Altruism rarely caters to the college student’s budget. While we are asked, as citizens, to donate to charitable causes – as undoubtedly we would – we often discover ourselves short on what is needed most: time and money. We are an age group marked by our idealism and sense of purpose, but our anemic bank balances, our frenetic schedules and our fear of debt also mark us. Especially having chosen to attend an expensive private university, it can be easy to feel selfish – negligent of our civic responsibilities – lavishing ourselves with hundred-thousand-dollar educations while giving little in return. Fortunately, though, an institution practically here on campus reminds us that altruistic acts mustn’t always come at great price. It’s the American Red Cross, and they want you to stop by.
Most everyone knows that the national headquarters of the Red Cross is located adjacent to the Elliott School on E Street. Fewer know that the building also houses the District of Columbia chapter as well as a fully staffed blood bank. If you’ve ever wondered why the bloodmobile doesn’t make the rounds on campus, it’s because the E Street Donor Center’s doors are open five days a week, welcoming walk-ins and appointment-holders alike.
The Red Cross has aimed, without success, to make regular blood donation a personal ethic for the American citizen. Many will donate when the bloodmobile comes calling or when the alarm bells are rung, often during the summer, over a “blood emergency” due to lack of donations. Relatively few Americans, however, view blood donation as a perpetual civic obligation. Too often, it’s seen as a one-time shot. Too often, donations must be actively solicited rather than freely given. There’s only so much the Red Cross can say without appearing obsessively moralistic. So, they cite the statistics. They’re worth repeating.
According to the Red Cross, someone in America will require a blood transfusion every two seconds. Blood is needed to treat accidents and burns, to assist in open-heart surgery and organ transplants, to administer cancer and leukemia treatments and to remedy complications occurring during childbirth. The most recent data shows that in 2001, hospitals in the United States transfused 14 million units of blood to 4.9 million patients, an average of 38,000 units of blood needed each day. The amount of blood needed is increasing at the rate of 6 percent per year; yet, in 2001, only 5 percent of eligible adults (age 17 and over) made a blood donation.
I held off on writing this column until Hurricane Katrina had receded a bit from the national consciousness. In the weeks and months after Katrina, just as in the weeks and months after 9/11, the Red Cross received a spike in blood donations as well as financial contributions. Unfortunately, an outpouring of goodwill at the blood bank in the wake of a national disaster can’t be converted, much as we’d like, into long-term supply. The success of the Red Cross’s blood services operations relies on something we’re not so good at – historical memory – as well as regular, established patterns of donation. They never hesitate to remind you that you’re re-eligible every 56 days.
The Red Cross has a poster in one of their advertising campaigns that is probably more effective than my dithering on in this column. It features a young man of approximately our age with the caption “Saved a life between classes.” Sure, it’s saccharine and self-congratulatory, but it’s also true; donating blood may very well be the best way to utilize an hour of your time. Better yet, it’s free.
If you’ve never been down to the E Street donor center, I encourage you to visit. If this column, by some chance, crowds their waiting room, try back in a week or two.
And you, the one who’s afraid of needles or squeamish at the sight of blood: ask yourself – truthfully – whether it’s worth the sacrifice, whether the nobility of the cause merits the investment of courage.
In the process of helping others, you may just discover something about yourself.
-The writer, a sophomore majoring in English, is a Hatchet columnist.