An emotional tradition continues in Bay Ridge.
In memory of Mathiew Johnson — a Bay Ridge resident who died of a heart attack at 41 years old — the Fifth Avenue Blood Drive was held in his honor.
The annual event was held on Friday, April 20 at P.S. 102, The Bay View School (211 72nd Street), where Johnson worked as a janitor. That afternoon, the cafeteria saw several friends, families and locals show up to donate blood in his honor.
June Johnson, Mathiew’s mother, ran the even along with New York Blood and the school.
“Mathiew worked here at this school,” she said. “I really wasn’t involved with the school when he worked here. He lived right across the street. The day he died he was fishing and he came back and came over to the school to work and he didn’t feel well and he said he was just going to work for a short time and go home.”
He later died in one of the classrooms and was discovered by school staff.
Johnson decided to start a blood drive to commemorate her son partly because the two used to regularly donate together.
“I always gave blood with Mathiew at Greenhouse. [One of the owners’] little girl Haley went to P.S. 102 and my son knew her. She died at nine and her father, Bobby Daquara always has blood drives in her memory,” said Johnson, who is also a Community Board 10 member. “He calls it Haley’s Comets. Mathiew and I always went there to give blood. We were there one time before she passed away and she came out and said ‘I just want to tell everyone thank you for giving blood because you are saving my life.’ A couple of months later, she died as well as my son.”
Johnson is grateful to the school for allowing her to run the drive each year.
“I thought it would be a nice memory of him. People loved him so I feel like we’re coming home,” she said. “It’s a very great school. The principal Cornelia Sichenze has been absolutely wonderful as well as the staff.”
Since this is the fifth iteration of the drive, Johnson said, it ran smoothly.
“We really have it together this year,” she explained. “We got a lot of publicity in the neighborhood and on social media. We’re just starting and it’s already packed so that’s a good sign. The best part I feel is that in four of our blood drives we collected over 300 pints of blood. When you think about it, one pint of blood can help save three people. It’s really a lifesaver so it’s a good feeling and I consider this a celebration of Mathiew and something that he liked to do.”
She was also touched by the community’s constant support.
“Its really great. Our community is a very close-knit one,” she said. “I’m 75, but when my children were young, they went to P.S. 187 and I was the president of the PTA for about five years. To this day, the same people I was involved with in the PTA are in other groups. They’re in the veterans group, the Bay Ridge Community Council. It’s that type of community. I call it growing old together.”
In addition, the event had food, drinks, raffle prizes and an arts and crafts area for kids.
Friend and community activist Sandy Irrera helped with the various raffles.
“It just makes me happy to try to make other people happy,” Irrera said. “We’re partners in crime. I’m nothing without her. I love her dearly.”