When You Donate Blood, You Save Lives and Earn Gift Cards

The pandemic and severe winter weather combined with employees working remotely and no longer lining up for blood drives on the job, are impacting the nation’s blood supply. Supplies are at historic lows across the country and there’s a desperate need for folks to roll up their sleeves and donate blood.

To attract donors, blood banks offer gift cards, chances to win money and even tickets to major sporting events.

The Red Cross recently teamed up with the NFL to give some lucky donors tickets to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles. Blood bank Vitalant, which operates in 28 states, just gave away four $5,000 gift cards in January. Many blood drives regularly offer ALL donors $20 and $40 gift cards to restaurants and retailers.

Perks for Pints

These days you get a lot more than a T-shirt and some peanut butter crackers when you donate. Of course, for many donors, knowing that one pint of blood can save three lives is enough. And it only takes 45 minutes to donate.

With blood collection organizations routinely giving out $20 worth of gift cards to Amazon, restaurants and major retailers at blood drives, a couple who gives six times a year can average $240 worth of free stuff and save 36 lives.

For a family of four with kids above 16 and old enough to donate, that’s about $500 in gift cards per year and 72 lives saved.

“One time we went to Kohl’s and there was a blood drive in the parking lot,” said Beverly Mattis of Wake Forest, N.C. “They gave us each a $20 Kohl’s gift card so my daughter and I went in and did some shopping afterward.”

Restaurant certificates, store gift cards and other rewards, sometimes even cash, are often offered to people who give blood.  Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

How to Get the Perks of Being a Regular Blood Donor

If you register to be a blood donor with the blood collection organization in your area, you will receive texts or emails with dates of upcoming blood drives and the perks. There are many blood collection organizations around the country. Here are three of the biggest, and how to register:

Most people can donate every two months. There’s no requirement that you give a certain number of times a year, but there is encouragement.

“I would say most of the time at almost all of our drives our intention is to have a donor gift,” said Pat Michaels, OneBlood director of media relations. “It could be Carrabba’s, Publix, Red Lobster. We have built up some wonderful partners,” he said.

OneBlood also gives out tickets donated by the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, the Daytona 500 and Carowinds amusement park near Charlotte, N.C.

Along with gift cards and tickets, many blood collection groups also give out swag such as beach towels, fleece blankets, car sun shades and insulated water bottles.

More Perks for Donating Platelets

Platelets are small cells that stop bleeding by forming clots. Donated platelets are used for cancer patients, transplants, burn patients and traumatic injuries.

When someone donates platelets, a machine extracts them from whole blood then returns the rest of the blood back to the donor. The process takes about three hours.

Because it takes longer than donating whole blood, more perks are offered for people who give platelets, which can be donated every seven days. OneBlood recently challenged platelet donors to a two-month program offering gift cards valued at $25 for their second donation, $50 for their third and $75 for their fourth.

Vitalant is also encouraging people to organize a “platelet party” with friends the same as they might host a party at their homes selling Tupperware, beauty supplies, jewelry or clothes. An organizer can invite eight friends to a private catered party at a collection center where donors receive gift cards and other swag.

People line up at a blood donation bus to donate blood.
With many people working from home because of the pandemic, donations at mobile facilities during traditional work hours has fallen. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Skip Class and Win a Scholarship

High school blood drives are crucial to supplying the nation’s hospitals with much-needed blood. About one-third of the blood collected nationwide comes from high school students.

Many adult donors started as high school kids lining up in the gym to do a good deed and get out of Algebra class. In most states, 17-year-olds can donate blood and 16-year-olds can give with a parent’s consent. They must weigh at least 110 pounds and be in generally good health.

Blood collection agencies across the country offer competitions for local high schools.

Organizers and/or participants could win a suite at a sports event or a college scholarship. Blood Centers of the Ozarks, for example, is offering a $1,000 grant to the school that gets the most blood donations by May 31, 2022. And to be fair, there are three categories of small, medium and large schools.

How to Make Donating Blood, Scoring Gift Cards or Game Tickets Easier

Here’s some info from the American Red Cross to make your donation go smoother before you even get to a donation site. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in.

Blood and platelet donors can save time at their next donation by using RapidPass to complete their pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of their donation, before arriving at the blood drive. To get started, follow the instructions on the site or download the Blood Donor App from the Apple Store or Google Play.

COVID-19 doesn’t prevent most people from donating blood. If you’ve had the virus and been symptom free for 14 days you can donate. You can also donate whether you are vaccinated or not, according to Vitalant.

Effects of the Blood Donation Shortage

The American Red Cross, which supplies 40 percent of U.S. blood, has limited supply to hospitals in the early months of 2022. Some facilities are receiving less than a quarter of the blood products they request, according to the organization.

Vitalant has seen typical donations fall short by 4,500 donors since December.

“Now is the time when new blood donors, those that haven’t given in a while and regular donors are all needed to step up and help address this critical healthcare issue,” said Cliff Numark, Vitalant senior vice president. “Astonishingly, only about 3% of the population donates blood, but most people are eligible.”

Veteran journalist Katherine Snow Smith is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She covers ways to make money, save money and other topics. Her work has appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, Charlotte Business Journal and Greenville (S.C.) News




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