Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood. Realizing that, some Americans have made donating blood a regular part of their routine.

Unfortunately, loyal donors like these are only a small percentage of the population. The American Red Cross says every day, 38,000 donations are needed, and the demand for blood exceeds the supply. To encourage more people to donate blood regularly, they launched the Save a Life Tour 2003 last month.

Across the country 350 communities are participating in the six-month campaign. American Red Cross Vice President for Donor Strategy Radha Muthiah says community leaders and celebrities will accompany the convoys.

"Our intent for this campaign is to make it fun and entertaining," said Radha Muthiah. "We want to make it a huge family event. We'd like communities to challenge one another."

Ms. Muthiah says each of the two convoys has two main vehicles. One is an interactive teaching bus aimed at school children.

"While they [the children] are not eligible to donate today, they start to understand the importance of donating blood and they bring in friends, family members and parents," she said. "And then they will donate when they are eligible as well."

The other vehicle is a mobile museum.

"Which is really a science museum on wheels that will really help underline the importance of the need of blood as well as the donation process and get people to understand that one should not fear the process," said Radha Muthiah.

American Red Cross chief scientific officer, Dr. Jerry Squires, believes the advanced methods of science and technology make donating and receiving blood safer than before.

"I think a lot of attention has been focused on the safety of the blood supply," he said. "We hear of new diseases all the time. What we do is screen blood very adequately. We screen donors to assure the blood they donate will be safe. We test blood more extensively than we ever have before. As a matter of fact early next year we will be adding yet another test to continue to assure that the blood supply is the safest as it possibly can be."

Radha Muthiah says anyone in a good state of health, age 17 and older, can donate blood.

"An individual can donate up to six times a year, but today it happens between one to two times a year that an eligible person donates," she said.

Ms. Muthiah believes that the need for blood in the United States is now greater than ever.

"Less than 5 percent of the eligible population donates today," emphasized Radha Muthiah. "If we could get just one more percent to donate, and donate regularly, that will go a very long way in alleviating some of the critical shortage faced in our blood supply."

Ramish Thadani, executive vice president of Biomedical Services of the American Red Cross, says it only takes a few minutes to save a life. A half-liter of blood can help save as many as three lives. Trying to lead by example, Mr. Thadani donates blood regularly. He says it can be done on the way to work, while reading the morning paper, or even during the lunch break. "It is like scheduling an appointment for a hair cut every eight weeks," he said.

Mr. Thadani says many Americans nationwide have been donating blood since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Still, he believes more must be done to help the country stabilize its blood supply.

"The current inventory, if you will, of blood nationwide is something in order of two or three days, and in periods of shortages it goes as down as one day," said Ramish Thadani. "Imagine if the food supply of the USA was down to one day there would be significant concern, I'm sure. We are working diligently to reach a level of about seven days, which we believe is our objective."

The Save a Life Tour 2003 will culminate in November in Washington, DC, where outstanding contributing communities will be recognized.