Who wears red and comes out once a year to bring joy to children in Washtenaw County? If your answer was “members of the Galens Medical Society,” you would be right.
Friday and Saturday marked the 76th annual Galens Tag Day Drive, an event put on by Medical School students who belong to the Galens Society. Tag day falls on the first weekend of December every year to correspond with Midnight Madness, the night when all downtown stores in Ann Arbor stay open until midnight.
Members of Galens Society called “taggers” stand in various places throughout Ann Arbor wearing red ponchos and posters and holding buckets to collect donations. When someone puts a donation in the Galens bucket, the tagger holding the bucket will give the person a Galens tag – a brightly colored tag explaining what Galens does and how to make further contributions.
The Galens Society designed the tag day drive to raise money for children’s causes in Washtenaw County. Organizations apply to Galens for grants. “Anyone who asks, as long as they’re legitimate, we basically give money to,” said “tag day czar” and fourth year Medical School student Caroline Schreiber.
Funds gathered in the past have gone to organizations such as the SAFE House, a domestic violence shelter; the Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti; the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum; the Ronald McDonald House, an inexpensive hotel for families of hospitalized children; and the Neutral Zone, a youth center run by high school students in Ann Arbor.
One of the main recipients of tag day donations is the Child Life Center in Mott Children’s Hospital Charities, which provides educational toys and arts and crafts to children in the hospital. Schreiber said the Child Life Center was founded “so kids can have a more normal life in the hospital.”
Schreiber said the tag day drive usually collects about $70,000 per year. “We think this is a good year, but it’s hard to know yet,” she said about this year’s total.
Unlike other charity events, Galens donates all money collected on tag days to charity.
“None of the money we collect goes to overhead at all,” Schreiber said. This is made possible by donations from local businesses, such as Blimpie Burger, which provides kits with burgers, fries, condiments and cheese to students collecting donations. Other restaurants provide cookies, hot chocolate and other food items for the taggers. All leftover food is donated to homeless shelters.
Ten Medical School faculty members are nominated each year by the student members of Galens to serve as honorary members. The faculty members drive “Happy Vans” full of donated food to Tagger locations around Ann Arbor during the Tag drive.
Family medicine associate Prof. Kent Sheets, in his first year as a faculty member of Galens, said he had a great time driving the Happy Van to deliver food to the taggers. “The weather’s not been bad today, and they’re glad to see us.”
Pathology Prof. Andy Flint, in his seventh year with Galens, expressed enthusiasm for the organization and the tag day. “It’s such a great tradition,” he said. “It’s a completely unselfish act.” He also said he enjoyed working with the students, and that getting nominated for Galens was “sort of like getting an Oscar – it was really cool.”
Taggers talked about the generosity of people in Ann Arbor and how exciting it was to see a check for $1,000 in the donation bucket. Sara Chakel, tag day czar and fourth year Medical student, said, “Lots of people already have checks written out in their pockets,” before tag day. Galens members said that people will tell taggers that they look forward to giving donations on tag days.
“People expect you, they’re waiting for you. It was really nice to see people’s generosity,” said Grace Ahn, co-chair and 1st year Medical student.