Nonprofits working together to serve the community

QUITMAN, February 10, 2023 – Today, two vital regional nonprofit entities, Carter BloodCare and Wood County Electric Cooperative (WCEC), will celebrate the inaugural voyage of Carter BloodCare’s sleek new mobile blood collection bus. It was made possible by a unique set of circumstances and an unlikely collaboration between two nonprofits.

The custom 26,000 lb., 40’ bus was initially purchased by WCEC as a mobile office. Custom ordered in 2018, it was designed to replace an older vehicle. Since 1992, WCEC had operated  a mobile office, sending it to one of five different towns each weekday. Since WCEC’s service area is spread across nine counties, it was a convenience for WCEC members to be able pay bills and reload pre-paid electricity cards. The office-on-wheels was an economical solution for the nonprofit co-op, alleviating the need for offices in these locations.

WCEC received their newest bus in the fall of 2019 and operated it a few months before the 2020 pandemic shut down operations. Coming out of the pandemic, WCEC reevaluated the service it had long provided. Technology changes that included advanced metering, a mobile app, and other efficiencies that allowed members to remotely pay and manage other transactions online and via the phone, had reduced the need for in-person transactions. After careful analysis, it was determined that the mobile office was no longer necessary, ultimately reducing costs to WCEC members.

Deciding to sell the bus, co-op personnel placed advertisements on an online specialty custom bus site, and also began reaching out to organizations that looked like a fit. Carter BloodCare was an obvious choice. In 2021, Carter BloodCare was receptive and expressed initial interest, but retrofitting WCEC’s bus to their purposes would be costly. So, they began looking at new custom buses. That’s when the blood center’s personnel discovered a pandemic-related supply chain issue had backlogged the custom automotive market. It would be about two years or more before they could acquire a bus, and their fleet needed an infusion. With that, WCEC’s vehicle became a realistic and attractive option.

To investigate, Carter BloodCare’s Jeff Ryan, Director, Facilities and Fleet Administration, and Clinton McCoy, Director of Mobile Donor Recruitment and Regional Operations, visited WCEC’s Quitman office to test drive the vehicle. After measuring, driving, and inspecting, they were convinced it could be outfitted as a three-bed mobile blood collection facility. The next question became, could it be done affordably?

As they began to crunch the numbers, Carter BloodCare reached out to another nonprofit blood center, Blood Assurance (BA), in Tennessee. BA has facilities in five states, and their own full-service fleet outfitting and conversion department. As a specialist in mobile blood centers, Carter BloodCare asked BA to quote on the work to turn WCEC’s mobile office into a mobile blood collection facility.

With that knowledge, Carter BloodCare negotiated and purchased WCEC’s bus in the fall of 2022, later driving it to Tennessee for the conversion. In a few short months, BA completed the retrofit, and Carter BloodCare brought it back to Texas in January 2023. Next steps included having the bus painted the Carter BloodCare scheme, installing computers and then a staff walk-through and training, since the layout is a little different.

Officially, in Carter BloodCare’s fleet, the bus is catalogued as C-57. But those that have been working on the project have affectionately nicknamed it “Woody,” after its WCEC heritage. About the project and the global supply chain issue, McCoy said, “You have to be creative and willing to step out of the box, do things on the fly, and build new relationships.” He also went on to say, “WCEC offered us a very favorable price, which was the deciding factor that allowed us to take on this project, and we are grateful.” All in, Carter BloodCare netted approximately $80,000 in savings. McCoy said the process has worked so well for them that they have purchased another vehicle that they will be converting with BA’s help.

Trey Teaff, GM and CEO at WCEC said, “When we decided to sell the bus, we hoped it would help a local entity. We have always realized the critical life-sustaining role Carter BloodCare brings to our communities. We have supported them for many years by hosting blood drives. When we reached out to them, it just seemed like a natural fit. We could not be more pleased that this worked out for them and us, and it’s a thrill to see ’Woody‘ in this new life-giving role. And it’s really special that the first day of service is back here at the co-op.”