The New England Patriots were away last weekend, but Gillette Stadium was still packed as Storm Troopers, clowns, and cheerleaders wandered around the club level.
Dr. Mary O'Neill couldn't help but proudly watch.
"There is such a wonderful air of festivity here," said O'Neill, the American Red Cross' Division Vice President for the New England region. "It's absolutely amazing. The car park is full at eight in the morning, and people are waiting to come in before the doors open."
O'Neill and her colleagues at the American Red Cross had nearly 700 reasons to be happy. Shattering their goal of 500 units, the Red Cross collected 696 usable units of blood on Saturday, November 13, at the Bob's Discount Furniture blood drive at Gillette Stadium.
"Everyone's thrilled. It's not like they have to give blood, they're doing it out of choice and bringing their families and their kids," O'Neill reflected. "Our normal blood drive is about 50 units, 700 units are 14 blood drives all in one day, one event. It's huge."
The event, which has taken place at the stadium for several years, was easily the largest single blood drive in recent memory with several hundred scheduled appointments, many of whom came dressed in Patriots gear.
"God gives us all this blood, might as well go out and donate and try to help somebody else," said Steve Lindstrom of Brockton, who donated wearing Patriots Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett's jersey. "It's the least I can do."
In terms of collection, this year's event vastly overshadowed those of past years.
"The best drive we've ever had that we've co-sponsored with the Patriots organization has been just under 500 productive units," said Bob Kaufman, founder of Bob's Discount Furniture, the primary sponsor of the event. "This is the first time we've done it on a weekend, and the difference is just incredible."
For Kaufman the drive is a personal matter. Growing up in a family stricken with illness, he understands the power of donating first hand. His father, Leo, received blood transfusions every other week for four years, while his 15-year old nephew, Scott Mulready, used blood donations to prolong his battle with leukemia. Tragically, both passed away.
"When you go in with a loved one and you see them lethargic and pale, and they come out rosy-cheeked and full of life, you understand that 'give the gift of life' isn't just a cliché, it is a real meaning," Kaufman said passionately. "Sitting with him in the cancer centers, you realize there is a chronic population out there that needs the blood to stay alive. They're in these cancer centers, and if they don't get it they're dead. To be able to support those people and that population to me has become very, very important."
Which makes individuals like Joe O'Brien that much more valuable. O'Brien, who was born and raised in Lawrence, has donated nearly twenty-three gallons of blood over the past 30 years, enough to fill the tank of a Cadillac Escalade.
"My mother worked in a hospital and I just happened to go up there, sat down, and they asked if I wanted to donate," said O'Brien. "It's helping somebody."
A Vietnam veteran, O'Brien cites tragedies experienced during the war as a reason for his continual support.
"I saw a lot of guys who didn't make it home, [so] I donate every chance I get," O'Brien said, wearing pins commemorating previous donations.
This trip to Gillette marked his fifth donation of the year.
Patriots' legend Steve Nelson shared O'Brien's sentiment. In addition to donating, Nelson signed autographs and took pictures with fellow donors and their families.
"I think it's one of the things you can do to serve people," Nelson said lying down as the nurse began to draw blood. "It's basically painless, quick, and it's important that the Red Cross has available blood along with all the different medical institutions."
The event has been held at Gillette Stadium for the past several years, marking a great opportunity for fans to experience the stadium in a calmer, more relaxed setting than one experienced on a game day.
"The Krafts and Patriots organization are the kindest, most philanthropic people that I've ever dealt with in terms of the support that they give," Kaufman said. "To open up this facility, which is spectacular, and allow this to happen multiple times now, my hats off to both the Kraft family and the Patriots organization. There is a lot of work involved in opening the stadium up, especially on an off day. We appreciate tremendously what they allowed to have happen here today."