TOMS RIVER — Twenty-one months since its onset in the Garden State, the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the number of blood donations coming into hospitals.

Hospitals and organizations are in urgent need of blood donors. December into January is typically a slow time of year for blood donations, so you're being asked to give the gift of life this holiday season.

"There's no substitute for blood. Only volunteer blood donors can come out to give that gift," said Michael Leviton, blood services business development liaison with RWJBarnabas Health.

During a blood drive at Community Medical Center, Leviton said the issue is worldwide — the COVID-19 crisis has reduced collections in a number of ways. Folks continue to work from home, for example, limiting the number of blood drives that can take place at businesses, and high schools and colleges are limiting visitors.

At the same time, he said, patients impacted by COVID-19 are in need of blood transfusions. Donations can also help patients receiving cancer care or those suffering after trauma events such as childbirth or a car accident.

"I just want to make it known that the COVID vaccine and boosters do not prevent you from donating blood," Leviton added.

The health system is in the middle of a run of several holiday-time blood drives. Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset is running drives rom 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31. Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick is in need of donors for their drives running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 28 and Dec. 30.

"You wish more people would do it. It's a simple process," Whiting resident Robert Breault said.

New Jersey 101.5 spoke with the 63-year-old while he was in the middle of donating blood platelets. Over the past few decades, he's donated platelets well over 100 times. He tries to go every month.

Elyssa Gornstein, of Manalapan, used about 20 minutes of her workday to donate blood on Tuesday. The 25-year-old, who works at Community Medical Center, said giving blood is a way to truly help others, and it's about as simple as a regular blood draw.

"I see the amount of blood products that we go through on a daily basis," Gornstein said.

American Red Cross says it is experiencing the worst blood shortage in over a decade.

"The dangerously low blood supply levels have forced some hospitals to defer patients from major surgery, including organ transplants," the organization says on its website.

In general, individuals can donate blood up to six times per year. Platelet donation can occur more often. You must weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health. In New Jersey, you must be at least 16 years old (parental permission needed for those under 18).

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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