When Brenda Riggins found out she had cancer, “literally the first thing she said was, ‘I’m not eligible to give blood anymore,’” recalled nephew Teddy Martin. Riggins passed away in 2014, but Martin and his family have worked since then to honor her memory with the Brenda Riggins Memorial Blood Drive, which has been held twice annually since 2015.
Now entering its eighth year, the next blood drive is scheduled for Saturday, July 9, at Stanleytown Elementary School from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“It felt like it devastated her more that she couldn’t give blood than that she had cancer,” Martin recalled. “I couldn’t believe that but knowing her and how much she cared for people, that’s who she was.”
Though Riggins was his aunt, Martin said he always called her Granny Riggins. He recalled that she had taken him to his Little League games, babysat him, and “just did everything for me when I was a little kid.”
Riggins, Martin recalled, “donated to the Red Cross pretty much every time she could,” and encouraged others to donate as well, even offering to drive them to the donation site.
Hearing just how much the inability to continue donating affected his beloved aunt, Martin said he decided, “if it means this much to her, I want to help her with this.”
Martin made his first ever blood donation after Riggins’ diagnosis, telling her, “you might not be able to, but I can.”
When he compared his one donation to the 16-gallons Riggins donated during her lifetime, Martin said he realized he would need to do more to help truly carry on her legacy. Ultimately, he and his family organized annual events to honor the woman who was “very much at the center of our family.”
Two drives are held each year in Riggins’ honor, one in July and another in December.
“She loved Christmas,” Martin recalled. “She wanted to celebrate Christmas in July because she knew she wouldn’t make it to December.”
Donors at each July event will notice Riggins’ Christmas decorations lending a festive atmosphere to the site, along with holiday music playing.
“It’s us trying to honor her last wishes,” Martin said.
Over the past seven years, Martin said more than 650 donations have been collected from more than 600 unique donors.
“The (the Red Cross) say it’s the biggest drive in the region,” outside of those held at Virginia Military Institute or Virginia Tech, Martin said.
“Part of her would love how many people have donated in her memory, but there would also be part of her that doesn’t want all that attention. That’s just who she was,” Martin said.
Though he admitted he never spoke to Riggins about why donating blood was so important to her, he speculated that it might have come, at least in part, from his family’s history with cancer. Besides claiming Riggins, he said his father also succumbed to cancer just before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had our dad longer because he was able to get (blood) transfusions because of Red Cross donations,” he said.
“Every donation can save up to three lives, so that means about 2,000 people have potentially been helped or saved by Brenda. The ripple effect of that comment of hers, ‘I won’t be able to give blood anymore,’ all this came from that,” he said.
“I don’t know anybody who was more giving and selfless than her, and I think it’s a wonderful testament that so many people have come out, donated, and carried on this tradition. I can’t overstate how kind, giving, generous, and selfless this lady was. She lives on through this.”
The Brenda Riggins Memorial Blood Drive is scheduled from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 9 at Stanleytown Elementary School, 74 Edgewood Drive, Stanleytown. As of Sunday, a little more than 40 donations had been scheduled, still shy of the Red Cross’s 60-donation goal.
To schedule an appointment, visit redcrossblood.org. While walk-ins are welcome, appointments are given priority. For more information, visit the Brenda Riggins Memorial Blood Drive Facebook event page. To read more about Riggins, visit www.brendasbutterflies.org.