Incoming Continental High School seniors Kenndy Hiltner (left) and Mackenzie Rayle took it upon themselves to address a looming national crisis: a critical shortage of desperately needed blood - Putnam Sentinel
Incoming Continental High School seniors Kenndy Hiltner (left) and Mackenzie Rayle took it upon themselves to address a looming national crisis: a critical shortage of desperately needed blood. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)

CONTINENTAL — This past weekend, two incoming high school seniors in Continental took it upon themselves to address a national crisis, to make a difference, to help save lives.

For months, the American Red Cross has issued alerts advising of a critical blood shortage throughout the nation, and requesting assistance in replenishing reserves. Recently, Kennedy Hiltner and Mackenzie Rayle heeded that call, and organized a blood drive in Continental.

Pulling up to the Continental Fire Department late Saturday morning, the big bay doors were open, and folding chairs, occupied by prospective donors, were placed in neat lines beside one of the department’s engines. Kennedy and three young volunteers worked a folding table loaded with snacks and beverages. Mackenzie, at the time, was off running an errand, picking up supplies for the drive. After she returned, the two teens spoke briefly about the why, how, and what of the event.

“I gave blood back in May, and we talked to a rep, and she said there’s a huge blood shortage,” Kennedy remarked, expounding on the impetus for the blood drive. “I didn’t know, but a (car) crash could take up to one hundred units of blood.”

Along with an understanding of the need, the conversation with that representative of the American Red Cross revealed not only the opportunity to help others, but, to a small degree — and only possibly — themselves.

“This is a program Red Cross has that’s really awesome,” Kennedy explained. “Leaders Save Lives. When we meet our goal, they put us in a scholarship opportunity.”

Through Leaders Save Lives, the Red Cross encourages teens to hold blood drives in their communities, but only when school is out, during summer and winter breaks. By hitting established targets — there are three levels — those who choose to engage will receive a gift card and have a shot at a scholarship.

“We just need 25 people to donate, and then we’ll get entered into the scholarship raffle,” Mackenzie said. “We got a super big rush first thing in the morning, so we’re hopeful.”

By noon, and with three hours left before the drive rolled down the doors and closed up for the day, nearly 20 donors had made their way through, this despite a confirmed total of 23 reservations.

At the end of the day, the numbers were close, but the two hit their mark and a little bit more, bagging 29 units of blood.

“The process is really easy, and I encourage a lot more people to do it,” Kennedy said. “So many more people could set these things up, and get so much more blood.”

While the two acknowledged having put some time into the process, both recognized that without the support of their local community — the residents and businesses — the effort would likely have had a different result.

“Continental really helped us out with this,” Kennedy said. “So many people personally know us — like our volleyball coach, our lifting coach, our teachers — they came in and they just helped us. We really appreciate that so much.”

For more information about the Leaders Save Lives Scholarship Program, visit www.redcrossblood.org/hosting-a-blood-drive/learn-about-hosting/why-host-a-blood-drive/leaders-save-lives.html