Blood Banks

One of the most widespread was the organization of Post Office Blood Banks in the 1970s. Blood banks collect and hold blood, as well as maintain a twenty-four hour watch to collect specific blood types, in case of emergencies. A Post Office Blood Bank serves all the employees, employees’ families, and retired employees and their spouses of the post office it is connected to.(1) In return for donations, employees and families receive free blood if needed. Postal Life explains, “Blood banks, like other banks, operate through deposits and withdrawals. A post office wishing to organize a blood bank…makes an agreement with a medical institution which collects the blood, processes it, stores it and distributes it to hospitals or other users”.(2) Each post office with a blood bank had a chairman who helped to organize and recruit, assisted by blood bank captains assigned to every letter carrier station, section, and unit in the post office.  Post Office Blood Banks save large amounts of money in commercial blood costs.

In May of 1948 the Brooklyn Post Office was the first post office in the country to join the American Red Cross in blood banking.(3) By 1970, the Brooklyn Post Office Blood Bank had grown to be one of the largest and most effective blood banks in the nation with eighty blood bank captains. Between 1948 and 1970 Brooklyn employees managed to donate a total of 23,000 pints of blood.(4) 13,000 of these pints had been used by upwards of 3,500 postal employees, with the rest of the blood being passed along to organizations like the National Hemophilia Foundation and Cooley’s Anemia for Children.(5) Many other post offices around the country had also begun blood banks: Buffalo, NY; Louisville, KY; Charleston, SC; Baltimore, MD; Portland, ME; Rochester, NY; Worcester, MA; Charlotte, NC; Hollister, CA; Bronx, NY; Postal Headquarters in Washington, DC; Portland, OR; and San Francisco, CA.

In 1970, the Brooklyn Post Office Blood Bank also had two of the nation’s leading postal donors: foreman Fred J. Bergonzi at 96 pints, or 12 gallons, since 1944 and letter carrier Irving Scheer at 89 pints since 1954.(6) The nation’s top postal donor in 1970 was safety officer Ernest F. Pentek, from New Brunswick, NJ at 122 pints, more than fifteen gallons, since 1940. Pentek even received an award from President Nixon for his service.(7)

Such commitment to one’s local community and specifically one’s work community shows the connection and duty many postal workers feel towards their fellow employees. The reasons blood bank donors have given for why they donate are equally telling. Stories of the fast responses to calls for specific blood types describe this dedication well. For example, a letter carrier recalled that eight donors arrived to the hospital within an hour to respond to a call for his ten-year-old niece.(8) And former Worcester, MA blood bank chairman John F. Houlihan stated, “Generally a phone call is all that is needed, and the member with the correct blood type is on his way to the hospital almost immediately”.(9) Others stated “It’s a silent thing you do to do a little bit of good,” “I feel almost compelled to continue,” and “Donating blood gives a person a feeling of quiet satisfaction”(10)—the knowledge not only that they are helping other members of their close-knit community is enough to keep them coming back.

1) “Postal Blood Banks Save Lives,” Postal Life, July-August 1970, pg. 4-7.
2) Ibid.
3) Ibid.
4) Ibid.
5) Ibid.
6) Ibid.
7) Ibid.
8) Ibid.
9) Ibid.
10) Ibid.