Next generation must make time to give blood

Al Gritten of Danville is on a mission. The secretary/treasurer of the Elks Blood Bank at 300 E. Liberty Lane wants everyone to know about the community blood bank and the important role it plays locally.

"The blood bank is the best-kept secret in town," Gritten said. "A lot of people don't know we're here, but we've been in business more than 50 years."

Next year, the blood bank will mark its 60th anniversary.

"The Elks started it as a community project," Gritten said.

The blood bank moved to its current location in 1981, and a few years ago Community Blood Services of Illinois in Urbana began running the blood bank for the Elks as one of three facilities it operates.

But, as the blood bank's "regular" donors age, Gritten and others worry that younger people - particularly those in the 17 to 24 age group - aren't getting in the routine of donating blood as the generations before them have.

"The donor base is aging," Gritten said. "We don't have a lot of young people who give blood on a regular basis."

In addition, Gritten said the community blood bank is in "competition" with the American Red Cross for regular blood donors because donors are limited to giving blood every eight weeks.

He said the blood collected at the Elks Blood Bank stays in the community and helps supply Provena United Samaritans Medical Center, while blood donations to the Red Cross go to larger metropolitan areas such as Peoria and Chicago.

"We struggle through the donor center to supply the hospital, so we fill in with mobile blood drives at schools and workplaces," Gritten said. "Sometimes we have to get blood from Champaign."

The blood drawn at the Danville blood bank is processed in Champaign and subjected to 22 different tests, including screening for new diseases such as West Nile.

"We have a pretty good list of donors we can call on who come in when we need them," Gritten said.

One of the blood bank's regular donors is Merret Sanders of Catlin. He just gave his 26th gallon of blood - or 208 pints.

Sanders doesn't remember what spurred him to give blood in the first place 50-some years ago, but he knows why he continues to do it.

"It saves lives, and that's the best gift you can give," he said.

"I did it a few times in the '50s, but for several years now, I go as often as they'll allow me," he said. "I like to do it. It doesn't bother me."

And the refreshments afterwards aren't too bad either.

"Some people say it's the only reason I go," he joked.

Sanders understands why young people aren't as committed as he is about giving blood.

"They're busy and don't want to take the time out," he said. "I was in the same category when I was their age."

Pat Kovar, CEO of Community Blood Services of Illinois, said encouraging young people to give blood is a national issue.

"The blood supply requires steady blood donations throughout the year," he said. "We need young people, particularly in the 17 to 24 age group, to get in the habit of regularly donating blood.

"There is a lower percentage of blood donors in that age group than baby boomers and those from World War II," he said.

The reason, Kovar believes, is "young people don't identify with community needs. They tend to focus on national and international issues."

To urge young people to donate blood, the Ad Council developed the ad slogan, "Saving the world is hard. Saving a life is easy."

Kovar sees good participation in high school blood drives, as well as blood drives at Danville Area Community College, University of Illinois and Eastern Illinois University.

"Once they get out of the school, though, they're mostly at entry-level jobs and have less flexibility at their workplace to take time out to donate blood," he said.

Kovar said giving blood this time of year is as important, if not more important, than any other time.

"Blood supplies always drop during the holidays, but patient need and usage doesn't change," he said. "Taking time to donate blood isn't top of mind, blood drives aren't happening (as frequently), and people are traveling.

"The blood supply is good right now, but it will dwindle throughout the rest of the month," he said.

"In this season of giving, give someone another birthday," he urged.

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