Russel A. Smith stood outside the Dierbergs grocery store in Shrewsbury Oct. 9 collecting funds for the Knights of Columbus annual Tootsie Roll drive for people with developmental disabilities.
Smith enjoys helping with the Knights' causes such as this one, which benefits the Knights of Columbus Developmental Center at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. But his passion is serving as blood drive chairman for the Webster Groves Knights of Columbus Council 2119. Since he began as chairman, the number of blood donors to his council's drives has skyrocketed.
The council's blood drives began in 1939, and eventually potential donors lost interest in it. Smith took over about 15 years ago, and it's gone from a handful of donors to about 50 each time.
"Every day there's people who need blood," Smith said. "One pint saves three lives. It just touches my heart. It helps cancer survivors, all kinds of people who need blood to survive."
A member of Cure of Ars Parish in Shrewsbury, Smith formerly was overweight and a diabetic and wasn't able to give blood. He lost the weight and then was able to give, a highlight for him. Since then he's learned that he is anemic and unable to give blood, but he feels good that even though he's not able to give, he is effective in recruiting people in his community to do so. "I even have people coming from Illinois to give blood," Smith said.
He has a number of people who walk in to give blood, including one person who was in the St. Louis area on vacation from Minneapolis. He also has regular donors who give, including from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. Donors range in age from late teens to late 60s or older.
Smith, 57, was in an auto accident that caused severe arthritis in his back and forced him to retire on disability. He uses a walker, but it doesn't stop him from giving his time and talent to various endeavors.
He's the deputy grand knight of his Knights' council and was the Missouri State Council Knight of the month for June/July 2017 and St. Louis Fourth Degree Sir Knight of the month for August 2017. He volunteers at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital and is a lector, eucharistic minister and does other volunteer work for his parish.
Do (Dolores) Reis, whose late husband was a member of the Knights, was among the volunteers helping at the Dierbergs with Smith. She praised Smith, who organized the volunteer force at the store.
Reis lives at Our Lady of Life Apartments on the Cardinal Ritter Senior Services campus in Shrewsbury and attends Holy Redeemer Parish in Webster Groves. Of the senior residence, she said: "I love it. It's a welcoming community with friendly people and always something going on."
Reis also volunteers at Peter and Paul Community Services, a task she's done for about 28 years, and formerly volunteered with Meals on Wheels. Volunteering, she said, is important for seniors, "and there's always somewhere that needs help."
>> Blood drive
WHEN: 2:30-6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6
WHERE: American Legion Post 111, 7300 Lansdowne at Murdoch Cutoff in Shrewsbury
SPONSOR: Knights of Columbus Webster Groves Council 2119 along with the American Legion Post