Columbia Receives Inaugural 'Dr. Charles Drew Lifesaver Award' After 22,000 Blood Donations Over the Years

The award, given by the New York Blood Center, is especially poignant because Dr. Charles Drew was an alumnus of Columbia's medical school.

February 12, 2024

On Feb. 12, Columbia University was awarded the inaugural "Dr. Charles Drew Lifesaver Award" by the New York Blood Center (NYBC) for bringing awareness to the need for diverse blood donors. The award coincides with the beginning of Columbia's Charles Drew Black History Month Blood Drive, which runs Feb. 12, 15, and 25. You can sign up for an appointment to donate here. 

A long-time partner of NYBC since the 1960s, Columbia's blood drive program has collected more than 22,000 blood donations over that time. That makes Columbia one of the largest suppliers of blood and blood products in New York City and its surrounding metropolitan areas. These lifesaving donations would not be possible without the largesse of Columbians who have donated over the years. 

The award is especially poignant because blood bank pioneer Dr. Charles Drew (VPS'40) is an alumnus of Columbia University. He graduated from Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (then known as the College of Physicians and Surgeons) in 1940, becoming the first African American to not only earn a Medical Science doctorate (MSD) from Columbia, but also the first African American to do so in the United States. 

Dr. Drew's research showed that plasma had a longer shelf life than blood and could be separated to be used in blood transfusion. His work saved thousands of lives during World War II and also led the way toward long-term blood preservation and storage techniques we have used up to today. 

“Throughout our 25-plus years of partnership with the New York Blood Center, Columbia has worked tirelessly to encourage blood donation among our faculty, staff, and students, while also raising awareness of the need for a diverse blood supply," said Shailagh J. Murray, Executive Vice President for Public Affairs at Columbia University. "This commitment honors the pioneering work of Dr. Drew in the field of blood transfusions and preservation techniques and underscores our commitment to serving as an integral part of the fabric of New York City, by helping to ensure a ready supply of blood and blood products for hospitals in our area.”

A Leader in Blood Donations

Over the years, the success of Columbia's blood drives would not be possible without the force of nature that is Junior Benjamin (TC'12), Director of Community Outreach and Human Resources Administrator in the Office of Public Affairs, who has worked tirelessly to organize the blood drives in collaboration with the Office of Government and Community Affairs, the Office of the President, and the Office of the Provost.

Junior Benjamin

"Having the blood drive campaigns acknowledged in this way feels like a validation of all our efforts over
the years," said Benjamin. "The impact of the University’s blood drives is felt every day by recipients of all ages, races, and backgrounds, from accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and others undergoing cancer treatments. 

"It really does take a village and I must acknowledge our faculty, staff, and students who not only respond to the many calls for blood donations, but who also serve as volunteers during those efforts."

Since Benjamin first took on this initiative 18 years ago, he has expanded the campaigns from two to five blood drives per year.

"There are three very specific occurrences that will forever resonate with me when I think about just how comprehensive our blood drive efforts have been: Hurricane Sandy in 2012; the face-to-face meeting of a Columbia donor with the recipient whose life was saved by his blood in 2014; and the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016," Benjamin said. "During those periods, Columbians stepped up to donate in droves, resulting in hundreds of donations that were used to save lives not only here in New York, but many other parts of the U.S."

We Need Diverse Donors

The need for blood donations is great and one single pint of donated blood can save three lives. This month, the University would particularly like to highlight the critical need for donations from a diversity of people. Diverse donations are critical for patients who require specific blood types for transfusions.

Patients with sickle cell disease, an inherited red cell disorder that is most common among African Americans, require closely matched blood products because their bodies make antibodies directed toward transfused red blood cells. The disease impacts 10,000 New Yorkers alone. NYBC stands ready to meet that need as one of the largest community-based, nonprofit blood collection and distribution centers in the United States. 

Columbians: Join us in this year's Charles Drew Black History Month Blood Drive

Register here to donate at one of the drives across our campuses, although walk-ins are welcomed. 

Donors must make an appointment to schedule a donation. Click here to determine your eligibility to donate, or call NYBC at (800) 933-2566.  Visit the FDA website for revised recommendations regarding MSM donors.

Monday, February 12

11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Columbia Faculty House
64 Morningside Drive, 3rd Floor, Presidential Ballroom
(Enter via Wien Hall Gate on West 116th Street between Amsterdam Ave. and Morningside Dr.)
In conjunction with Columbia’s Chapter of the Charles Drew Premedical Society, with volunteers from Columbia University Red Cross Club

Thursday, February 15

10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Columbia University Irving Medical Center
50 Haven Avenue, Main Lounge
In conjunction with Mailman Graduate Student Association and CUIMC Facilities/Operations

Monday, February 26

10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Columbia Law School
Feldberg Lounge, Warren Hall (“Big” Warren)
1125 Amsterdam Avenue (between 115th & 116th streets) – 1st Floor
Sponsored by Columbia Law School Student Senate

If you are unable to make one of Columbia's blood drive appointments this month, NYBC is also partnering with Omega Psi Phi Fraternity's Second District, of which Dr. Charles Drew was a member, for a special Black History Month blood drive initiative. Throughout February, members from New Jersey, New York City, and Upstate NY, will be encouraging their communities to donate blood by registering here.