CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You've probably heard of the American Red Cross, but do you know what it does? It is shocking how many people don't, so I'm here to clue you in.The American Red Cross was founded by Clara Barton in Washington, D.C. on May 21, 1881. At the first meeting, held at the home of Michigan Senator Omar D. Conger, there were only 15 people present.The organization has grown a great deal since then. Its members now number well over a million, and these are the people you want around whenever tragedy strikes your home or community.The American Red Cross responds to well over 70,000 natural and man-made disasters in the U.S. each year, including fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hazardous material spills, transportation accidents and explosions. During these disasters, the Red Cross provides food, shelter, water and first aid to those who need it, including emergency workers like police and firefighters.Though the Red Cross is well known for its disaster relief, it is even more famous for its blood drives.The American Red Cross has more than 120,000 blood drives every year. It supplies the country with about 40 percent of the blood that doctors, hospitals and emergency services use every day.The Red Cross collects approximately 6.5 million units of blood from about 4 million donors every year. According to the organization, "From these donations, the Red Cross is able to distribute around 9.5 million blood products each year, including 6 million units of red blood cells, to patients at approximately 3,000 hospitals and transfusion centers across the country."Some people ask, "Why should I donate blood?" Well here are a few reasons: it feels good to donate, you can save up to three lives by donating, and you will help ensure blood is on the shelf when needed. (Most people don't think they'll ever need blood, but many do.)These are only some of the reasons you should donate blood. Plus, since 1970, January has been designated as National Blood Donor Month, so this is the perfect time to do it.January is a time when blood organizations like the American Red Cross pay tribute to the nearly 11 million people who give blood each year. Unfortunately, because it is a cold month, it is harder for people to keep their appointments to donate.However, the need for blood does not decrease. Regardless of the time of year, hospital patients nationwide need about 44,000 blood donations daily for cancer care, surgeries and the treatment of serious diseases and trauma.In addition to blood donation and disaster relief, the American Red Cross commits itself fully to military families and veterans. One of the most important things the Red Cross does in relation to the military is linking military members and their families during emergencies.Red Cross relays messages containing accurate, factual and verified descriptions of the emergency to service members stationed anywhere in the world, including on ships at sea and at embassies and remote locations. For instance, it will notify a service member if death, serious injury or illness befalls someone in his or her family or if a child or grandchild is born.Also, it supports wounded military members and military hospitals. Each year, the American Red Cross provides assistance to more than 2 million service members and many of our nation's 24 million veterans.To find out more about all the good the American Red Cross does, visit its website, www.redcross.org, and either set up an appointment to give blood or find out how you can volunteer with them.According to its mission statement, "The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors." I think you will agree, especially after reading this article, that it fulfills this mission.