MU blood drive helps bring in thousands of units for Missouri hospitals

Even though the MU blood drive receives thousands of units each year, the biggest challenge for blood drives is retaining donors.
Students volunteer to donate blood at the 34th annual MU blood drive on the week of September 28, 2019. The blood drive is one of the first events that kick off Homecoming during the month of October. Photo by Photographer Natalie Radt

The largest student-run blood drive in the country was held in the Hearnes Center from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 to start off Homecoming week.

The blood drive receives on average 3,600 to 4,000 donations a year, which helps provide blood to hospitals all over Missouri and parts of Illinois. Hospitals need at least a five-day supply to be prepared for a disaster and for daily needs. In addition to needing blood year-round, the hardest challenge for blood drives is retaining donors.

Over the four days, the blood drive collected over 3,200 donations.

“Because we can get that much over a course of four days, I mean that’s a huge boost for us,” Joe Zydlo, Red Cross external communications manager, said. “And we have to collect about anywhere from 16,500 to 17,000 units of blood every month. That’s just our region.”

That blood goes toward daily hospital needs and disasters in the region and across the country. Procedures will be stalled if the hospital doesn’t have the right blood type.

“It seems like we’ve always had a struggle with making sure we have a five-day supply throughout the whole year, this year,” Zydlo said.

While people should donate blood during a disaster, the best time to donate is January and early June.

“Usually we have slower times during the year, which is right after Thanksgiving through [the] Christmas holiday,” Zydlo said. “That usually leads [us] to issue an emergency appeal. People don’t think of donating blood around Thanksgiving or Christmas, Hanukkah - whatever you celebrate. They’re thinking about getting together with family, but the need for blood is constant.”

Since the Red Cross does 20% of its blood drives at schools, it has to catch up on donations for three months until school is back in session.

Even though a person can donate every 56 days, or seven times a year, the biggest challenge the Red Cross faces is retaining donors.

“So if you come here today and you are presenting for your sorority, fraternity or whatever organization you are trying to get points for, if you donate here today, can we get you to come back two months from now when there’s not an incentive?” Zydlo said.

The Red Cross’ main donor base are people in their 40s to 60s, according to Zydlo. As the donor base gets older, they face more health problems, resulting in more deferrals.

“So it’s a challenge because you can’t make blood,” Zydlo said. “It’s not something you can create synthetically. It has to come from us.”

According to the MU News Bureau, 50,000 people have been helped by 17,000 units of blood from the MU blood drive since 2015.

“Hospitals in Missouri are the ones that count on us,” Maddie Kaiser, blood drive steering committee member, said. “If they don’t get the blood, it’s really kind of on us.”

The Blood Drive Steering Committee has been planning the blood drive for a year.

“We do a ton of PR to make sure that not just people from Greek life come and donate,” Kaiser said. “We want the whole community to come.”

The committee’s goal is to collect 1,000 donations a day, according to Kaiser.

“[I’m donating] partially because I’m scared of needles,” freshman Joshua Dowell said. “This is my way of trying to conquer that fear.”

After his second time donating, Dowell learned that the blood drive is the largest student-run drive in the country.

“It’s kind of cool that I’m a part of it,” Dowell said.

Edited by Laura Evans | levans@themaneater.com

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