A pint-sized, longtime friend of Houchin Community Blood Bank marked another milestone at the nonprofit's big new building Monday.
Standing 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighing 115 pounds, 94-year-old Margaret Delfino laughed as photographers and reporters documented her donation. A donor since about 1954, the great grandmother has been the center of attention at the blood bank before; first when she gave blood in 2006 following a five-year absence after undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer and again when she reached the 25-gallon mark at the age of 90.
On Monday morning, Delfino made Houchin history as the first person to give blood at the organization's sprawling 42,000-square-foot, $10 million facility.
Registered nurse Carlena Russom has taken Delfino's blood on previous big occasions and was on hand to hook her up again Monday. Russom hoped the petite woman's donation helps people realize it's not dangerous or scary to give blood.
"Obviously if she can handle a needle, anybody can," Russom said. "Just (her) commitment, the life-long dedication to me it's just, it's hard to find these days. She's just an inspiration."
Delfino began donating blood with her husband to help an ailing neighbor. The neighbor passed away but the Delfinos continued to donate. Delfino said she enjoyed giving and reaching the 1 gallon mark, then blowing past it.
"Some of the gals at the blood bank were just as excited about my 10 gallons as I was," Delfino said.
The A-positive donor frequently encourages others to give blood as well. This summer she hopes to give blood with four generations of her family members.
"Most of our family, we have a big extended family, most everyone donates because of her," said Natalie Delfino-Mickelsen, Delfino's granddaughter.
Delfino-Mickelsen has surpassed the 7 gallon mark herself while donating with her grandmother. She accompanied her grandmother Monday and documented the commotion with a digital camera.
The granddaughter said her family doesn't fret about Delfino donating at her age.
"She's very healthy, still lives on her own, drives, everything. We want her blood," Delfino-Mickelsen said.
Across the large donation room from Delfino, Alex Ross, 22, was the first person to be hooked up to a machine to give his platelets. Ross' visit brought him to the 100-units-of-platelets benchmark.
"I just had some time to kill every once and a while, so I just decided it would be kind of fun to go and sit and take some time for yourself and take some time to do something nice for the community," Ross said as he browsed the Internet on a computer suspended above his chair.
Ross usually donates at the Truxtun Avenue location but in the future he'll head to the new building to give platelets.
"(The new building is) a lot, a lot, a lot bigger. It's just designed really well," Ross said.
But Delfino doesn't plan to go back to the new facility anytime soon. The Truxtun branch is closer to her home and she wasn't sold on the new location Monday.
"I think it's too massive, too much empty spaces," she said with a laugh.
Greg Gallion, Houchin's president and CEO, said all that space will allow the blood bank room to grow, giving the nonprofit the capacity to double its production if needed. There's also room to develop a reference lab and a transfusion lab to offer other services to local hospitals.
"(The facility) was built for the citizens of Kern County so that we would be a viable and sustaining organization for the next 60 years as we have been for the first 60," Gallion said. "I think the community deserves to have something of this magnitude."
Gallion said he hopes the new facility is as successful as the Truxtun building and "that people will want to make the conscious decision to donate on a regular basis."
For her part, Delfino plans to keep giving her blood as long as she can and wants others to follow her lead.
"Keep coming. Just keep donating since we need the blood. Who knows, maybe one day (donors will) need it," Delfino said.