Though Cathy Rossow didn't start giving blood until she was 40, she knows firsthand how important it is that there is blood available for those in need.
"My dad was needing blood for his many surgeries so I saw the need to donate," said Rossow in response to a Faribault Daily News Facebook post. "Now I schedule an early appointment every time the Bloodmobile comes to town, then work at the snack and beverage table until blood drives are over. So many people can’t or don’t donate, so God bless all who do!"
According to the American Red Cross website, every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood. It is essential for surgeries, cancer treatment, chronic illnesses and traumatic injuries.
Whether a patient receives whole blood, red cells, platelets or plasma, the American Red Cross says this lifesaving care "starts with one person making a generous donation." When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellations of local blood drives, the Red Cross had to pivot very quickly and set up numerous safety protocols. Since then, local communities and organizations stepped up, hosting blood drives when others were not able to.
Sue Thesenga, American Red Cross Regional Communications Manager for Minnesota and Dakotas, says locations where blood drives were traditionally held were often scratched due to schools not in session, businesses having employees working from home and churches not wanting others to come in when the pandemic first began.
"We certainly faced a challenge there in hosting," said Thesenga. "Initially people were a little leery to go out and about."
In Owatonna, when the hospital had to cancel its September 2020 blood drive due to COVID, the Red Cross reached out to Vicki Lysne at Comfort Inn. Since then, Thesenga said Comfort Inn has hosted two more blood drives.
Lysne added, "The Red Cross reached out and we're just so close to the hospital, it made sense. We were happy to help."
Another Owatonna business, Viracon, typically hosts five blood drives a year. Since COVID started, Thesenga says they have hosted four. In the local areas, the largest sponsors of blood drives include various churches, schools and community groups like the American Legion, Moose Lodge and Rotary.
Instead of walk-in appointments, all donors are required to make an appointment to allow for social distancing and donors aren't all together in the waiting area. Before donors enter, Thesenga says their temperatures are taken so staff know right away if donors are feeling healthy and well that day. All donors, staff and volunteers are also required to wear masks. Additional cleaning and disinfecting measures were also put in place.
"It's a very safe environment," said Thesenga. "People are still coming out to donate because they know the need is constant.
Soon after the pandemic began, Thesenga said Gov. Tim Walz deemed blood donations essential in communities. So when people were looking for ways to help, donating blood was at the top of the list. Thesenga believes donations to the Red Cross remained because of the safety protocols it quickly put in place.
Resident Diane DeBoer started donating when she was 18 and recalls her parents donating out of gratitude for the blood she received following surgery when she was 10. Though there are many who can't donate, DeBoer says many more are able to donate than do now, and that just need some encouragement to try it.
Amy Stroup is thankful for every donor blood. Her husband recently ended up in the hospital and needed 12 units of blood.
"I appreciate blood donation!" said Stroup on Facebook. "You save lives."
Once the pandemic began, the Red Cross also found it was more difficult to recruit blood drive volunteers, as many local volunteers are considered among the most vulnerable for getting COVID. They put volunteering on hold until the COVID situation improves or until they can get the vaccine. Now that more people are getting vaccinated, the Red Cross is anticipating some of those volunteers will resume their volunteerism.
Between cancellations of blood drives around this time last year, difficult weather conditions have also created challenges for the Red Cross. Though Minnesota didn't experience the same severe weather that much of the rest of the country did last month, areas across the country weren't as fortunate. Thesenga said blood drives were canceled in 30 different states.
"Thank goodness the whole United States wasn't shut down so we were still able to collect blood," said Thesenga. "But a lot went uncollected. We need a certain amount of donors every day to keep up with the hospital demand nationwide."
Every day, Thesenga says there are different challenges and it becomes a matter of making sure the "fine-tuned machine" keeps rolling.
"A lot of things changed last year, but the need for blood hasn't stopped," said Thesenga. "If you're healthy, we urge you to make an appointment to donate."
Thesenga says March, also known as Red Cross Month, is an opportunity for the Red Cross to thank the blood donors who stepped up during the pandemic so it could meet the needs of the nation.
As a way to thank those for being a "vital part of the organization’s lifesaving mission," all who donate March 15-26 will receive an exclusive Red Cross T-shirt. shirts are available while supplies last.