Red Cross sees blood shortage worsen

By Michael Davis

George Stellings has given more blood than he can remember. The Stockbridge resident said, "I do it for several reasons – it's a good opportunity to save four people's lives."

Stellings started donating blood when he was in the military. "I give now to support friends and make sure there's enough blood available for people who need surgeries," he said.

But the American Red Cross needs more people like him.

As Christmas approaches and gifts are wrapped and given, the Red Cross is encouraging healthy men and women to give the gift of life: one unit of blood which amounts to a little less than a pint.

With less than a half-day supply of the more common blood types, the Red Cross' Blood Services center in Atlanta is running dangerously low.

"If we have a major accident – it could wipe out our supply," said Cammie Barnes, a spokesperson for Red Cross' Blood Services Southern Region.

Supplies are typically low during summers and around the holidays. "We like to have about a three-day supply," she said, but right now, supplies are thinning. For example, as of Wednesday, the Red Cross had 215 units, or pints, of the universal blood type, O-negative, on hand. Because this type is most often used in emergency situations when there's not time to test someone's blood type, they like to have 988 units.

As usual donors get caught in the race to get shopping done, take vacations and just get busier in general, Barnes said the number of donors decreases during the holidays while the demand stays the same. In the summer, supplies are low because schools, which account for 15 percent of donations, are out of session. Over the holidays, "people are not in their normal routines and can't," Barnes said.

To help encourage donations, the Red Cross is pitting police against firefighters in a friendly competition to see who can raise the most blood donations.

Donors can now go to any blood donation center in the metro Atlanta area and donate blood in the honor of any firefighter or law enforcement individual.

The Clayton County library system is also hosting a blood drive at its headquarters to help out. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on New Year's Eve at the library headquarters in Jonesboro, county employees and public safety personnel are encouraged to donate blood as well as the public.

With the help of blood drives and individual donors, the Red Cross hopes to collect 2,400 pints of blood by Jan. 9 in order to keep supplies up. Most healthy people 17 or over that weigh at least 110 pounds can donate once every 56 days.