At OneBlood, a blood donation center a few blocks from Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the line to donate blood to help the victims of last night’s mass shooting wrapped around the parking lot twice.
“We’ve been here for about two hours,” said Christie Morell, a hospitality management and event management double major at UCF. Morell said she was motivated to help partly because of a personal connection to the shooting.
“Some of my friends frequent [Pulse], and I haven’t heard from them,” Morell said.
Morell was struck by the sheer number of people that showed up to help. The line at OneBlood on Michigan Street — under a mile from the gay nightclub where the shooting happened — snaked through and around the parking lot, where volunteers handed out water, Gatorade, snacks and sunscreen. One group of people even set up a tent to help keep those waiting to donate out of the sun.
More than 400 people waited in line there to donate blood, according to Patrick Paulauski, a media and public relations specialist at OneBlood.
"I think it’s amazing, driving here and seeing how long the line was to donate blood, that so many people care," Morell said. "It’s special, really touching."
Troy Stull, who graduated from UCF in 2014, said the large turnout was a show of the community’s strength.
"I think this proves we’re stronger than they are," Stull said. "That we’re not going to be afraid. We’re not going to live in fear. We’re not going to be terrorized."
For Becky Roero, 28, the victims weren’t strangers.
“I used to work at Pulse, and they’re family. Anything to support family, to make sure they come out of this okay,” Roero said after she had already been waiting in line for more than an hour.
Roero, who was born and raised in Orlando, said she knew one person who had been shot.
“It’s a tragedy that a place so beautiful and so accepting could have such hatred built inside of it,” she said with tears forming in her eyes. “The [shooter] had no idea what kind of love poured out of that place."
Geoffrey Lawrence, a UCF senior double majoring in music and theatre studies, decided to help in the only way he could.
“I wanted to do my part, and since we have a stupid ban on homosexuals donating blood, I can’t donate,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence, who is gay, bought several palates of bottled water and helped distribute the water to those waiting in line.
The FDA’s policy currently states that any male who has had sex with another man within the past year cannot donate blood.
Although reports circulated that this ban had been lifted, OneBlood said in a press release and on social media around 1 p.m. that those reports were false and that “the blood center is mandated to follow all guidelines for blood donation at all times."
“I would’ve been the first in line this morning because it could’ve very easily been me who was shot,” Lawrence said. “I got invited [to Pulse] last night and I almost drove there, but I ended up going to some dinner with coworkers and decided not to go last minute. So it hits really close to home.”
Lawrence said that some of his friends were at Pulse when the shooting occurred, but they all made it out safely.
“It’s heartwarming to see that we’re having to turn people away from giving blood, that many people are stepping up,” Lawrence said. “I think that’s really awesome. It shows how much of a community Orlando is.”
Although OneBlood said in a press release and on social media that the blood center was at "full capacity" as early as 11 a.m. on Sunday. It will be accepting donors throughout the coming week.
The Oviedo Donor Center on State Road 426 will accept blood donations this week. Additionally, a "bloodmobile" or Big Red Bus will accept donations on the UCF campus on Monday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Find a full list of locations and times for your area at https://www.oneblood.org/donate-now/.
This story was originally published on June 12, 2016.
Alex Storer is the Entertainment Editor of the Central Florida Future. You can reach him at AlexanderS@centralfloridafuture.com.