The fourth annual blood drive in memory of Mathiew Johnson had its biggest turnout yet at P.S. 102 on March 16.
The drive is organized by local activist June Johnson, who in this way pays tribute to her late son, who served as janitor at the school, 211 72nd Street, and who, himself, gave blood regularly. “There is no better way to honor Mathiew than to sponsor a life-saving blood drive in his name,” reads the flyer given out in advance of the event.
Among those giving were Mathiew’s friends Brian Kinnane, Mike Kinnane, Steve Avena and Brian Higginbottom. Higginbottom remembers growing up with Mathiew’s brother Douglas in Boy Scouts, and said he keeps coming back because he gets to see “a lot of people” and because “it’s the right thing to do.”
For Avena, the memory of Mathiew is of “the funniest person you know,” and inspires him to give because, “You never know when someone’s going to need it.” Indeed, despite the seriousness of the cause, the room was filled with occasional booms of laughter, and hugs were common among the smiling crowd, broken up at different tables to wait or with plates of food toward the back of the room.
One couple made their debut at the drive specifically because of their connection to Mathiew. Jennifer Giambalvo met her husband Jim through Mathiew’s brother-in-law and, although she is no stranger to giving blood, this was her first time at the blood drive in his memory.
Also critical to the success of the drive was Sandy Irrera, who bustled around and set up prizes for the raffles families had the chance to take home after donating. Play-Doh, made available for the kids to play with while visiting parents gave blood, sat alongside scattered crayons and booklets toddlers could color in.
After donating, people were encouraged to indulge in the feast set out on the table, which included pasta salads and chocolate cookies galore. With more than 80 pints collected by 5 p.m., it was Douglas that said it was “always a good turnout” and credited his mom, who “has always been active” in the surrounding community, for the success of the event.
The drive’s tabling this year included Barbara Howe, who is searching for a kidney donor to help her husband Fred survive a debilitating disease. She had set up flyers, candies and cards for passersby to take.
One medical professional, Nafeesah Ford, a former blood donor herself, said the events varied because “you want to be empathetic” and “being a little more sensitive” was the key to ensuring an event’s success.
Set up in a private booth, Ford smiled at the memory of her funniest visitor, a man who joked that he was married and told her she shouldn’t try anything because he’s taken.