Bay Ridge

School custodian’s mom hosts blood drive in his memory

March 27, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Christine Maxwell, sister of the late Mathiew Johnson, donates blood in her brother’s memory and receives encouragement from Mohammed Rahman, of the New York Blood Center, her dad Doug Johnson, her mother, June Johnson, and her children, Julia and Richard Maxwell. Eagle photos by Paula Katinas
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The cafeteria of P.S. 102 was converted into a blood donation center for four hours on Thursday, as a steady stream of people showed up at the Bay Ridge elementary school to donate blood in memory of the school’s late custodian.

Mathiew Johnson, who worked for several years at the school at 211 72nd St., died of a heart attack while on the job in 2013. He was 42 years old.

His mother, June Johnson, a retired school secretary and a member of Community Board 10 (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights), organized a blood drive in his name at P.S. 102 last year and the event was so successful, with a total of 100 pints of blood collected, she decided to hold one again this year.

She obtained permission from P.S. 102 Principal Cornelia Sichenze to hold the event in the school cafeteria.

“Matt and I used to go to blood drives together all the time and donate our blood,” Johnson told the Brooklyn Eagle. She added that she felt organizing a blood drive in her son’s name was a good way of keeping his memory alive.

Johnson, who was there with her husband Doug and members of their family, asked New York Blood Center to oversee the blood drive. Mohammed Rahman, the team leader, said the center loves to assist community blood drives such as the Johnson effort.

“It’s community people helping the community,” he told the Eagle. “Blood saves lives.”

New York Blood Center holds approximately 50 blood drives every day in New York and New Jersey, according to Rahman.

“We have to. Blood doesn’t make itself. People have to donate blood. It comes from people,” he said.

Despite the tragedy of Matt Johnson’s death at a young age, the Johnson blood drive had a festive atmosphere.

Johnson and members of her family were wearing red shirts with the slogan “Let’s Do It For Matty!”

To entice parents to come to the event, June Johnson set up tables with toys and coloring books for children and had pizza, cookies, milk and coffee on hand.

“I figure that the kids can play while their parents are giving blood,” she said.

There were also raffles throughout the afternoon, thanks to Johnson’s friend Sandy Irrera, a school crossing guard, who donated gift baskets to the blood drive and handed out raffle tickets to each person who had given blood. The donors had the chance to win such items as a Liz Claiborne sweater, a bottle of wine, picture frames and a jar of marinara sauce from Mama Rao’s Restaurant.

“I wanted variety because I figured that there’s all different kinds of people giving blood,” Irrera told the Eagle.

The donors included friends of Matt Johnson’s, P.S. 102 teachers, parents of students and regular blood donors who have visited other New York Blood Center events.

Paul LeGoff, Matt Johnson’s best friend, said he was happy to see his buddy being remembered in this manner.

“He was the most generous, most giving person you could imagine,” said LeGoff, who works at DoubleClick, an Internet advertising service site.

Matt Johnson, who was called “Matty J.” by his friends, loved to fish and was a big sports fan. “He was a big Yankee fan. He loved the Rangers,” LeGoff said. “He was also really big into action movies. He loved Arnold Schwarzenegger and later on, Jason Statham.”

LeGoff, who had gone fishing with Johnson early in the morning on the day he died, said he still misses his friend. “Me and all of Matty’s friends still feel it. Every time we walk past P.S. 102, we make a sign of the cross,” he said.

June Johnson said she is determined to make the blood drive an annual event and is equally determined to make it a fun happening.

“I want it to become a tradition in Bay Ridge. I want it to be the kind of thing where people say, ‘It’s March, time to go donate blood. Let’s go to P.S. 102,’” she said.

The blood drive generated 80 pints of blood, Johnson said on Friday.

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