By: Gabi Herman

Donating blood was surprisingly easy. With a “first time donor” sticker on my t-shirt, I was in and out within an hour. The staff was nice, the procedure was simple, and I got to nosh on free cookies afterward. They even helped me schedule an appointment for my next donation. Looking exclusively at my experience in the clinic, it’s hard to understand why Canadian Blood Services is facing its lowest blood inventory levels since 2008.

On Sept. 30, right before I happened to donate, the organization announced that they would soon only have a three-day supply of blood, as opposed to the five to eight day buffer they need. The need for blood has been increasing by two percent each year, and the number of donors has been steadily decreasing. Canada-wide, only 3.7 percent of eligible donors give blood. This gets even worse in big cities like Toronto, where less than 2 percent of its residents donate. So, why aren't people taking the time for a simple procedure that can save lives?

I may be too idealistic in believing that people genuinely want to help, but I like to think that Canadians live up to our reputation as good-hearted people. There's a better explanation for the low blood levels: Canadian Blood Services' public outreach campaigns leave much to be desired. In general, people are unaware of the need for donations, don't know how to book appointments, and aren't sure if they're eligible. Their website is old-fashioned, and their clinic locator tool breaks on a regular basis.

Maybe it was just the hubbub of the poster sale, but on the morning of my appointment I didn't see any signs to direct me to the blood clinic. None of my reminder e-mails had the exact location, either. I went to Compass to ask, and like a nurse trying to find an elusive vein, they directed me to the wrong place. I had to do a considerable amount of research and running back and forth to locate the clinic. This was not the fault of the woman behind the desk at Compass. Nobody had told her about it.

After my appointment, feeling inspired to help, I asked a number of my friends to book appointments. “They do that here?” asked one, surprised. Another one, not a McMaster student, tried to book an appointment online and was met with a faulty clinic locator. Many of my friends did not know how to find out if they were eligible, and many thought blood could only be donated once a year. (The maximum is seven times, by the way.) Most, like myself before I donated, were unaware of the severe blood shortages.

While Canadian Blood Services is not a government agency, it receives funding from taxpayers and has similar clunky websites and uncreative advertising to government agencies. Many people have suffered through the archaic web pages of OSAP or Health Canada, but people have no pressing requirement to do the same to donate blood. After all, blood donation isn't going to pay for a university education or ensure an appointment with a health specialist. Canadian Blood Services needs to up its game on advertising and education.

Although it definitely has its downfalls, I might be treating Canada's saver-of-lives rather harshly.  Canadian Blood Services' Blood Signal campaign and the GiveBlood app are steps in the right direction for a tech-savvy, user-friendly, and successful charitable model. There is work to be done, but its Twitter account is pretty fantastic. I agree with Canadian Blood Services and urge you to donate as soon as possible. Clinics are held on the third floor of the Student Centre on every other Tuesday. Come well-hydrated and ready to help save lives. After all, as the slogan says, “it's in you to give.”


President Patrick Deane addresses students about the Renaissance Award alongside panelists. From left to right: Allison Sekuler (dean of graduate studies), Paul Grossman (director of major and planned giving), Glen Bandiera (alumnus and donor), Siobhan Stewart (MSU president), Carolyn Eyles (director of iSci), Jean Wilson (director of Arts & Science)

McMaster University has received funds from two former grads to establish a $25,000 award for students who want to take a detour from academia.

The university held an open information session yesterday on the Drs. Jolie Ringash and Glen Bandiera Renaissance Award, open to all McMaster students studying on a full-time basis.

The award offers a maximum of $25,000 to a student with an innovative idea for a project that will span 4 to 12 months.  The project must be outside of applicants’ academic activities and have a distinct societal benefit.

The same amount of money will be available in the same capacity each year for the next five years.

The donors, Ringash and Bandiera, funded the award in hopes that students could have an opportunity to expand their learning experience in an unconventional way.

“Both of us had a fairly standard trajectory from high school through our undergraduate experience,” said Bandiera.

“We had an opportunity to travel for a year not too long ago. It was a challenge for us to wrap our heads around taking a year off from our professional careers,” said Bandiera. “We thought, it’s a real shame that two people would have to wait X number of years to do this."

The award is meant to embody the principles outlined in President Patrick Deane’s 2011 letter, “Forward With Integrity.”

“The award puts particular emphasis on developing the whole person. As an organization, [the MSU] has been reflecting on the question: what is the real reason people come to university?” said Siobhan Stewart, MSU President. “It’s very much to get an education but with the dialogue we’re having on campus, it’s becoming evident that education is taking on a new meaning."

The panelists emphasized that the award encourages students to step outside of their current academic path.

"Initially, the idea was to go completely out of your field of study," said Carolyn Eyles, director of the Integrated Science Program.

"If it's something that follows quite naturally from what you're already doing, you aren't really taking a chance or expanding yourself. It shouldn't be something you could be getting credit for in your program,” said Allison Sekuler, dean of graduate studies.

“We have never done this before – we have no role models. We’re kind of just flying by the seat of our pants, but we have some idea of what the shape of this might be,” Sekuler said before opening the floor to questions.

The application is a two-part process, the first being a letter of intent due on Oct. 15. From there the field of applicants will be narrowed down. There will be a second application in the form of an enrichment plan describing objectives, a timeline and budget. The panel elaborated that the second application will be due likely in December. Following that, there might be some presentations from final candidates. The panel said the goal is for the winners to know by January.

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