Midtown Raleigh News

Local restaurants donate food, hoping community will donate blood

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but Rex Blood Services in Raleigh is partnering with local restaurants to provide just that. Just one catch: You have to donate blood.

The center on Blue Ridge Road has long offered lunches to blood donors on Fridays, but now it is expanding to Mondays. The effort is a creative way to solve recurring blood shortages.

Customer service specialist Sandra Brooks noticed that on days the center offered lunch, blood donations often more than doubled, from 15 donors to 35.

This past summer through the Save Our Summer blood drive, when shortages were rampant, Brooks decided to try to get some lunches sponsored for Monday as well.

Brooks went to Smithfield’s Chicken ’N Bar-B-Q in June with her plan. Richard Averitte, operations and marketing director, was on board right away, Brooks said.

“It was amazing. There weren’t even any questions. He just said, ‘Sure; we’d love to join forces.’ It’s been that kind of relationship ever since.”

Averitte said he had read in the newspaper about blood shortages.

“I wanted to get involved in some capacity,” Averitte said. “Sandra said they had a great turnout with the first lunch, and I realized this was a great use of the power of our brand.”

Blood shortages

Local blood banks also encounter shortages for the holiday season, so Brooks was thrilled that Averitte wanted to commit to an ongoing lunch sponsorship.

Along with Smithfield’s, other restaurants have signed up to help: Hibachi Express, Hungry Howie’s and Buffalo Brothers. The center can now offer free lunches from noon to 2 p.m. on all four Mondays. Friday offerings come from Bella Monica, Firebirds, 518 West Italian Café and Quiznos.

“We base what we need on what our hospitals need,” says Emilie Sanders Watson, donor services coordinator at Rex Blood Services. The organization is owned by Rex Hospital but supplies blood all over the region, to Rex, UNC Hospitals, Duke Raleigh, Duke University and WakeMed, among others.

Rex Blood Services is not the only organization battling shortages throughout the year. Barry Porter is the regional executive director for the American Red Cross Triangle Region, which serves more than 2.75 million people in 21 North Carolina counties.

Porter said that July blood donations at the Red Cross were the lowest since 1996. Blood donations through the Red Cross hit a 15-year low earlier in the summer, he said.

‘People love to eat’

Committed sponsors help keep an influx of donors coming through the doors.

“People love to eat and come in here and be appreciated,” Brooks said. “The lunches draw donors. Lunch gives them an incentive and something to look forward to.”

“Blood drives are intriguing because when we donate food, we can actually quantify the impact in terms of donors,” Averitte said. “Sandra tells us that every blood drive we supported has been more successful than the previous. It really put things in perspective. Our brand is bringing in x amount of donors, thus our brand is helping x amount of lives. Now that’s a return on investment.”

Buffalo Brothers, located right across the street from Rex Blood Services, is another relatively new Monday lunch sponsor. General manager Danny Gilmore says the restaurant donates six large pizzas a month.

“People get to try our food while donating, and we get some publicity from doing it,” Gilmore said. “So we donate for a good cause, plus we get something out of it as well. It helps get our name out there to donors who might come from Cary or Apex where we don’t have locations yet.”

Because the restaurant is right across the street, Gilmore decided to persuade employees to donate as well.

“We did an incentive for our staff, which was extra days off work or they had a choice of no side work if they went over and donated,” he said.

Averitte is also in the process of scheduling mobile blood drives at several Smithfield’s locations. Donors will receive lunch, T-shirts and a $5 gift card.

“The blood banks are still playing catch-up. This is something we have embraced and it saves lives, so why stop?”

Limited shelf life

Donated blood has a shelf life of just 42 days so the blood banks can’t ever stop. And human bodies don’t stop either. They fully regenerate donated blood in 6 to 8 weeks.

“Many people do not fully understand their own bodies are constantly making red blood cells, platelets and other blood components in a constant recycling and regeneration effort to keep them healthy and alive,” Porter said in a statement. “Sharing your blood with someone, when their body is not able to produce blood or enough blood, is a generous act of compassion.

“There is no substitute for blood, and volunteer donors are the only source.”