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Students at Arrowhead Elementary had a huge birthday party Friday for about 250 strangers.

Birthdays are a celebration of life, and Arrowhead students helped give the gift of life when they spearheaded a blood drive this month.

Their effort earned the school United Blood Service's Ready Team award and gathered enough blood to help 250 people. Although those recipients won't be known to students, it is likely in their lifetime the students will know someone who benefits from a blood donation, said Kim Sapone, donor recruitment supervisor at UBS.

"There's a hero in every one of us," Sapone told the kids. "You did something that 95 percent of our population here in Billings doesn't do: You asked someone to give blood."

The student blood drive included 25 teachers and 63 student family members and friends donating blood. Their effort to draw that many parents and community members within days of asking set a local UBS record, Sapone said. The kids' reward was a school assembly Friday morning followed by treats provided to classrooms by parents and other volunteers.

The kids ended the assembly by singing "Happy Birthday."

"Each of you played a real huge part in helping to save 250 lives," said Joe Halligan, a sixth-grade teacher and Arrowhead's student council advisor.

At the assembly, Halligan asked a gym full of kids why the blood drive was such a big deal. A third-grader named Brynn raised her hand and answered frankly: "Because people are dying if they don't get blood."

Halligan said he tries to donate blood regularly and was looking for a project in which kids would learn about "giving without getting," when the blood drive idea came up.

Sapone visited classes to teach kids about who gives blood, and why, and the components of donated blood and how it is used. The kids took home postcards to present to potential adult donors.

Even with so many donors scheduled, Halligan wasn't sure how many people would attend the Jan. 20 blood drive at the school.

"It was way beyond what I ever thought it was going to be," he said.

Arrowhead Principal Robin Bedford said part of the success of the blood drive is tied to the strong support that the school's community provides.

"When parents see a need in the community, they really rise to the challenge," she said.

That includes giving each year to the Toys for Tots program and donating to other programs that help people in need.

"They love the idea of giving back to the community," she said.

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