top of page
Screen Shot 2022-02-03 at 1.47.48 PM.png

Stories from Donors:

As the nation grapples with the worst blood shortage in a decade, Penn State students donate and volunteer with a unifying goal of helping their fellow community members and making a positive impact on the world around them.

Many factors contribute to a blood donor’s decision to donate for the first time and to become a recurrent blood donor in the community.

For some students like Bowen Popkin, donating blood was an activity they were always drawn to participate in, but their motivation to continue donating only grew throughout the years.

On the first day he became eligible to donate, Popkin (freshman-immunology and infectious disease) said he started his blood donation journey at Boston Children’s Hospital because he knew the opportunity would allow him to “save countless lives.”

However, after he began donating, Popkin said he became motivated to continue donating because of personal events that transpired in his life.


During his junior year of high school, Popkin said his best friend took his own life, which made a tremendous impact on his life and donation experiences going forward.

“It became an important thing for me to continue donating because when I felt like there were a lot of things out of my control, [donating] was one thing that I could control and that helped with the stress,” Popkin said.

When Popkin was a high school senior, he said his mother received an ovarian cancer diagnosis that required her to undergo surgical removal. He said she needed a blood transfusion as a result of the surgery, which “was the first time in [his] family that [he] felt the impact of blood donors personally.”

Seeing the impact blood donations had for his own mother amid her cancer journey, Popkin said he became even more “motivated” to become a recurrent blood donor and advocate.

Later that same year, Popkin said his high school lab partner was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer.

Popkin said seeing his friend’s cancer journey was another reason he continued donating blood and blood products because he knew blood donations are something many cancer patients need for their treatment regimens.

When Popkin donated blood at the Boston Children’s Hospital, he said the facility posts a list on the community message board every day of different procedures in need of blood that day.

Popkin said donors can see where their blood could go and the impact it could make by looking at the hospital’s board that lists procedures like advanced life support, treatment regimens, planned surgeries and the units of blood needed for each.

Due to the impact of blood donations on his own life, Popkin said he decided to hold an untraditional graduation celebration when he finished high school.

Rather than hosting a graduation party, Popkin said he organized a blood drive in which his local community showed up to donate approximately 30 units of blood.

“My connection with the blood donor center was something really memorable,” Popkin said. “I’m going to cherish [that relationship] for a long time.”

Popkin said he’s donated over 1 ½ gallons of blood thus far and received his 1 gallon pin during the graduation blood drive he hosted, which was an unforgettable experience all around.

“I think a little amount of discomfort [during donations] is worth it, especially if you’re going to save lives — truly save lives,” Popkin said.

Other members of the Penn State community like Robert Weeden began donating blood due to the activity’s promotion and advocacy as being a positive service opportunity within greek life organizations.

Weeden (sophomore-supply chain management) said the blood drive he attended on Jan. 25 at the HUB-Robeson Center was his first experience with donating blood.

“I expected it to be a little [more] uncomfortable,” Weeden said. “But they definitely make [the experience] comfortable for you and take great care to do so.”

Now that he’s donated and better understands the process, Weeden said he’d “definitely” consider donating again because it’s an “easy process” and people need blood regardless of whether others donate.

With one blood donation in the bag, Weeden said other first-time blood donors should be aware that the process is painless and nothing to worry about.

Regarding the common fear of needles that many people experience, Weeden said people can avoid looking at the needle by simply looking at the ceiling.

Stories from Us:

Charlotte Norris, a donor recruitment intern for the American Red Cross, said she helps manage and organize the blood drives around Penn State to ensure they run smoothly and to create an open, calming environment for donors.

Since Penn State is a “main donation spot” within an hour radius, Norris (senior-human development and family studies) said the local blood drives draw in a wide range of people, especially members of the Penn State community who are always “so open and welcoming” to helping others.

Norris said many Penn State students involved in greek life have an extra incentive to donate and volunteer at the blood drives around campus because they receive service hours through their attendance.

“Donating can be a pretty scary process for some people, and having all these [Student Red Cross Club] volunteers around us makes a huge difference in the environment that we promote at our blood drives,” Norris said.

Norris said she started donating blood when she was eligible because her cousin had cancer, and she saw the blood requirements for people undergoing cancer treatments.

She said donating blood is an impactful experience because donors “can make such a huge difference in someone’s life,” and receiving a donation can be “life-changing” for people fighting chronic illnesses or who recently experienced a traumatic accident.

“I just knew the importance and how much of a difference my blood donation could make for [my cousin] and a couple of her peers [fighting cancer],” Norris said.

Norris said some donors participate as recurrent blood donors due to their experience with illnesses themselves or within their immediate circle — similar to her personal experience of seeing the impact of cancer treatments and blood donation necessities. Some people will register as a donor for a particular person diagnosed with stem cell illnesses and will donate blood whenever notified that the individual requires a sickle cell treatment, according to Norris.

Claire Jablonski, who served as SRCC treasurer for four years at Penn State, said she’s focused her efforts on volunteering, especially amid the current blood crisis, in order to make the donation process easier for her fellow students and first-time donors.

Since her mother is a traveling nurse, Jablonski (senior-math) said her mom motivated her — and her sister, fellow Penn State student Julia Jablonski — to help out in the community, especially with blood drives.

“Unfortunately, I was never able to really give blood, so that’s why I give my time instead by volunteering,” Claire said. “But my sister’s been an avid blood donor since she was able to.”

Claire said she began volunteering with the Red Cross in high school and continued her efforts in college, motivated by donors and the need for blood across the nation.

“Everyone has a different story [of] why they decide to give back, which is really incredible, and it has really kept me motivated to continue volunteering at blood drives and picking up larger leadership roles,” Claire said.

Claire said she enjoys being at the local blood drives at Penn State because “all of the students come together donating — they’re donating their time, and they’re donating their blood.”

Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, many people came in to donate, which Claire said was “truly incredible” because people were scared but still wanted to give back to the best of their ability.

Stories from Donors:

Other students like Pavlo Pencak said they donate blood because of the critical need for their blood type.

Although the American Red Cross website notes that “all blood types are urgently needed,” the organization said there’s an especially critical need for platelets, O positive and O negative blood.

Pencak (sophomore-industrial engineering) said he has a universal blood type that can be used in emergency situations if patients’ blood types are unknown and they require an emergency blood transfusion to aid in traumatic bleeding or with major operations.

Blood donors with type O blood are prompted to consistently donate blood because their blood type is routinely in limited supply at the blood banks but is in high demand at medical facilities, according to the American Red Cross.

Being a member of the Penn State family, Pencak said “the community can do so much for you, but you can only do so much for it.”

Pencak said donating blood — especially amid the ongoing nationwide blood shortage — is a way for him to make a small impact on the community he’s a part of and make a tangible difference in the lives of others.

With regard to his donation experience, Pencak said the process of donating is “always a somewhat enjoyable time — besides getting stuck in the arm with a needle.”

However, he said the positives of being able to help others in his community outweigh any negatives entailed with the donation experience. For instance, Pencak said he “likes coming here and feasting afterward” upon the completion of his donation.

bottom of page