The History of the Interfaith Blood Drive

I always wanted to go to Israel, especially for my sons Bar Mitzvah s. None of my immediate family has ever visited the Holy Land. In 1987, I, Dorothy Friedrich, obtained my Master’s degree at the University of Toledo and gave myself a present: a trip to Israel.

One of my most awesome memories of that trip is a Friday evening when the sun was setting on the Western Wall. For the Jewish people, the Sabbath is the holiest day of the year. It starts from sundown on Friday evening and continues through Saturday at sundown. The sun was casting a golden glow on the wall and the surrounding area. Young men, arms over each other’s shoulders were descending on cobblestone steps, chanting prayers in Hebrew. As this procession continued, church bells rang at the same time as people of the Muslim faith were called to prayer at the Mosque. Muslims also observe their Sabbath starting on Friday evening. I stood in awe of what I saw and heard. Three different faiths, Jews, Christians and Muslims were praying at the same time in the holiest of places, Jerusalem, Israel. Peace and serenity were a reality, if only for a brief moment. I said a short silent prayer: “G-d, if I can in any way be a conduit for uniting people of all faiths in peace, may it be Thy will.”

Upon returning to Toledo Ohio, I received a note and news paper clipping from my Rabbi, Arnold Bienstock, of Temple B’nai Israel. The article was about an Intrafaith  blood drive sponsored by several churches. Immediately I knew what I needed to do. I was going to call an organization to life whose mission statement would reflect my principals and beliefs gleaned from my professional back ground as an RN and mental   health therapist. I had chaired or co-chaired the American Red Cross blood drive, sponsored by Temple B’nai Israel, since coming to Toledo in 1973.  The idea of letting this organization try and create an interfaith blood drive was a natural progression of my thoughts.

I discussed my plan with Rabbi Bienstock. He encouraged me to “go for it”and pledged his support for whatever was needed to make my plan become a reality and was willing  to provide the venue to hold the drive in. Wow! Now all I needed to do was to convince the American Red Cross Blood Services (ARCBS), so I made an appointment with my representative from ARCBS, Diane Evans.

After I had presented the idea to hold an Interfaith blood drive she looked at me in disbelief. The thought that I had gone crazy might have occurred to her. I was adamant and implored her to help me in order to make this a reality. I was at a loss as to where and how to start. Lucky for me, Diane recognized the merit of the idea. A meeting with the blood donor supervisor, the head of the blood services and another individual was set up. They were very, very doubtful regarding the interfaith blood drive idea becoming a reality. Many, many meetings later, thankfully, they agreed to give it a try. It was a giant leap of faith for them. They were breaking the barrier and raising the ceiling for a historic event, after all, the Toledo ARCBS had never held a blood drive in a house of worship.

Some people call me the mother of Interfaith. They joke about this creation, the lots of labor pains involved and finally the ‘birth’ of Interfaith. Believe it or not, they are  somewhat right! From the time I said my prayer in Jerusalem till the day of the first    Interfaith Blood Drive it took exactly nine months.

The Interfaith blood drive can proudly look back at an astounding beginning! Over forty houses of worship were represented at the drive. People of all faiths, races and religions participated and helped set in motion a trend that was to continue year after year after year. Most importantly the many units of blood collected at the interfaith drive over the last 24 years have saved countless lives.

In 1987 the first Interfaith blood drive was held in Temple B’nai Israel in Toledo, Ohio. B’nai Israel was host again in 1988. The Hindu Temple in Sylvania Ohio volunteered it’s facility in 1989 and 1990.  In 1991 Grace Lutheran Church in Toledo then offered to host the drive. Merlin Jacobs, the associate pastor of Grace Lutheran, and I were at one time in a discussion and I mentioned that I was desperate to find a permanent facility for the Interfaith drive. Moving Interfaith to different houses of worship every two years was a monumental task and very stressful, not only for me, for every body involved.

Without my knowledge, Pastor Jacobs informed the board members of his church about the discussion he and I had and behold, Interfaith has made its home at Grace Lutheran Church going on twenty-one years. During those early years we counted on over four hundred volunteers, including forty nurses, to make the two day blood drive a success. The atmosphere was electrifying. People greeted each other warmly and shared with each other the events that had occurred in their lives since the previous interfaith blood drive.

It was a wonderful and encouraging to see people unite in the purpose of working together, sharing stories, saving lives and forging positive relationships with one another. The atmosphere was, and continues to be, peaceful, serene, harmonious and fun for all who participate. Children have made posters, to be displayed at the drive, depicting themes of peace, unity, symbols of various faiths and of course, relating to blood donations and saving lives.

Our slogan is “Unity through acceptance.” Our mission is clear: Unite people of all faiths, races and ethnicity by saving lives through blood donations. Interfaith fosters positive communication, respect and understanding by working together in peace and by  breaking down prejudices and biases.

Interfaith is the first organization that brought together and united our diverse community. This organization has a diverse board, representing different races and ethnicity. It is a “we”organization. We are a team that functions remarkably well. We truly like, respect and support one another when the need arises. Board members can be described as the most dedicated, kind, giving, loving and responsible people one could  have the pleasure and honor of knowing. It truly is a blessing to share with them and work alongside with them. I call us the Interfaith family.

Interfaith has dedicated June as Unity month in Northwest Ohio. Every year on the Sunday, after the blood drive has concluded, a Celebration of Life service, in conclusion of Unity month, is held. This service celebrates the diversity in our community through song, dance, poems and musical presentations. Participants have described the atmosphere as warm, fuzzy, peaceful, serene, and as an evening full of hope.

We have begun, with great pride and joy, to prepare for the 25th anniversary celebration   of the Interfaith blood drive, to be held on June 22rd and 23th in 2013 and concluding with the Celebration of Life service. Our Interfaith blood drive is the oldest, viable interfaith blood drive in the United States. It is our hope that the community, proudly and enthusiastically, will participate in this remarkable and historic weekend, after all they have provided the blood donors needed to make the Interfaith drive a truly life saving event.