Area high schools are out for blood.

Blood drives at high schools and colleges are a popular community service project. But schools are also one of the most consistent and crucial sources of blood for the nation’s blood banks, providing about 18 percent of the annual supply, said Anthony Tornetta, spokesman for the American Red Cross.

“When you hear about blood shortages around the Christmas holidays and in July, that’s when schools are not in session,” he said.

Locally, most high schools typically hold two blood drives a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. Most are coordinated by a club at the school, such as the National Honor Society, Student Council, Key Club or Interact Club.

Maureen Buehl, volunteer specialist with the Southern Shore Red Cross in Pleasantville, said school drives tapered off after school districts began cutting funds for extracurricular clubs over the past few years to save money. But the Red Cross is working to get them back in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.

“We can get 150 to 200 pints from a large high school,” she said. “It could take six or seven community blood drives to get that amount.”

Oakcrest High School in Mays Landing held its fall blood drive Tuesday. Organized by the National Honor Society, it collected 85 units of blood, just short of their goal of 100.

“It’s a way to give back, but in a different way,” said student Cassie Mancella, 17, of Mays Landing. “It’s more than just donating canned goods.”

American Red Cross team supervisor Michelle Malatesta said she loves running blood drives at schools because she knows it will be a productive day.

“They’re organized, the schools let us know about how many people registered so we can plan, and we get a lot more donors than at a private drive,” she said.

A September blood drive at Cedar Creek High School in Egg Harbor City collected 121 units, more than the 105 goal, said Greg Ferree, adviser for the National Honor Society, which organizes the fall and spring drives.

Students must be at least 17 years old to donate on their own, but can donate at 16 with a parent’s permission. All of those interviewed were 17.

Area colleges also hold drives, which are open to the public. Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing collects about 45 units per drive, which are organized by college nurse Kathy Flynn, spokeswoman Stacey Clapp said.

Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township hosts four drives per year, some lasting two days, and collected 636 units in 2012, according to data provided by math professor Pamela Kosick, who coordinates the drives with students from the school’s Honors Program.

Oakcrest National Honor Society adviser Mary Alvarado said because there are blood shortages, students feel they really are contributing when they give blood. But, she said, fear of needles is still the No. 1 reason students don’t want to do it.

Oakcrest senior Kerwin Gonzalez was donating for the second time. He admitted he was a bit scared the first time, but it wasn’t bad and he’ll definitely keep donating. He joked that it got him out of class, and he got some free cookies to help him recover.

Buehl said students do appreciate the opportunity to get out of class to give blood, and she does watch in the recovery area to make sure donors aren’t dragging out their recovery time to avoid going back to class.

“Some of them are conniving,” she said, laughing.

This year high schools in New York and New Jersey can win scholarships in a High School Heroes program sponsored by Bob’s Discount Furniture and the American Red Cross. Schools must hold at least two blood drives during the school year, and have at least 30 percent of their age-eligible students participate. Scholarships range from $250 to $1,000.

Tom McKeever, adviser for the National Honor Society at Mainland Regional High School, said it typically collects about 300 pints during the three blood drives the school host and he’s promoting the scholarships this year. He said the spring is always better, because more students have turned 17, and fewer are involved in sports that might prevent them from wanting to give blood if they have a game.

McKeever said students work hard to make the drive a success. They also get community support, with local restaurants and bakeries donating “recovery” food for the students.

“They’ll decorate, and have a theme,” he said. This year’s drive features Dracula in honor of Halloween.

McKeever agreed the fear factor is the primary reason students say they don’t want to donate, and at Mainland more females donate than males.

Oakcrest student Tyler Boney, 17, said students are a little scared. He suggested bringing freshmen down to see the drives so they can learn about giving blood even if they can’t donate.

The Red Cross is also trying to start more official Red Cross Clubs at high schools to promote not just blood drives, but all of the work the Red Cross supports, including disaster relief and CPR training.

Red Cross volunteer Patricia McMahon, of Ocean Township in Monmouth County, staffed a booth at the New Jersey School Boards Conference in Atlantic City this week to promote the clubs, including a new one at Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin.

“Many students are looking for ways to do community service, and the Red Cross is well known,” she said. “This is something they can carry into their future lives.”

Dino DiStefano, director of donor recruitment for the Community Blood Council of New Jersey, said about 25 percent of its blood supply comes from schools. He likes to promote that every donation can save up to three lives through the use of the red blood cells, platelets and plasma.

“It is an altruistic thing to do, and students really do it from the heart,” he said.

The blood drives at schools also introduce the idea of giving blood at a young age in the hopes that the students will continue to do so throughout their lives, creating a steady flow of new blood donors.

“A lot of our mature donors will say they’ve been donating for decades,” Tornetta said.

Malatesta said education about the importance of giving blood is part of the Red Cross program, and they take special care to talk to students and answer all their questions.

“They usually are a little nervous,” she said, especially when it comes time to actually give the blood. “But we take our time, talk to them. The kids are great.”

Contact Diane D’Amico:

609-272-7241

More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.