It’s not often the Red Cross brings its bus to Hays for a blood drive, but the organization wanted to make a splash to celebrate its century-old association with Ellis County.

The bus, outfitted to accommodate five donors and the staff, helped kick off the latest Battle of the Badges, the annual American Red Cross blood drive that lets donors choose their favorite first responders among law enforcement, EMS and fire.

The winning “team” gets bragging rights and a traveling trophy, said Becky LaPolice, executive director of American Red Cross of Central and Western Kansas. The blood drive is sponsored by students of the Hays High School Jobs for America’s Graduates Kansas program.

“So far, law enforcement is taking an early lead I’m thinking, because I’ve seen more law enforcement uniforms come in,” she said Wednesday afternoon in the Ellis County Administrative Center. After giving blood on the bus parked on Eighth Street, donors could go inside the administration center to vote for their favorite first responders, get a t-shirt and even a bowl of chili.

Usually, the Red Cross can use the commission room for donations during the Battle of the Badges, but brought the bus to help with the centennial celebration with Ellis County, said Bill Dinkel, Red Cross territory account manager.

“The bus doesn’t make its way up here that often, so it’s a real treat when we are able to bring the bus into Ellis County,” he said.

It also allows for a blood drive at a location they might not normally be able to get to, he said.

“There are times when we have a pool of donors who are anxious and willing and generous with their blood donations, but they just don’t have a place to host one,” he said.

Midwest Energy, 1330 Canterbury Drive, where the bus will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, is an example of that.

“They have security needs that won’t allow people from outside, non-employees, in and so if we bring the bus, their family and friends can help, too,” Dinkel said.

The Battle of the Badges drive helps bring in blood donors at a time of urgent need, Dinkel said.

“The need is pretty constant, however, the supply of blood is challenging to maintain this time of year,” he said.

“One out of every five units of blood comes form someone that’s 16 to 24 years old,” Dinkel said.

With schools and colleges out of session for holiday breaks, that cuts into the number of blood drives happening. Winter weather also affects turnout.

The Battle of the Badges Blood Drive will continue at these dates and locations:

• 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Midwest Energy, 1303 Canterbury

• 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Big Creek Crossing, 2918 Vine

• 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 4 and 5, Big Creek Crossing