There have been times when Jodi Urhahn wanted to donate blood. "I've had times when my own family needed blood," she said, "and I wasn't able to help them."
At 16, teenagers like Urhahn -- who lives in Oran, Mo. -- can now donate to the American Red Cross through a new Missouri law that allows them to do so with parental permisison.
The law comes at a crucial time for the Red Cross. The organization's national blood supply has been low this year and even reached a critical level in July, leaving local hospitals with little to provide.
"The timing of this new law is perfect," said Shannon Thompson, donor recruitment account manager for Southeast Missouri's Red Cross Chapter. "When we have to tell a hospital to wait, that's unacceptable."
Thompson says area high schools provide 30 percent of their supply and believes that giving the opportunity for younger people to donate will increase that number significantly.
According to Thompson, the recent shortage can be blamed on the summer holiday, a time when people are vacationing and may forget about donating.
"Summer and winter are our hardest months," she said. "Those are the times we need it, because more people are traveling and the number of car accidents increases."
Urhahn also believes car accidents are an important reason to give blood, especially since those in her age group are much more likely to be in one.
"More younger people driving means more wrecks," she said. "You could save the life of someone you know."
The Southeast Missouri Chapter currently supplies donations to 20 local hospitals. The most common blood type asked for is O negative, because it can be safely used on anyone. However, Thompson fears the half-day supply of O negative they carry isn't enough.
With this specific blood type in such high demand, it can run out quickly due to the five-day waiting period when donations are sent to the St. Louis National Testing Lab.
"The Red Cross needs all eligible donors," said Thompson. "We need to have it ready for the holiday season."
National disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks usually increase donations in this area substantially. Thompson says people tend to be even more responsive with local emergencies like the Caruthersville tornado.
"They have a connection," she said. "People come out, because they want to help any way they can."
To donate blood, it is required that you weigh at least 110 pounds and be in healthy condition. If you are on medication, call the Red Cross or talk to your doctor. Thompson says most medications do not interfere with donating blood.
If you are under 16, permission forms are available at any Red Cross center. For more information, call the Southeast Missouri Red Cross Chapter at (573) 335-9471.
Sam DeReign is a student at Southeast Missouri State University.