Houchin Community Blood Bank opens new center on Bakersfield’s eastside

Excerpted from The Bakersfield Californian

July 28, 2022

By Steven Mayer

Houchin Community Blood Bank celebrated the opening of its new east Bakersfield location Thursday morning, an expansion that Houchin executives hope will bring in greater numbers of Hispanic donors.

“It’s a presence here, and kind of an anchor here on the east side, but our hope also is that we are really going to expand our outreach into the Hispanic community — and we’re very, very excited about that,” Houchin CEO Sean McNally told a crowd of local supporters and elected officials.

The event was held on the wide sidewalk in front of the new location at 2671 Oswell St., Suite C, within the same shopping center as the Red Pepper Restaurant, PetSmart and other businesses.

A few of Houchin’s top donors were there, including Gary Ketchell, who started donating blood in 1977, reaching 13 gallons before switching to platelet donations in 1990. He’s now closing in on a record 1,500 units of platelets, which often help save the lives of cancer patients.

“It means a lot to me to donate here,” Ketchell told the gathering. “Of course there’s community need. There’s no substitute for blood and blood products.”

Nick Ortiz, president and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, said as a “former east-sider,” he is excited to see Houchin investing in northeast Bakersfield.

“Many of you know that Houchin Blood Bank was our Beautiful Bakersfield winner just a few weeks ago for our Health category,” Ortiz said, lauding Houchin for its decades of service to the community by supplying life-saving blood and blood products to those in critical need.

Indeed, emblazoned on the new facility’s front window is the slogan, “When you give, people live.”

It’s not an empty slogan.

The importance of the donations provided by residents of Kern County cannot be overstated, said Jeff Flores, chief of staff in outgoing county Supervisor Mike Maggard’s 3rd District — and a candidate himself in that district.

“We’re so blessed to be here in Kern County,” Flores said. “People give the gift of time. People give the gift of money and resources. And people give the gift of talent to improve our community.

“But here, we literally have the gift of life,” he said, “and that’s what we’re here celebrating.”

Following the morning event, many entered the new facility to donate blood and enjoy some refreshments.

Asked to expand on the blood bank’s need to improve involvement by the Hispanic community, Chief Operating Officer Martin Alonzo pointed to a seeming disconnect between the burgeoning Latino population in Kern County and the number of donors.

“If you look at Kern County, the Hispanic population is a pretty significant portion of our overall population,” Alonzo said. “But if you look at our donor demographics, it’s actually one of the smallest.”

According to statistics provided by Alonzo, Hispanics make up about half of Kern’s population, but represent just 3 percent of blood donors.

“So our goal in coming out here is to try to break down the cultural barriers,” he said, “but also to educate the Hispanic community about who we are and what we do — and what’s in it for them.”