If you are searching for a way to give back and make a difference this holiday season, staff with the American Red Cross and Rhode Island Blood Center are encouraging area residents to consider something that is free, in high demand and could potentially save a life — the gift of blood.
Representatives with both organizations said the large number of holiday travelers and hectic seasonal schedules can wreak havoc on blood supplies, and without the help of donors to supplement demand, it can lead to a critical need.
"Across the nation every year, there are two periods where we see the need rise just like clockwork," said Kelly Isenor, external communications manager for the Connecticut blood services region of the American Red Cross. "The first is around the 4th of July each summer, and the second is during the holiday season."
Isenor said there isn't necessarily any facts to support an increase in demand, but noted that due to holiday closures and all the responsibilities that come with planning for the season, there is a significant decline in the number of units donated during late November and early December.
In Rhode Island, Kara LeBlanc said the challenges are no different with the long holiday weekend and busy Black Friday shopping leading to a considerable drop in donations. LeBlanc, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Blood Center, said donating blood is not often the first thing on people's minds as they look to balance work, holiday gatherings and end-of-year responsibilities.
On average, LeBlanc said she estimates that between Thanksgiving Day and the end of the weekend, the center will see its stock decline by an average of 200 units of blood per day. As a result, it can be a struggle to replenish supplies in the weeks that follow.
"I wouldn't say what we are dealing with is a critical shortage, but we try and encourage everyone to make one donation if they can this time of year," she said. "Every donation goes a long way to help meet the need."
To combat some of the challenges and garner additional donations, LeBlanc and Isenor each said the blood services take part in a social media campaign and advertise to try and get the word out.
Isenor said the Red Cross also uses email to reach out to past donors and prospective volunteers, noting that the vast majority of those who donate do so only after being directly invited to do so by someone they know. The Red Cross is also offering a $5 Amazon gift card through Dec. 18 to those donate blood, platelets or AB Elite plasma.
"The incentive is possible thanks to support from local businesses, and its just a small way to try and say thanks," Isenor said.
Those who give blood through the Rhode Island Blood Center in November and December may be eligible to receive spot bonuses such as $5 gift card to Dunkin Donuts and are entered into a drawing for a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card. All those who donate and eligible to enter the drawing, but LeBlanc noted that individual bonuses are specific to individual blood drives and center locations.
When it comes to donating, both LeBlanc and Isenor said the decision to give could help save someone's life and could potentially carry more meaning for those in need than a tangible gift. The best part? It's free to give and the impact of your donation is enormous.
Those who may not be able to give can also consider making monetary donations or volunteering time.
"We try and tell everyone this time of year that giving blood is the best gift they could possibly give someone," LeBlanc said. "Giving blood is giving life."
For more on efforts through the Rhode Island Blood Center or to set up a donation, visit the organization's website at ribc.org. To give to the American Red Cross or to set up a donation, visit redcrossblood.org.