SANTA ROSA, Calif. - October's fire emergency in the North Bay had a ripple effect on blood donations, sending them plummeting. And it couldn't have happened at a worse time, heading into the holidays.
Vitalant, formerly Blood Centers of the Pacific, has a regional blood bank in Santa Rosa, which was evacuated and had no power for five days.
"We ended up not collecting about 250 to 275 units of blood that were already earmarked for local hospitals, so that put us behind the eight ball," said Kent Corley, Vitalant spokesman.
Amid the community upheaval, even if people were willing to donate, they couldn't because the facility was shut-down.
Nealy a dozen blood drives had to be canceled.
Blood was transferred in from other parts of the Vitalant network. but the operation has been trying to catch-up ever since.
"People are getting busy, they're planning for Thanksgiving, and thinking about Christmas then the New Year," said Corley, noting blood banks always see an annual drop in donors during the holidays.
In addition, high school and college students will be going on winter break, and they contribute about 20 percent of the blood supply.
As soon as Vitalant reopened, the call went out for support.
"We had some donors come in and bring two or three friends with them and that was very helpful," said donor care specialst Cassey Zarate, working at a Bloodmobile in Petaluma Friday evening.
Reluctance to give? It's the needle, says Zarate.
"Some donors will come in and say they're terrified of needles but this is my one good deed to help others, so they look away and say just do it." That's how donor Jennifer Anderson handles it.
As her blood was drawn, she looked steadfastly out the window.
"It's something I can do that doesn't cost me anything, and it helps somebody," said Anderson.
For more than a decade, she has donated blood a few times a year.
Regular donors are the backbone of the blood supply, always needed.
"Sometimes it takes an event like the fires here, to get people to think, how can I help my community? If so, that's great," said Corley.
The blood of one donor - broken into red cells, plasma, and platelets- can save three different patients.
"There's every day emergencies in our hospitals that need blood," said Corley, also noting cancer patients have a very high need for transfusions.
"There is a patient in the hospital who needs that blood and when they get that blood, especially during the holidays, it's a gift."
Unlike the firestorm of 2017, blood wasn't wasted during the recent emergency.
Two years ago, the Tubbs Fire was so sudden, and the evacuation and blackout so unexpected and long-lasting, hundreds of units of blood had to be discarded.
Each unit is about one pint.
"I don't look, I glance away, it happens and I walk away," said donor Anderson, "and I know I've done something and that makes me feel good."