From Neighborhood Grocer to Community Blood Coordinator

It’s a regular weekday evening for Ike Smalls, owner of Des Moines grocer and Hospital Supply Company. He restocks the rolls of gauze, totals the sales for the day, packages an order for the following morning, sweeps away the leaves that flew in from the street, and makes his approach to lock up for the night. Ike stands under the stoop and fidgets in his pockets for the key, pulling it loose, bringing it to the brass doorknob and latch. 

“Mr. Smalls, Mr. Smalls, Mr. Smalls!!” bellows from the street, increasing in volume as an individual rushes to a halt in front of him, nearing collision. Out of breath, the individual exclaims in panic that their sibling, a well-known customer of Ike’s, had been hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer. What could Ike do? He was not a doctor or surgeon. He could supply prescriptions, materials, and tools for use by the hospital. But that was not what was needed in this critical time. This person needed blood. 

ike smallIn 1937, Ike Smalls formed central Iowa’s first blood donor referral process, after offering $5 to any donor who could supply blood to help his customer. Over the next decade, the demand for blood products by the four Des Moines Hospitals grew to exceed Smalls’ volunteer operation. By 1947, it was obvious that the growing community required a growing blood donor pool. Ike Smalls was appointed as the first director of the Polk County Blood Donor Service by the Des Moines Hospital Council. 

In conjunction with the Polk County Medical Society, the Polk County Osteopathic Physicians, and the Des Moines Hospital Council, the Polk County Blood Donor Services became the Community Blood Bank of Central Iowa. Opening its doors in January of 1963, this was the area’s first centralized location to collect, and store blood products for local communities. 

Following the model set forth by the Des Moines Hospital Council, the Woodbury Medical Society of Sioux City, Iowa created the Siouxland Community Blood Bank in 1967. Over the seventy-five years of existence, Ike Smalls’ community blood donor service took many names, including the Blood Center of Iowa, but the mission always remained the same. In 2010, the Blood Center of Iowa and Siouxland Community Blood Bank merged to form LifeServe Blood Center, and have continued to expand across Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. 

Though Ike Smalls has passed on, his impact on these communities is ever present. The organization created because of Smalls’ leadership has become one of the fifteen largest blood centers in the country. The message of Smalls’ story remains true today - you do not have to be a physician, surgeon, or emergency medical provider to save lives. A grocer devised the blueprint to save hundreds of thousands of lives across Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Just from one need in your community, one hour in the donor chair, one blood donation, you too can save up to three lives.