Red Cross reaches out to minority donors - Catholic Courier

Red Cross reaches out to minority donors

ROCHESTER — Lisa Mueller just happened to stop in to the Sibley Tower Building on Jan. 21 when she saw flyers advertising a blood drive on the second floor in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

As a regular donor, Mueller, of Rochester, did not hesitate to participate in the second-annual drive. Staff and volunteers from the Greater Rochester Chapter of the American Red Cross organized the event with support and outreach from 20 civil, social and faith-based groups — including the Greater Rochester Community of Churches, Latinas Unidas and the African American Leadership Development Program of the United Way — to highlight the need for more minority donors and volunteers.

“It saves somebody’s life,” said Mueller, who was inspired to become a regular donor by her own mother’s example of donating blood. It could soon evolve into a three-generation tradition if her 17-year-old daughter, who has expressed a desire to donate, also becomes a donor.

“It might be one of my family members (in need) one day,” Mueller added.

According to Dr. Frederick Jefferson, Red Cross board chairman, every two seconds in the United States, someone needs blood. More minority donors are needed because African-Americans and Latinos have the highest percentages of type O and type O negative blood, said Shirley Thompson, the chapter’s assistant director for volunteer development and community outreach. Type O blood is the most common blood type and is often in short supply at hospitals, said Thompson, citing a Red Cross report. Type O negative blood is the universal blood type that anyone can receive in an emergency, she added.

"African-Americans and Latinos have the power to strengthen the community blood supply, help save lives, and ensure that the blood supply is as diverse as our community,” Thompson quoted from the report titled "Power in the Blood." 

Per information from agency officials, for every 100 units of blood that are collected by the Red Cross, only one comes from a Latino donor and three come from the African-American community. Each blood donation can save three peoples’ lives, the information states.

“What we’re trying to do is remind folks that Dr. King was about building a stronger community and a stronger society for everyone,” Thompson said. “We’re also taking this opportunity to raise (awareness of) the fact that there is a need for more donations from these two communities in particular.”

A 2006 research study explored why these two groups don’t regularly donate and found two main reasons: a fear of needles and a fear of contracting a disease, Thompson said. Other reasons include a lack of time and transportation difficulties, she added.

“For the most part, when they hear what the need is and what the process (entails), it heightens their comfort level,” Thompson said. “We have to find better ways to relay the information so it’s very digestible.”

The agency also could not do its vital work without the service of volunteers, which currently total 2,200, Jefferson added. He himself has been a board volunteer for the last 20 years helping to provide leadership, vision and maintain the chapter’s financial viability.

Blood drives are an example of volunteers working together by giving blood as well as collecting and processing that blood, Jefferson noted.

Ensuring an adequate blood supply for the nation "is an essential part of our work as the Red Cross,” he said.

Red Cross officials said that they were pleased with the turnout, especially since a large majority of the 61 people who donated had preregistered as a result of community organizations promoting the blood drive to their members, Thompson said. Of the 61 approximate one-pint donations, 49 are usable, agency officials said.

Thompson said that these groups provided a direct opportunity for recruitment of people already oriented to community service.

“Giving is part of their work,” she said.

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