobile. Thanks to David Brin for supplying signed bookplates for Dragon*Con, as well as Torcon3 to reward our blood donors. Thanks to Wendell and the Koslow family for all their hard work. And thanks to the fans for lying down on the job, so to speak.

I want to bring attention also to a convention that has been paying it forward entirely on their own for a great many years. Robert Heinlein attended San Diego Comic Con (now Comic Con International) in 1977 and helped them run their first blood drive. And they have a held a Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Blood Drive every year since then (this was their 27th year). This year the San Diego Blood Bank collected more than 300 units of blood in the two days of the drive (they had an attendance of over 70,000). They have a great deal of support from vendors, publishers and studios and each donor receives a whole bag of stuff and a ticket for the raffle of around 100 items. This is a very impressive accomplishment that is worthy of notice.

We also want to extend a special note of thanks to the Southern California Institute for Fan Interest (SCIFI) and the New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA) for their generous donations to help with cost of producing the cloisonne pins we give to each blood donor. For those of you who don’t know, these pins were designed by Robert Heinlein for the first Science Fiction convention blood drive at MidAmericon in 1976. Last year the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS) found five boxes of these pins in their clubhouse (not left over from 1976, but a later production run) and supplied them to us to give to convention blood donors. Earlier this year, as this supply began to run out, we began producing them again and will continue to do so in Robert’s memory.

I heard a particularly moving story regarding these pins in Toronto. One young lady who donated blood at Torcon3 told me that the pin held special significance for her. Her father had donated blood at MidAmericon and gotten one of those pins. She didn’t know if he still had it, but he had spoken proudly of it and she was ecstatic about having one of her own to show him. People like this are the main reason I started running blood drives.

How about you? Have you considered donating blood? Is there a convention you attend that might be able to host a blood drive? Or perhaps your workplace or a local church or community center could host a drive. Are you willing to help make it happen? Our goal is no less than to have a blood drive at every SF con large enough to support one, and to move beyond that to having blood drives wherever and whenever possible. With your help we can save a great many lives and honor the legacy Robert Heinlein left us. Joining the Society is a great first step in paying it forward. We hope you will take the next step in helping one of our committees to work toward a brighter future.

Thank you.

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