Coastians seek to donate blood following Orlando shooting


In the aftermath of the bloodshed of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Gulf Coast residents are lining up to offer their sympathies -- and some blood of their own.

"We've had at least half a dozen people call us to see if anything special has been set up," said John McFarland, the executive director of the Southeast Mississippi Chapter of the Red Cross, "or if to see we're going to have a specific blood drive for what happened in Orlando."

A separate blood drive for the Orlando shooting hasn't been scheduled, but McFarland said he encourages residents to come out to the Red Cross' biggest blood drive of the year: the 28th annual Media for Red Cross Blood Drive, set for June 27-29 in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.

The Red Cross blood bank will set up shop at Edgewater Mall from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 27. On June 28, they will be in the ballroom of Bay St. Louis' Hollywood Casino from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. On June 29, they'll be at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College campus in Jackson County.

McFarland said the Red Cross is proactive with its drives, reminding residents tragedies aren't specific to any one location.

"A disaster can happen anytime and anywhere. It can happen here," he said. "Fortunately, we're able to deal with tragedies like the one in Orlando because we have drives all the time. In this case, the hospitals in Orlando were well prepared and they've had several blood drives to address that tragedy."

Having the biggest drive of the year near the start of summer is done for a good reason, he said. Blood donations tend to go down even as demand goes up.

"This is the time of year blood drives are really needed," he said. "It's the beginning of summer and there's more people outside and on the roads. It's when more accidents tend to occur."

With school out and summer vacations planned, fewer volunteers are available to donate.

Those who come out to donate will receive a commemorative Red Cross T-shirt, a Chick-Fil-A coupon, Coca-Cola products, a tote bag and other giveaways while supplies last.

"People are generous with these kind of events," McFarland said. "The media blood drive is a reminder that people need help and this is an easy way to do it. Blood is a rare commodity."

Donors can call 1-800-733-2767 or 1-800-RED CROSS for more information or to make an appointment. All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients. A blood-donor card or driver's license or two other forms of ID are required at check-in. People who are at least 17 years of age, weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood.