Thanks to severe weather that led to cancellations through the winter months, the American Red Cross is currently facing a severe winter blood shortage and is issuing an emergency call for blood donors to make a donation appointment in order to help save patient lives.

Along with the weather (forcing the cancellation of 100 blood drives in December), holiday schedules are believed to have contributed to about 37,000 fewer donations than were needed being collected in November and December.

"Blood donations are critically needed in the coming days so that patients can continue to receive the lifesaving treatments they are counting on," said Nick Gehrig, communications director for Red Cross Blood Services. "We encourage donors to invite a family member or friend to donate with them to help meet patient needs. Right now, blood donations are being distributed to hospitals faster than they are coming in."

Local residents looking to help make up for the shortage can do their part towards the end of the month, as Burrton High School (105 E. Lincoln) will be hosting a blood drive from noon to 6 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2017. Additionally, Hesston Mennonite Church (309 S. Main) has an event scheduled on Jan. 30 and Sacred Heart Catholic Church (419 Poplar) in Halstead will host its own drive on Feb. 6.

For Burrton students, there are added benefits to the blood drive, like the scholarship money the school receives and earning credit for a volunteer project put on by high school history/government teacher Chris Jensen, but the altruistic nature at the core of the event is why Jensen encourages it.

"I want these kids to know that this is their community and in order to have a community they want to live in they kind of need to do things like this to make their world a better place," Jensen said.

January's drive is one of five the high school hosts each year and while there were issues with participation before the school took over the event, Jensen noted that has not been the case in the five years since. With 90 percent of donation slots routinely filled, the school has set lofty goals.

The goal for the blood drive in January is 22 donations (a pint each), though Jensen said during buffer week in the fall (with no athletics going on) the school received 40-plus donations. As far as donations, 22 is about average for the school, with visibility, a bigger pool of participants and ease of access leading to the greater turnout, according to Jensen.

While Jensen noted he was unaware of the Red Cross's current shortage, coordinators routinely make clear the importance of high school students' participation, noting that every pint of blood donated affects three people.

"It's kind of a big deal and the kids feel like they're giving their blood to help somebody else. It's kind of intimate, and they feel that," Jensen said. "I'm proud of the kids stepping up."

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. Accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients and patients receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease may all require blood to save their lives. Giving blood for those individuals in need is the right thing to do, and something Jensen tries to instill in his students, noting he is proud to see the participation he has from the Burrton student body.

Others interested in helping out can find blood donation opportunities or schedule appointments to donate by using the free blood donor app, visiting redcrossblood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). The Red Cross is extending hours at many donation sites for more donors to give blood or platelets. Overall, the Red Cross has added nearly 200 hours to blood donation centers and community blood drives across the country for the next weeks.

"In about an hour, you can help save someone's life," said Gehrig. "This simple act can have a profound impact on another human being."