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Frequent donors react to Red Cross closure

Chris Dorst
Mitch and Roberta Balaban of Charleston donate blood at the Red Cross's Charleston Donation Center. Collection specialists Teresa Atkinson, left, and Dalena Spence help.
Chris Dorst American Red Cross volunteer Blanche Tyree, left, and blood donor Dreama Kidd, of Charleston, visit with each other Wednesday after Kidd donated blood. Kidd said she donates about every 56 days. So far she's donated 13 gallons over more than 100 visits.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As often as they can, Mitch and Roberta Balaban donate blood at the Red Cross blood donation center in Kanawha City.

With the exception of the fall, when Mitch referees soccer games, the husband and wife try to donate every 56 days, the minimum medically required time period between blood donations. They even make the visit to the blood center into a date night, before they get dinner.

"It's not a fancy dinner," Mitch Balaban said. "It's just a night out in the middle of the week."

But they'll have to find a new date night. They, and other regular blood donors at the Kanawha City facility, were disappointed to hear that the donor center will close at the end of the year.

"We look forward to coming and doing this as much as we can when life doesn't get in the way," Roberta Balaban said.

But they intend to keep donating blood elsewhere.

"We'll go to blood drives," Roberta Balaban said. "I'd rather not do that but I've done that before."

Officials with the American Red Cross Blood Services Division said the decision to close the center at 4501 MacCorkle Ave. S.E. in Charleston was made to save money and increase efficiency.

"The American Red Cross, like so many organizations across the country, is facing difficult business decisions that will allow us to continue operating and serve the American people in the best possible way," American Red Cross Blood Services spokeswoman Cheryl Gergely said in a prepared statement. "We regularly evaluate our operations to determine how best to use our resources to maintain an efficient blood collections operation."

Because "mobile" employees from the Red Cross's Huntington and Parkersburg offices staff the Charleston center, no employees will lose their jobs as a direct result of the closure, Gergely said.

The Red Cross did, however, lay off 45 employees across the Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region, which serves 100 counties in parts of Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

Gergely did not say how many of those employees were from West Virginia.

"We don't have that number broken down by state," she said in an email. "It is a regional number, in our case the Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region. Since we collect blood in parts of six states our employees work throughout the states in our region."

The decision was not an easy one to make, Gergely said.

"The Charleston Donation Center represents a long-standing relationship in the community we serve, where blood donors have loyally given the gift of life on a regular basis."

Dreama Kidd, 57, is one of those donors who has given loyally. The Charleston resident has donated 13 gallons of blood over 105 visits to the blood bank. When she started donating around 20 years ago, the Charleston donation center was located the basement of CAMC General Hospital.

Kidd says the closure won't stop her from donating.

"I don't really like it," Kidd said of the closure. "I didn't like it when they went from four to two days [a week] but I'll just find a blood drive."

Blanche Tyree, 70, of Charleston, is both a volunteer and a donor at the blood center. She donates as often as she can and has for nearly 30 years, she said.

Tyree said she'll miss the camaraderie of the donors from the center.

"I was very surprised and disappointed [about the closure]," she said. "I enjoy talking to the people."

Anyone who would donate their blood to help other people has to be a fantastic person, she said. 

Sandy Cox has been a volunteer at the blood center for the past four years.

"I was surprised at first and then I just wondered what [donors] are going to do," Cox said. "A lot of the older donors, this is the place they go... it's convenient for them."

The Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region will keep open its donation centers in Huntington, Parkersburg and Wheeling. It will also continue to hold blood drives in churches, businesses, schools and other locations, Gergely said.

Call 1-800-RED CROSS or visit redcrossblood.org for area donation opportunities.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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