WINTHROP — When searching for reasons to smile during the pandemic, a common source of comfort has been the sacrifices made by many Mainers as they have looked past their own needs in hopes that those in greater danger might be helped.

Look no further than St. Denis Church in Whitefield and St. Francis Xavier Church in Winthrop. The churches, part of St. Michael Parish, not only found ways to safely hold blood drives in 2020 during the pandemic, they shattered records while they were at it.

“We had a remarkably strong year at both St. Francis and St. Denis in 2020,” said David Stires of American Red Cross Blood Services in Portland. “We collected more last year at St. Francis than we have in at least ten years and more at St. Denis than we have in six years. Since each unit of whole blood can be separated into three products — red cells, platelets and plasma — the amount we collected at the two churches potentially saved the lives of more than 1,000 people.”

Between the parishes, nearly 400 people gave blood, tripling the amount collected in 2019.

“The patients that will benefit are victims of car accidents, mothers with at-risk pregnancies, babies born prematurely, and people battling cancer,” said Stires. “The support is greatly appreciated now because it has helped us maintain a strong blood supply for patients during an unprecedented public health crisis.”

The commitment of St. Michael Parish to continue holding the blood drives during the pandemic through social distancing and other safety protocols turned out to be crucial as many venues that traditionally host blood drives stopped as a result of the crisis.

“When so many schools, businesses, and churches closed due to the pandemic, the parish made the courageous decision to keep its doors open to help others during this time of need,” said Stires. “It has helped us maintain a strong blood supply for the patients who are counting on us. We are incredibly grateful for the support of St. Michael Parish.”

The response was so great that additional blood drives are being added to the 2021 schedule, including once a month at St. Francis Xavier.

“It is very impressive how responsive parishioners and others in town are to the blood drives,” said Fr. John Skehan, pastor of St. Michael. “Even in a pandemic, people are thinking beyond themselves and helping care for people they don’t even know! And they do so without looking for anything in return. They just want to help someone in need. It’s wonderful.”

For more information about the future blood drives at the churches, including how you can help, call the parish at 207-623-8823.