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Millennials Wanted For Blood Donations

This holiday, The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center is making an urgent plea for blood. Blood donations have dropped 20 percent in the past four years. One factor is a lack of young people heeding the call.

At the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, recruiter Norma Torres is working the phones like a mad-woman.

“We are in need of your help with a blood donation. Our blood supply right now is at a critical low…,” she says into the phone.

In South Texas, the figures mimic the rest of the country. Some 38 percent of the population is eligible to donate blood. Only 4 percent actually do.

Dr. Samantha Gomez, associate medical director for The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, says "Our donor population is mostly baby boomers. And now baby boomers are getting older and now they are needing blood. And so we need other generations like millennials to step up and donate and fill that void."

For a generation that likes to define itself by its commitment to worthy causes and community service, far fewer are rolling up their sleeves than you might think.

"I think maybe it just takes time out of people’s days so people get lazy and they don’t want to come," says 17-year-old O’Connor High School senior Delia Flores, who is donating blood for the first time.

She’s donating because a friend talked her into it. And because she can get service credits for the National Honor Society. Like many of her peers, Delia is not influenced much by what’s reported in the mainstream media.  She has her own sources for news.

"You see those ads pop up on Instagram and Twitter all the time," she says. "I mean, if like South Texas maybe like put one up there like “come donate today and get service hours” or whatever. I know they just gave me a $10 H-E-B gift card, which I didn’t even know. If they just like advertised it, I bet a lot more people would come in."

Dr. Gomez agrees and says the blood bank is changing with the times.

It's really the difference between life and death having that blood product on the shelf. And they can make a difference by going in and spending some time and donating blood.

"Typically, we go to TV and we use radio and I don’t think millennials use those media. It’s always changing and you have to keep up with what they’re looking at," she says.

In the center’s new promotional campaign, young people are given a T-shirt when they donate, a shirt that says “Generation Give.” If they take a selfie and post it on social media, their name goes into a drawing for a GoPro.

Veteran donor, 57-year-old Jo Boyd, says she believes young people just need to think about what blood donations can accomplish.

"I just think they don’t know exactly what it entails or what they have to do or how quick or long it could take. And what it means to someone who needs the donation," Boyd says.

Gomez says, "It’s really the difference between life and death having that blood product on the shelf. And they can make a difference by going in and spending some time and donating blood."

Meanwhile, Torres and the other recruiters are diligently working the phone banks, trying to fill the gaps. Torres and her colleagues are hoping millennials, also known as Generation Y will step up, since they comprise 1 in 4 Americans.

Some of the blood donation centers are open today, July Fourth, if you want to help.

Wendy Rigby is a San Antonio native who has worked as a journalist for more than 25 years. She spent two decades at KENS-TV covering health and medical news. Now, she brings her considerable background, experience and passion to Texas Public Radio.