In this "gig economy," more and more people are looking for ways to make extra cash.
Ever since the financial meltdown of 2008, the cash-for-plasma business has been booming.
Selda Yilmaz of Alta Loma has a full-time job as a biology tutor at a community college. But when a coworker turned her on to the idea of plasma donation, she was more than a little hesitant.
"I would have severe anxiety over the idea of getting poked with a needle," Yilmaz said. "I just decided you know what, I can get compensated and I would also be doing a good deed, helping other people, and getting over my fear of needles."
Photos posted on Yelp showed some incentives for donors at the Red Cross and UCLA Medical Center include cookies, chips, and even movie tickets.
Yilmaz, who says she's donated about 15 to 20 times, says she was $75 for her first two visits and then $50 after that. Then the compensation drops to $25 and $40, which is loaded onto a debit card.
"They don't offer any snacks," she said. "For the most part, you're just compensated with the money."
Hospitals and drug companies buy the plasma to make lifesaving therapies, so for donors who show up eight times a month, anywhere from $250 to $300 is realistic.
One type of donation called a "mobilized white blood cell donation" can pay as much as $800 for a single draw, because it requires injections of a powerful medication that can carry the risk of side effects.
But Yilmaz says she made about $2,000 after recruiting other donors by placing ads on Craigslist.
"Because I took advantage of their buddy bonus program, I was able to earn a thousand dollars just from other people donating," she said.
While Yilmaz was able to use the money for car insurance payments, she says she hasn't donated since mid-December and is unsure whether she will donate again in the future. Studies show donating too frequently can potentially weaken the immune system.
"I guess I don't know what the long-term effects are," she said.
Occasional donations of straight plasma or whole blood are overwhelmingly considered safe and potentially lifesaving for recipients.
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