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Give blood, save lives this holiday season

Blood drives benefiting Vitalant (formerly United Blood Services) and the American Red Cross are being planned in Detroit Lakes this month, with the first, for Vitalant, taking place Saturday, Dec. 12 at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, and the Red Cross drive coming up on Tuesday, Dec. 29 at Grace Lutheran.

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Blood suppliers like Vitalant and the American Red Cross are urging area residents to give the gift of blood this holiday season. (Adobe Stock photo)
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December may be the season of giving — but it’s typically a challenging time for organizations that rely on donations of blood and blood products to supply area hospitals and emergency caregivers.

"Typically during this time of the year, we do see a decline in blood donations due to people’s holiday calendars filling up," says Susan Thesenga, American Red Cross communications manager.

Add in a pandemic, and this holiday season could prove even tougher than usual for blood suppliers. That’s why Vitalant (formerly United Blood Services) and the Red Cross are urging healthy adults in the lakes area to consider giving the gift of a blood, plasma or platelet donation to help save lives.

Two local blood drives are planned for December, with the first set to take place this Saturday, Dec. 12 at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, 1043 Lake Ave., Detroit Lakes, from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

"The need for blood is constant," says Jennifer Bredahl, regional director for Vitalant, noting that Vitalant is the sole source of blood and blood products for hospitals throughout western Minnesota, all of North Dakota and parts of South Dakota as well. "Every hospital in this area (including Detroit Lakes' Essentia Health St. Mary's) that needs blood is getting it from us."


Yet due to ever-changing COVID-19 safety guidelines, area schools and other facilities that typically host large blood drives every year are now restricted from doing so, and many residents who would otherwise be the first in line to donate are either unable (for health reasons) or unwilling (due to concerns over pandemic exposure) to do so.

"Schools have always been a big part of our blood donations," said Bredahl. "With those (blood drives) canceled, we've had to get creative and find ways to make up the loss."

One of those creative solutions is finding new locations and organizations to host events. Catholic Daughters Court 1615 of Detroit Lakes will be hosting its first-ever blood drive for Vitalant this Saturday at Holy Rosary.

"We'll be holding it in the gymnasium," said Catholic Daughters member Mary Buschette, who is organizing the event. "We couldn't host our salad luncheon this year, and we couldn't do the (county) fair gate, so this is one way that we can still be active in the community and provide this service to our area."

All donors are being asked to use the Washington Avenue entrance to get to the Holy Rosary gym, Buschette added, so the potential for virus exposure is minimized. All state-mandated COVID-19 safety precautions will also be followed.

"There will be temperature checks at the door, and then there is a list of questions you will need to answer," Buschette said, adding that if a potential donor is not feeling well on the day of the blood drive, they should call in and cancel their appointment. Also, masks will be required, and social distancing guidelines will be followed.

Though there are still a few openings left for donors, Buschette says that most of the available time slots are already filled.

"We only have one time slot that isn't," she said Monday, noting that participation in this particular blood drive is by appointment only, as no walk-ins will be accepted due to the above-mentioned pandemic restrictions.


Appointments can be scheduled on the Vitalant website, www.vitalant.org , which also shows a list of other upcoming blood drives in the area.

"It's pretty easy to go online and schedule your own appointment, but I've still had a few people call me," said Buschette. Just in case a potential donor should fall ill or have to cancel their scheduled appointment, however, Buschette will also maintain a list of backup donors that she can call in at the last minute to fill any open slots, so those interested in signing up should still do so.

One thing that's new this year: All donors will be tested for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in their blood, and those who test positive will be notified of the results.

This is also true of the Red Cross blood drive, which is set for Tuesday, Dec. 29, at Grace Lutheran Church, 216 Roosevelt Ave., Detroit Lakes, from noon to 6 p.m. Appointments for this blood drive can also be scheduled online, by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App or visiting RedCrossBlood.org . Donors can also call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to sign up.

"They've made it really easy to sign up," said Thessenga, though like Vitalant's blood drive, pandemic restrictions will be enforced throughout the event.

"Our number one priority is the safety of our blood donors, our staff and our volunteers," Thessenga said, "so we have put additional precautions into place, including temperature checks before people can even enter (the church), and making sure appointments are staggered so that everybody doesn't show up all at the same time. We really want to maintain social distancing as much as possible."

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