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Blood centers look to rejuvenate high school donor drives

Two high school students give thumbs up while sitting in blood donation chairs giving blood
Community Blood Center
Fairfield High School juniors Olivia Edmundson (left) and Chloe Thomas (right) made their first blood donations Sept. 16, 2022. Blood banks says high school donations are still lower than pre-pandemic levels and are hopeful this year will turn those numbers around.

Blood donation is critical, and centers know it's important to reach new donors when they're young. High school blood drives were scarce during the pandemic shutdown and didn't fare much better after many students returned to classrooms in 2021.

Now, blood centers are preparing for what they hope will be a better school year.

"Blood drives are averaging maybe 30, 40 kids," says Mark Pompilio, public relations and marketing manager with Community Blood Center (CBC). "That's not what they used to be."

For the region's two blood center agencies — CBC, which is based in Dayton and serves 15 counties in Southwest Ohio and Indiana, and Hoxworth, based in Cincinnati and serving 18 counties in Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana — reaching potential future donors when they're in high school is imperative.

"These students are our next generation of blood donors," explains Jackie Marshall, public information officer with Hoxworth. "Reaching students while they are young and showing them the impact that blood donation has on a community is vital to the local (and national) blood supply. According to America’s Blood Centers (ABC), 11.2% of blood donations nationally come from 16–18-year-olds."

Unfortunately, says Pompilio, high school blood drives didn't bounce back from the pandemic last year as agencies had hoped. He says CBC last year saw a 52% drop from pre-pandemic levels in the number of kids registering to donate; and an even more crucial metric: a nearly 48% decline in first time donors.

"If we lose those kids, to where they may never donate in high school. We may never have them as a blood donor as they mature into life."
Mark Pompilio, Community Blood Center

"When I go to blood drives now, I meet a lot of juniors and seniors who are donating for the first time because they had that gap in their high school experience where they didn't get introduced to giving blood early on," Pompilio says. "If we lose those kids to where they may never donate in high school, we may never have them as a blood donor as they mature into life."

While people tend to fall off donor roles in college and as they begin their adult lives, Pompilio says people who have given blood in high school are more likely to do so again.

CBC and Hoxworth both coordinate with area high schools to host blood drives. Both note high school drives are responsible for bringing in a large portion of blood products during the school year, which is essential, they say.

Marshall says Hoxworth is seeing some improvement this school year.

"We are definitely seeing an uptick," she reports "Although we are still limited in mobile operations due to staffing, many high schools are back on our schedules for the school year and we can’t wait to be back!"

Pompilio with CBC says the agency is also keeping its proverbial fingers crossed that this year will see marked improvement.

student in blood donation chair holding a blue ball
Community Blood Center
Senior Jacob Popp makes his second-ever blood donation during a drive at Fairfield High School Sept. 16, 2022.

Case in point

This past Friday, students at Fairfield High School queued up in an auxiliary gym turned mobile blood donor center. One day prior, Pompilio had expected a modest turnout. Instead, some 150 students signed up.

"This is like the good old days," he says, nodding to the busy gym. "I hope it could be a trend, but look what it took to do this."

Students this day were extra motivated. The blood drive was arranged by request of a classmate with leukemia who has used blood provided by CBC.

Senior Jacob Popp, 17, is relaxing in a donor chair. He squeezes a blue ball while deep red blood flows from his arm to the collection container. This is his second time giving blood.

"I guess what motivated me is just because it's a common cause, something good to do and it helps," he says.

Popp says he'd encourage his fellow classmates to give, too.

"I'd say it's worth it, honestly, because giving blood... it seems scary to some people. I was a little nervous coming into this too. It's only my second time but it helps people and it's good. It's a good thing to do."

The folks at Community Blood Center and Hoxworth are hoping there are a lot of kids like Popp who understand the importance of donating — and who will continue to donate as they grow older.

"Blood cannot be manufactured in a lab, so our hospitals rely on volunteer blood donors to provide the products they need for cancer treatments, traumas, pediatric patients, and more. Asour older donors age out of eligibility status, we must have younger generations there to step up for our community, which is why high school students are so important to us."

In general, hospitals are using less blood than in the past, but still, 4.5 million Americans will need a blood transfusion each year. Hoxworth reports it needs 400 blood donors a day and 50 platelet donors.

Pompilio says another good thing about high school blood drives is they often occur on Fridays, helping blood banks get through the weekend.

How to donate blood


Community Blood Center

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.