The little town of Uvalde, Texas, isn't big enough to have its own blood donation center.
But after the Robb Elementary school shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers, the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center set up a blood drive. The line to donate was hours long.
Pete, 50, drove 65 miles to give blood in Uvalde. His granddaughter survived the school shooting.
“My daughter, my son-in-law and my granddaughter live here,” Pete, who asked that his last name be withheld, told TODAY Parents. “My granddaughter was actually at the school.”
On a typical day, the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center collects 250 units of blood, says public relations manager Francine Pina. The day after the shooting, Pina said they collected more than 800 units of blood. She said the Uvalde blood drive will stay open late to get everyone in who wants to donate.
“We’re having people driving in as far as Austin (three hours away) and Houston (four and a half hours away) to donate,” Roger Ruiz, the senior communications specialist for South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, told TODAY Parents.
It doesn’t happen here. You say that, until it does.”
Pete says that his granddaughter is “shaken up” from the shooting, so he wanted to do something to help her — and others, he says: “It’s the least we can do and provide a little service for somebody.”
Pete says that he never thought he would be in the position of giving blood in the wake of a deadly school shooting.
“Like everybody says, it doesn’t happen here,” he added. “You say that, until it does.”
Pete has only been able to talk to his granddaughter on phone and via FaceTime.
“She’s pretty shaken. We just tell her we love her and to stay strong and we’ll see her in a few days,” he explained.
He is also looking forward to spending Memorial Day with his family.
“We’re going to do the normal deal we do on Sundays,” he explained. “We have horses and she’ll ride her little red horse. That’s probably what we’re going to do — do the same routine and get that stuff out of her head and get her back on that little red horse, and let her go.”
'This is something we could do to help'
Leo Poldo Alardia, 25, drove 10 minutes to Uvalde to donate blood. He brought his brother, 22, with him.
“We have a lot of friends who have kids who go to school here and went to the school here,” Poldo Alardia told TODAY Parents. “Just trying to help out.”
Poldo Alardia attended elementary and junior high in Uvalde and considers the town home.
“That’s why we decided to donate blood,” he explained. “We’ve been OK so far. We were struggling when it did occur, because we were stressed out and didn’t know what was going on with our family. We’re trying to get back to work and get back to things as usual, but we’re struggling.”
“This is something we could do to help,” he added. “It’s there — an immediate need.”
Ruiz says the need for blood is not just immediate, it’s constant.
“I’ve been doing this work for 15 years,” Ruiz told TODAY Parents. “I’ve seen what a hurricane can do what a blood supply. I’ve seen what a mass shooting can do to a blood supply. Unfortunately, we’ve seen it in Sutherland Springs (the 2017 Texas church shooting that killed 26). We see it today in Uvalde. It’s a sad time when it happens in your community.”
Ruiz says he has also seen “the community come together and wanting to give back and help in some way.”
“Blood donation is at the forefront of that,” Ruiz added. “A lot of those patients need blood, but the community itself needs blood.”
By Thursday morning, 1,500 people across south Texas had donated blood.
Multiple soldiers drove to Uvalde from the town of McAllen (290 miles away) to donate blood. Politicians showed up at the blood drive, too. Texas Sen. John Cornyn donated on Wednesday. Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke came on Thursday, though his presence was not appreciated by everyone donating blood.
“What a photo opp,” one woman, who was also donating blood, said.
“We’re not doing this for press. We’re doing this for our community,” another woman, also donating blood, said.
'Everything is bigger in Texas'
Inside the pop-up donation center, those donating were laughing, hugging neighbors and friends and carrying on ordinary, every-day conversations. As the community continues to mourn, the blood donation center feels like a space for both reprieve and positive action.
“In the people that I have been able to talk to — the donors — you get that sense that they’re feeing like they’re able to give back to the community; they’re able to go out and help somebody,” Ruiz said. “That’s what we all want to do — go out and comfort and help and feel useful in times of tragedy and times of need. And we’re seeing that here today, with the people of Uvalde."
The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center supports more than 48 counties in Texas and more than 100 hospitals, including Uvalde. Multiple survivors, many of whom are children, are still being treated at nearby hospitals, including a 10-year-old girl in serious condition, a 9-year-old girl in good condition and a 66-year-old woman — the gunman’s grandmother — in serious condition.
“We have so much negativity and bad things happening in society,” Ruiz said. “What we like to say is if you can’t see the good, make the good.”
Ruiz says the nation is facing a blood shortage, and it could get worse as the country prepares to head into the Memorial Day weekend and summer — a time when Ruiz says blood donations drop.
“This could happen in any community,” Ruiz said. “If you can donate at your local blood center, we’re going to need it.”
“Everything is bigger in Texas, especially our hearts,” he added. “That’s why I get up every day to do this.”