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Donating blood for the first time during a pandemic

NEWS CENTER Maine's annual Red Cross Blood Drive is happening on Wednesday, March 24 at six different locations statewide.

BANGOR, Maine — NEWS CENTER Maine's Red Cross Blood Drive is happening on Wednesday, March 24 at six different locations around the state. For many people, donating blood can be a daunting prospect, especially during a pandemic. Since we've been asking so many Mainers to lend an arm and help out, I decided to check out the process and donate blood myself -- for the first time.

At the American Red Cross of Northern and Eastern Maine, staff members and volunteers are ready to help everyone who comes out to give the gift of life feel comfortable. That includes new protocols during the pandemic since the need for blood hasn't stopped. The Red Cross checks everyone's temperature; enforces the use of masks and social distancing; and asks people to make an appointment ahead of time, so the room isn't too crowded. 

Before you go, you can fill out a set of health-related questions online to determine if you are eligible to donate and receive your RapidPass. This allows you to quickly move through any waiting periods and get straight to a medical review session -- as a Red Cross member takes down any necessary information and tests your blood to make sure iron levels are high enough. From there, you can move on to donate.

RELATED: 'Help Can't Wait': Register to donate blood at NEWS CENTER Maine's 2021 Red Cross Blood Drive on March 24

"It's free. It's easy," Caroline King, the executive director of the American Red Cross of Northern and Eastern Maine, said. "It takes less than an hour from start to finish, and you can help potentially up to three people."

Donations go to hospitals, traumas, surgeries, cancer patients, etc. For those types of situations, blood needs to be on the shelf at the moment. Every unit can help up to three people -- and those could be your parents, grandparents, friends, or neighbors. 

RELATED: ‘It’s incredible’: American Red Cross volunteer reflects on decade of service, importance of blood drives

From last July through the end of February, 100,000 people gave blood across northern New England. The Red Cross is always looking for donors -- in fact, every day in Maine, the Red Cross aims to have 350 people donate. Most Red Cross sites are open five or six days a week -- and you can use its blood donor app to find a drive near you.

"Blood is, unfortunately, a product we can't make -- we can't manufacture," King said. "It has to come from another human being."

King and her team encourage anyone healthy and well to work up the courage and make an appointment. If you're uncomfortable, though, you could also recruit a family member, friend, or colleague. 

Experts say on the day you're planning to give, you should eat breakfast, drink a lot of water, and take care of yourself. 

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