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Funds, blood flow to Red Cross in Utah

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Generous Utahns have donated roughly $1.5 million to the Salt Lake-area American Red Cross since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., most of it for disaster relief efforts back East.

And thousands of Utahns have also donated blood, though more is needed.

"I've never seen an outpouring like the one we're currently having," said Jared Wood, public affairs officer for the American Red Cross' Salt Lake area chapter.

"Utahns are really pitching in in every way they can, and I've never seen anything like it. I've never seen a community come together this way."

Wood said that people banded together to hold fund-raising events — everything from carwashes to schoolwide fund drives and firefighter campaigns — or to make individual contributions, both large and small.

Monday, Jon Huntsman Sr. donated $50,000 to the American Red Cross to aid in disaster relief efforts.

Most of the money that has come in over the past week has been designated for disaster relief in the New York and Washington, D.C., areas, and that's exactly where it will go, Wood said. But some of the money will be used locally, as well. The Red Cross helps people displaced from their homes, collects blood, provides rehab and comfort to disaster relief workers and helps people get in touch with loved ones who might have been caught up in a disaster.

"We are trying to provide for the basic needs of anyone impacted by this," including offering mental health services, Wood said.

From Tuesday, when the disasters occurred, through Saturday, the American Red Cross Blood Services received blood from 3,413 people — more than double what it would normally expect to receive in that period. And another 5,000 people have called in to schedule appointments to give blood in the coming days.

Nationally, the response has been phenomenal, according to Judy Christensen, spokeswoman for the blood services Utah operations. More than 1.8 million people have called the 1-800-GIVELIFE phone number, and just Tuesday and Wednesday last week more than 120,000 people donated blood across the nation.

President Bush on Tuesday spoke at a Rose Garden ceremony to thank rescuers and Americans who donated to the recovery effort.

"We saw a great country rise up to help. Americans' love for America was channeled through our nation's great charities," Bush said. "As president of this great land, nothing made me more proud."

"Out of our tears and sadness, we saw the best of America," the president said.

The donated blood is processed and stored locally, but a national distribution system knows all about it — the details of each pint, what type it is and where it's needed, Christensen said. That distribution system determines whether or when the blood will be shipped out of the area, something that's beginning to happen now that the country's transportation woes are easing.

The Utah Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, for instance, has been transporting blood samples to California and Oregon.

The incredible generosity doesn't mean the nation's needs have been met. Christensen said that the American Red Cross has been asked by the White House to continue to push for blood, since it is also used to supply the government's needs in times of crisis, including medical needs in wartime situations. And there's always a need for fresh blood donations.

Red blood normally has a shelf life of 42 days, though it can be frozen and its usefulness prolonged. Plasma can be frozen for up to a year. Platelets are only good for five days.

E-MAIL: lois@desnews.com