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This past week, UCF students endured the blistering heat for the greater good: saving lives.

Employees from the blood donation center OneBlood set up a cluster of tables outside the Student Union. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, they worked alongside UCF volunteers, passing out iced water and slices of pizza to blood donors.

The line of Knights waiting to enter the Big Red Bus snaked around the heart of campus. On June 13, the day after the Pulse massacre, more than 200 students patiently waited in line. Overwhelmed by the number of people, OneBlood was forced to send about 120 of them away.

Among the sea of Knights was an unfamiliar face. Phoenix resident Dina Cooper traveled to the City Beautiful to visit a friend. On what was supposed to be her last day in Orlando, Cooper dedicated six hours to passing out snacks and water to donors.

Dehydration prevented her from boarding the Big Red Bus. On a whim, she decided to extend her flight an extra day in order to donate blood at UCF.

“I said, ‘I have to. I just have to,’” Cooper said. “Why? I don’t know why. I just like giving back.”

Susan Forbes, vice president of marketing and communications at OneBlood, said the organization collected more than 28,000 units of blood in its service areas last week. As of right now, more than half of the units have been distributed to Orlando hospitals.

Forbes said it is a phenomenal achievement, but it is still not enough. The numbers are a testament to the importance of blood donation, she added.

“That’s why the need for blood is 365 days a year,” Forbes said. “The only place you can get it is from another human being. There’s no substitute.”

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UCF junior and biomedical science major Lorenzo Stesko volunteered at the blood drive on behalf of International Medical Outreach, an organization that coordinates medical volunteer trips to impoverished countries.

The 19-year-old said the shooting was unexpected, as was the response from locals. Stesko, who has only lived in the area for a short period of time, said Orlando united in the face of adversity, and that alone speaks volumes about what the city stands for.

“I’m proud of the community for coming together for this cause,” Stesko said.

At a neighboring table, UCF alumnus Kelsey Jay, 25, handed out bags of chips to blood donors. Jay said since he is not eligible to give blood, he wanted to do “the next best thing” and volunteer his time to help those who were donating.

He collected money to buy snacks and water for blood donors. With the hot Florida sun beating down on students, he did not want anyone to become ill from lack of food or dehydration.

“Once an alum, always an alum,” Jay said. “I felt there was something I could be doing.”

Rattled by the Pulse tragedy, UCF sophomore Austin Royall, 21, decided to take initiative and help those in need. The character animation major said the Orlando community has a responsibility to support each other in times of crisis.

“It's the only way we’ll get through this,” Royall said. “One person donating may not seem like much, but it helps out so much more than you would think.”

#OrlandoUnited Blood Drive on Campus

Who: UCF and OneBlood will be partnering to host the largest #OrlandoUnited blood drive in Central Florida to honor the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting

When: Monday, June 27 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: Bright House Networks Stadium, UCF Main Campus

What: You must register in advance to receive one of the 500 appointments available. To register, click here and enter 35093 as the sponsor name.

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Shana Medel is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Email her at ShanaM@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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