You Don’t Have to Be a Jedi to Be a Hero

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According to Wookieepedia, I’ve written over 50 Star Wars books. Yes, I’m proud of that, and grateful to numerous editors who continue to hire me, but I’m especially proud of another accomplishment: I’ve donated over 60 pints of blood.

I first donated blood in high school. What compelled me? No desperate pleas or tragic experience. I just appreciated the fact that blood is vital stuff, and that it doesn’t grow on trees. I was also impressed when I learned one donation, a single pint of blood, can save the lives of up to three people.

Who knew saving lives took so little effort? Lie on a cot while a friendly phlebotomist (I love the word phlebotomist) neatly extracts a pint of blood, and then proceed to enjoy some complimentary cookies and juice. Yum. And unlike other acts of philanthropy, this one allows donors to keep their money. In other words, giving blood appealed to me because I was somewhat altruistic, but mostly lazy and cheap.

Initially, I was only an occasional donor, but over the past decade, I fell into the habit of donating blood every two months. The Rhode Island Blood Center recently gave me a commemorative “Seventh Gallon” coffee mug, and it’s my current favorite. Call me fickle, but I’m always looking forward to receiving my next-gallon mug.

The most recent addition to Ryder Windham’s collection of coffee mugs from the Rhode Island Blood Center.

The most recent addition to Ryder Windham’s collection of coffee mugs from the Rhode Island Blood Center.

 

Last year, I read a news item about the 501st Legion New England Garrison participating in a blood drive in Providence, Rhode Island. I’d never thought of organizing a blood drive with the 501st, and my slow-witted gears started turning. One of my best pals is Tom O’Donnell, the Regional Supervisor of the Providence Community Library and Director of the Rochambeau Library. I asked Tom if he’d be up for hosting a Star Wars-themed event, which I dubbed the Star Wars Party & Blood Drive. Tom was all for it, as were my friends with the 501st and Rebel Legion.

I contacted the Rhode Island Blood Center, and learned they required three months advance notice to schedule a blood drive. I conferred with Tom and the 501st, and we all agreed on a Saturday in October that would give Star Wars fans an opportunity to wear their costumes before Halloween.

Tom and I met with a blood center representative, who explained that all they really needed from us was a parking space for a large bloodmobile for four and a half hours in front of the Rochambeau Library. After reviewing records for previous blood drives at the library, the representative said they’d be happy to collect at least 15 pints.

Fifteen? Tom and I wondered if we might be able to collect 20. How could we increase attendance and donations? Most Star Wars fans can’t resist a photo opportunity with Imperial stormtroopers, but this event was different. I’d never asked for blood before.

Now, I’d like to think that most people would be inclined to donate blood because lives depend on it, but I’m just as tempted by free merchandise as the next fellow. Case in point, the aforementioned commemorative coffee mugs. And so I wrote to all of my Star Wars publishing contacts, asking if they might donate some Star Wars books, posters, and assorted promotional that I could give away to blood donors and their families. I also wrote to a friend at Hasbro, and asked if he could spare a few Star Wars toys.

Everyone responded enthusiastically. All were happy to help. If someone ever says anything mean about Lucasfilm licensees, don’t mind me if I take that someone to task.

I had an idea for a promotional poster that would feature a photo of a stormtrooper, which I designed to look like a 1970s public service ad. The ad copy reads, “You don’t have to be a Jedi to be a hero,” and the stormtrooper wears a heart-shaped sticker that indicates he’s just donated blood. I sent a mockup to Lucasfilm. Yes, that’s right, I asked for permission to use the photo, and also the words “Star Wars” and “Jedi.” You don’t get to be a barnacle on the Lucasfilm whale for as long as yours truly unless you make every effort to remain totally aboveboard with the whale, so to speak. Lucasfilm graciously granted permission.

The poster for this year’s Star Wars Party & Blood Drive.

The poster for this year’s Star Wars Party & Blood Drive.

The Big Day finally rolled around, and the bloodmobile rolled up in front of the Rochambeau Library. The 501st and Rebel Legion worked their magic, charming fans inside the library while troops stationed outside prompted passersby to stop their cars and check out the excitement. General Grievous politely ushered donors onto the bloodmobile. I made a very family-friendly presentation about the importance of donating blood, and strongly encouraged all children to urge their parents and guardians to become donors, “because then you’ll go home with a Star Wars book, which I’ll sign for you personally.” Downright nefarious of me, but it was for a good cause.

Naturally, General Grievous took a liking to the bloodmobile.

Naturally, General Grievous took a liking to the bloodmobile.

The blood center has strict policies about collecting blood, and they had to refuse a few donors, something I hadn’t anticipated. I decided on the spot that anyone who even tried to donate blood would earn a signed book or collectible. Everyone left with free loot, and I didn’t see one unhappy face. A blood-donor named Sean was carrying away his just-signed copy of Star Wars: Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force, courtesy of Del Rey, when he uttered my favorite quote of the day: “I’d give blood every day for Star Wars.”

I donated surplus books and toys to the 501st, which they put to use for other charities. A few donors were still in the bloodmobile as the troops and I headed back to my house for a cookout, so we had to wait to find out whether the event had exceeded the blood center’s expectations. Tom O’Donnell eventually arrived and informed us that the blood center had collected 30 pints.

All involved felt very, very pleased.

A few months later, Dean Patterson of the Knights of Columbus in Attleboro, Massachusetts, invited the 501st and me to participate in an event to promote reading, raise funds for a children’s literacy program, and help local food banks. The 501st and I had done an event with this group of Knights the previous year, and to give you an idea of how much Dean had fun and loves Star Wars, he decided to join the 501st and acquired a suit of stormtrooper armor. This time around, I asked Dean if we could do a blood drive too. He went for it, and as things turned out, one of his fellow Knights was affiliated with the Rhode Island Blood Center, and was happy to work out the details of getting the bloodmobile.

R2-D2 watches Ryder Windham signing books for blood donors in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

R2-D2 watches Ryder Windham signing books for blood donors in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

I contacted various Lucasfilm licensees, and they were incredibly generous again. The 501st and I helped the Knights of Columbus raise $390 for children to attend a summer reading club, collected 104 canned goods, and also collected 29 pints of blood. Okay, so 29 pints wasn’t quite 30…but it was close! I wasn’t disappointed. And I realized that I really enjoy doing these events. So why stop?

My cohorts and I scheduled a second Star Wars Party & Blood Drive at the Rochambeau Library on October 6, 2012. Then DK Publishing Publicity Manager Mindy Fichter surprised me, asking about my availability for Star Wars Reads Day, which was slated for the same date. What a coincidence! But was it also a logistical challenge? Not at all. The library can accommodate a large crowd, and there’s no such thing as “too much” with Star Wars.

If you’re a Star Wars fan and live in Southeastern New England, I’m looking forward to seeing you at the event that the 501st and I have nicknamed Star Wars Read & Bleed Day. There will be free giveaways from Star Wars book publishers. I’ll give a talk about my work, and read an excerpt from a yet to be published Star Wars book. We may have a costume contest. Darth Vader will be in attendance, and if your age is 16 years or over, we want your blood.

The 501st and Rebel Legion will return to the Rochambeau Library in Providence, RI, for Star Wars Reads Day on October 6.

The 501st and Rebel Legion will return to the Rochambeau Library in Providence, RI, for Star Wars Reads Day on October 6.

What’s my next goal? I’m organizing a blood drive with the 501st at Rhode Island Comic Con on November 3, and looking forward to it very much. But because I’m admittedly slow, I also suddenly regret I didn’t try to set up a blood drive for Star Wars Celebration VI.

Instead of kicking myself too much over a missed opportunity, I’ll give you a nudge.

According to the American Red Cross, more than 44,000 blood donations are needed every day. How many Star Wars fans are eligible donors? Heck if I know, but every pint helps. If you’re already a donor, bless your heart and keep it up. If you don’t know whether you can donate, visit your local blood center and find out. If for any reason you can’t donate, thanks for trying, and trust you can help in other ways.

For example… There is absolutely nothing stopping you from organizing or volunteering to help with a Star Wars Party & Blood Drive in your own town or city. Here’s how it’s done:

• Call your nearest blood center, and find out how much lead time they need to schedule a blood drive. They may also help you out with printing and distributing posters.

• Find a location and set a date. Public libraries are terrific!

• Contact your local chapters of the 501st and Rebel Legion, and invite them to participate in the blood drive. You should consult their calendar before you invite them to make sure they’re available. If necessary, change the date of the blood drive to accommodate the troopers’ calendar, because they will attract a crowd.

• Design posters for the event, and use online social media to promote the blood drive. Again, check with your blood center about printing and distributing posters, as I’d wager they’ll be happy to help.

• Invite your friends and other Star Wars fans.

• Have fun at the blood drive!

Thanks to everyone who has attended and supported the blood drives. Enormous thanks to my friends at Dark Horse Comics, Del Rey, DK Publishing, Hasbro, and Scholastic, Lucasfilm, and the 501st New England Garrison and Rebel Legion Alderaan Base. You are the Force.

Ryder Windham and the 501st and Rebel Legion will be celebrating Star Wars Reads Day—and Star Wars Read & Bleed—on Saturday, October 6 at the Rochambeau Library, 708 Hope Street, Providence, Rhode Island. The party is 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; the blood drive is 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

On Saturday, October 6, Star Wars Reads Day is coming to your galaxy. Join in a celebration of reading and all things Star Wars at over 1,200 bookstores, schools, and libraries nationwide, with giveaways and raffles, and authors and/or costumed characters appearing at select locations. Find an event near you!

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