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#TogetherApart to give blood in St. John’s

Longtime volunteer rallies Muslim community to donate blood during pandemic.

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April 7, 2020

Abdelsalam Abugharara is organizing Muslims in St. John’s to give blood during the COVID-19 pandemic

Longtime volunteer rallies Muslim community to donate blood during pandemic

The Muslim community in St. John’s, N.L., has often come together to give blood during slow periods. Now, with guidance from a longtime volunteer, their support continues during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“Blood donations save lives,” says Abdelsalam Abugharara. “And whether you donate yourself or help others to donate, you can make a significant impact.” 

Abdelsalam is a post-doctoral fellow at Memorial University of Newfoundland, working in the area of oil and gas engineering. He’s volunteered regularly at donor clinics and blood-typing events. He’s also encouraged hundreds of people to give blood, especially at times when Canadian Blood Services has struggled to attract donors — times such as Boxing Day, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Regatta Day provincial holiday, and now, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Mohammad Alawi, right, was recruited by longtime Canadian Blood Services volunteer Abdelsalam Abugharara, left, to give blood April 2, 2020.
Mohammad Alawi, right, was recruited by longtime Canadian Blood Services volunteer Abdelsalam Abugharara, left, to give blood April 2, 2020. 

A new spin on group donations 

Social media users, including Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, have been using the hashtag #TogetherApart to describe the spirit that Canadians will need to get through this pandemic. 

A donation event that Abdelsalam organized on April 2 embodied that spirit perfectly. From his home, he recruited seven others from the Muslim community to join him in giving blood while respecting the need for physical distancing.  

All the donors booked their appointments in advance and travelled separately to the St. John’s donor centre. Inside the donor centre the beds were placed two metres apart to comply with public health recommendations. 

Giving blood these days might feel a little different from the usual experience of blood donation. Even so, the sense of purpose remains, according to Gordon Skiffington, territory manager for Canadian Blood Services in Newfoundland and Labrador.  

“When people walk through our doors, they know they’re part of something special,” says Gordon. “They know they’re going to help save a life.” 

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Gordon Skiffington, territory manager with Canadian Blood Services in St. John’s, says people are “part of something special” when they give blood.
Gordon Skiffington, territory manager with Canadian Blood Services in St. John’s, says people are “part of something special” when they give blood. 

Fulfilling that purpose now requires both donors and staff to dig deep, especially in St. John’s. Winter on “The Rock” was even harsher this year than usual, including a massive snowstorm that provoked a state of emergency in January. Now, the people of St. John’s are struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“It’s a challenging time,” says Gordon. “However, because of everyone’s contributions, hospitals and patients will continue to receive the blood products they require.” 

Abdelsalam says it’s always challenging to recruit blood donors, but with COVID-19 he’s hearing something new: people are fearful of leaving their houses. Even so, he’s already recruited more donors for an event the week of April 13, and he hopes to organize another one each week for as long as the pandemic continues.   

 “The demand is continuous,” says Abdelsalam. 

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