World’s Largest Pillowcase Project Teaches Chicago Children Preparedness Skills

20824159040_bc91d13214_o(CHICAGO, IL) – When Hurricane Katrina made landfall 10 years ago, no one was prepared for the immense destruction and devastation it would inflict upon the Gulf Coast.

Many children were traumatized by their memories of the storm’s fury so the American Red Cross developed a program using something as simple as a pillowcase to help children feel safer and more prepared for a disaster.

21012145605_53a1db1594_oOn the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29, 2015, the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois participated in the World’s Largest Pillowcase of youth preparedness activities taking place across the county. In Chicago, kids gathered at the Robert Morris University where they learned how to prepare for a disaster and received art supplies to personalize their own pillowcase.

Eight-year-old Beatrice decorated her pillowcase with pictures of her family and favorite household items.

“I liked coming today because I learned a lot of important things,” Beatrice said. “Now I know not to put my hand on a door knob if there’s a fire because I might get burned. I need to open the door slowly so I can be safe.”

The Pillowcase Project was inspired by university students in New Orleans who evacuated the storm by carrying their personal items in pillowcase. Soon after, the Pillowcase Project became a youth preparedness class offered around the country by 20391260033_1191f8e0d6_othe Red Cross and sponsored by Disney.

In the last ten years, the Pillowcase Project has helped thousands of children learn to cope during emergencies from hurricanes to home fires. For more information on the Pillowcase Project:  RedCross.org.

For more photos of the World’s Largest Pillowcase event in Chicago visit our Flickr page. 

Story by Alexandra Sobczak, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

Photos by Danny Diaz, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Volunteer  

Golin Volunteers Thank Navy Veteran for Service

19957827133_8554473c28_o(HINES, IL) – John Williams thought he would grow up to be a butcher in his dad’s meat market. Instead he proudly chose another uniform, becoming a sailor in the United States Navy.

Williams enlisted when he was 19 years old and “got to see the world” serving two years from 1962-1964 as a radar technician. He was stationed on an aircraft carrier in San Diego, CA in Nov. 1963 when he heard the news President John F. Kennedy was killed. Williams remembers how the ship turned solemn, but found support among his fellow military members.

Now a patient at the Hines VA Hospital in Hines, IL more than 50 years later, Williams gets supports from those who value and honor his service, like the volunteers from Golin who joined the Red Cross Aug. 10 to hand out comfort kits of items like soap and socks to veterans on the hospital’s 7th floor.

“To sit and talk with veterans who made such a huge sacrifice to our country is a wonderful way to show you care and thank them for their service,” said Molly Sawyer, a Golin volunteer.

Story by Patricia Kemp, Communications Manger, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Photos by Gerry Holmes, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois        

Volunteers “Go-All-In” For Red Cross

20390855050_cf50f59734_o(CHICAGO, IL) – PR firm Golin decided the American Red Cross was a cause to “go-all-in” for during its annual “Al’s Day” volunteer activities. The firm created the event in 2009 to honor the founder, Al Golin, and is held each summer around his birthday.

The firm’s main pillar is community service. Golin has big-name clients like McDonald’s so Al likes to give back to the community. He said it is a “wonderful legacy, practicing what we preach.”

Golin’s senior creative manager, Michael Marino said, “A couple years ago, it was a day we all went out and now it’s kind of expanded to a week.”

Golin employees culminated their Volunteer Week Aug. 14 at the Chicago headquarters of the Red Cross by cleaning and restocking the emergency response vehicles with supplies.20392158299_4b3b2b37b0_o

When a disaster strikes, the vehicles need to be ready to go. The Golin volunteers’ work will allow response teams to respond around the clock to a disaster site, where time is critical.

Christie Dooley works on the digital side of the company and said, “It’s a really nice part of working at Golin because they do have such and emphasis on giving back.”

20578841135_a901bf4a29_oThe manual labor reminded Marino of the hard work the Red Cross does for people who turn to the Red Cross in times of emergency.

“You never know when or where a disaster is going to strike so we could all need these services,” he said.

Fran Edwardson, CEO of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, said the Red Cross’ work force is more than 90 percent volunteers. That’s why the Golin group was such a welcome helping hand.

“It’s great when we can get teams that want to help out,” she said.

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Written by: Eleanor Lyon, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Public Affairs Volunteer

Photos by: Gerry Holmes, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Public Affairs Volunteer

Blood Donors Help Prevent a Summer Shortage at Brookfield Zoo

(BROOKFIELD, IL) – “This is my sixth time donating blood,” said Tom Bierwith of Chicago as he reclined at a donation station at the Brookfield Zoo. “When the Red Cross called me to let me know they were hosting a blood drive today, my wife and I didn’t hesitate, we knew we would be here no matter what.” 20327020962_b9c283d609_z

Temperatures in the 90’s couldn’t keep blood donors, like Tom, away from the Chicago Red Cross Summer of Connections Blood Drive at the Brookfield Zoo. Partnering with ABC 7 Chicago, the blood drive was held Aug. 5 to ensure hospital patients have enough blood products during the summer, a slow time for blood donations.

The Summer of Connections Blood Drive was the second largest regional blood drive for single-day collections with 228 units of blood collected. To put that number into perspective, those 228 units of blood have the potential to save 680 lives.

The call to donate was a commonality among the hundreds of donors, particularly for Rebecca Puskar of Chicago who visited the zoo with her son after donating.

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“I want to teach my son today that this (giving blood) is an important part of giving back to your community,” she said. “If a time ever comes when I need blood, I hope that there will be people who have stepped up to provide me with the same life-saving gift that I’ve been able to provide today.”

If you are interested in an easy way to save a life, you can give the gift of life-saving blood by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor app, visit redcrossblood.org, or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to find a blood drive near you.

Story by Alexandra Sobczak, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

Photos by Danny Diaz, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Volunteer  

Local Volunteer Humbled to Help in Saipan


Lee talking to client 2
(SAIPAN) – With less than 48 hours notice, Red Cross volunteer Lee Gramas, of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, was on a plane from Chicago to Sapian to join disaster relief efforts halfway around the world. The island of 50,000 people in the western Pacific Ocean was hit hard by powerful Typhoon Soudelor, which caused electrical outages and sewage back up, displacing hundreds and leaving thousands more with no food.

Since Gramas has arrived Aug. 6, more than 1,200 damage assessments of impacted housing has been made, yet theIMG_20150806_173155751 number continues to grow.

The work that Gramas has helped out with has varied each day. On one day he helped procure more than 4,000
cans of tuna and Spam, as well as pallets of rice, noodles and toilet paper. The next day he helped with casework, giving direct assistance to the impacted population, while standing up a call center to answer the pleas for help.

“Our commitment is to provide relief to the impacted population,” said Gramas. “To be able to deploy half way around the world is an incredible honor and perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a disaster that would not occur in the continental United States.”

signVolunteering with the Red Cross for five years when he’s not running his own construction business, Gramas has been deployed to aid in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Isaac and the Colorado Floods of 2013, in addition to responding to many local fires and tornadoes.

“Being a volunteer for the American Red Cross is not only a privilege, but a humbling experience to work among an incredible cadre of intelligent giving people,” said Gramas.

HOW TO HELP People can help by donating to Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations to Disaster Relief will be used to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. We respond to nearly 70,000 other disasters every year, from home fires to hurricanes, typhoons and more. Learn more about how Disaster Relief donations have helped people affected by previous disasters including home fires.

Story by Tyler Beischke, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Chicago Red Cross Centennial: A Look Back on a Century of Service

Chicago Flood 1947 - Copy(CHICAGO, IL) – Rewind the past 100 years when the local Red Cross was established in Chicago to today’s reach of serving 9.5 million people in 21 counties in Northern Illinois. You’ll see how the Red Cross has touched so many lives, for so many years in our community since 1915.

We’re halfway into our Centennial year, and there’s still much more to celebrate. Join us in this historic occasion:

  1. Share your Red Cross story on chicagoredcross100.com. #ChicagoRedCross100
  2. Take a Class
  3. Volunteer
  4. Give Blood
  5. Donate
  6. Download our free Emergency App so you have lifesaving information in the palm of your hand.

A Look Back at the Past and Next Generation

Here’s a window through the decades of some classic moments of our past thanks to the Chicago Tribune archives, to what we’ve been doing in the community leading into this milestone year, according to Fran Edwardson, Chief Executive Officer of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois.

From health and safety classes, to supporting local military members, their families and veterans, to lifesaving blood collection, and reconnecting families torn apart by international conflict, the Red Cross has helped make our community safer and more prepared for the next 100 years.

Yet, the Red Cross historically is best known as part of the world’s largest humanitarian network that helps people in times of emergency through our army of volunteers, giving people food, shelter and comfort when they need it most.

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Disaster Relief & Preparedness: “The Red Cross Was the One Constant Through This Entire Disaster”

Eastland Disaster 1915Our first local response was on July 24, 1915, just six weeks after the chapter was established, when the Eastland Steamship capsized in the Chicago River, taking 844 lives. The Red Cross was there to comfort families after this historic tragedy – a legacy of compassion that still carries on today.

From the 3 to 4 home fires volunteers respond to every day in our community, to floods in 1947, the tornadoes that hit Plainfield in 1990, and the most recent storms that struck Coal City and Sublette this year in June, and all the devastation before and in between.

The Red Cross is here to help after disasters of any size, ready to comfort those who lived through the experience like Jackie Jordan’s family in Fairdale in April who said the Red Cross was the “one constant” through the entire tornado disaster.

On the preparedness front, we’re installing thousands of smoke alarms in homes through our Home Fire Program to reduce the number of injuries and deaths, and we’re teaching kids how to prepare for emergencies through The Pillowcase Project, sponsored by Disney, through partnerships with local schools and community partners like the Chicago Police Department.

International Services: “I Am Alive”

A Chicago Trifecta – As a tribute to the work we carry out daily here at home in Chicago and around the world, we celebrated our 18840506432_58ebce64c0_oAnniversary Week in June during World Refugee Day in Daley Plaza. The celebration was extra sweet as we served up 500 slices of birthday cake, generously donated by another Chicago staple Portillo’s topped off with a same-day win of the Stanley Cup by hometown hockey team Chicago Blawkhawks.

Through our Restoring Family Links program, the Red Cross advocates for peopleOnesphore Ndaribitse from countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Syria, and Afghanistan who are seeking to reconnect or keep in touch with their loved ones. Through this free and invaluable service, our caseworkers facilitated the exchange of thousands of messages between families separated by disaster and conflict.

Hearing the words “I am alive” from Onesphore on the Northside of Chicago to his family in Rwanda can mean the difference between peace of mind and despair for  loved ones a half a world away. 

Lifesaving Blood: “We Helped Save Six Lives Today”

To kick off our Centennial year, we held a 100th Anniversary Blood Drive at Union Station in January where 430 units of blood were collected. It was the largest single-day blood drive in our 16369445192_d87bd7bed2_oregion. If one pint of blood can save up to three lives, Chicago residents Mary Market, 69, and Mellisa Griesl, 24, who met in line to give blood, together helped save six through their blood donation.

We also recently opened our new biomed facility in our headquarters in the Illinois Medical District which is in close proximity to many area hospitals for local patients. The Red Cross supplies 40 percent of the nation’s blood, and thanks to our new technology and facility here, we can help distribute lifesaving blood to trauma victims, cancer patients, and children with sickle cell disease.

Health & Safety Training: “Never Be Afraid to Help Somebody.”

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Another way the Red Cross helps save lives is by teaching people the skills to perform CPR & First Aid, babysitting training, and water safety.

We train more than 88,000 local people these lifesaving skills each year – dating back to before 1953, when the Chicago Tribune, documented an aquatics training session in Glencoe, IL to help people with polio how to swim.

Over the next decades, the Red Cross has been the go-to source for information, skills and build confidence among those to act in an emergency, at home, in school and in the workplace.

ComEd employee Carlos Guevara put those skills to the test when he saved a life at his community’s church.  “Never be afraid to help somebody,” Carlos said. “Learn the basics of CPR and where you can apply it. You never know when, where and why you might need it.”

Supporting America’s Military Families: “They Were There for Us and We Need to Be There for Them”

Clara-Barton_1The true spirit of the Red Cross began on the front lines with founder Clara Barton, the Angel of the Battlefield, tending to wounded soldiers more than a century ago, and that legacy of serving our military continues today in Chicago.

From a Red Cross canteen in 1919 with soldiers in Grant Park photographed by the Chicago Tribune, to local volunteer Laura Landoe who serves in our “No Veteran Dies Alone” hospice program at the Lovell Federal Health Care Center at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois, the Red Cross cares for our veterans and service members.

Laura Landoe is a modern-day Clara Barton. She’s one of our on-call volunteers who provide comfort and care to veterans on their final journey. The compassion she gives to each of those dying veterans is extraordinary – at times she reads to them, sometimes she prays with them, and still other times she sings hymns for them.  She sits quietly holding their hand as they pass. “They were there for us and we need to be there for them,” said Laura.

“Sleeves Up. Hearts Open. All In:” Volunteers are the Heart of the Red Cross

Volunteers, like Laura Landoe, are the heart of the Red Cross. Very much ingrained with the City of Chicago from the start, some of the first local volunteers—our founding Board Members from 1915—reads like a list of street names, historical landmarks and successful companies that are still much aVolunteer Walt Disney 1919 part of the Chicago landscape today: Cyrus H. McCormick, Mrs. Potter Palmer, A.A. Sprague II, Mayor William Hale Thompson, Charles H. Wacker, and William Wrigley, Jr. to name a few.

Our current board members are also proud to carry on this legacy.

We’ve had a few other famous Chicago natives rise through the ranks in our volunteer corps, such as Walt Disney and Ernest Hemingway.

From local volunteers like Nancy Brooks-Edison, who joined the Red Cross more than 50 years ago to newcomer Lazenia Adams, who responded to more than 100 home fires during her first year of service – we couldn’t accomplish all that we do without their care and compassion.

19119823286_64587bee30_oThey represent more than 90 percent of our workforce. Think if 90 percent of the people in your workplace showed up for work and didn’t get paid? That’s what our volunteers do every day when they’re called to comfort a family after a home fire in the middle of the night, or hold a dying veterans hand.

Its hard work, but our volunteers do it because they care about our community.

Thank you for celebrating this milestone with us. The Red Cross has been part of our community for 100 years, and with all the support of our volunteers, funding partners, and the community we can continue to serve for 100 more.

READY 100 CENTENNIAL SPONSORS  Centennial sponsors of the Red Cross in 2015 include: Chicago Community Trust, Otho S. A. Sprague Memorial Institute, Schneider Electric, Ace Hardware, Allstate, Discover, Fresenius Kabi, Grainger, Gerald A. & Karen A. Kolschowsky, Kirkland & Ellis, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Motorola Solutions Foundation, Navistar, PwC, USG, Aon, Baxter, BMO Harris Bank, Constellation Brands, C. Reed Parker, Deloitte, Fortune Brands, JLL, Nicor Gas, Oil-Dri, and UL.

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Story By: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Red Cross Community Cares for Coal City

18994466700_a091117fee_o(COAL CITY, IL) – At sunrise Diann and Gary Rink would pick fresh kale out of their garden to mix a smoothie. The morning of June 22 was the last time that breakfast ritual would occur for the Coal City couple for a while. They no longer have a kitchen, or walls, or the home where they lived since 2007.

“I heard sirens go off and felt enormous pressure in my ears,” Gary said. “I heard a loud bang and stuff was flying all around.”19140334322_829d1f830f_o

The couple grabbed their phones, an iPad and two flashlights and hid in the basement until they felt it was safe to come out. They
heard neighbors crying, but no one was hurt. They’re now staying with family until they can rebuild their home.

“It was such a beautiful home,” said Diann.

18559649984_be9ce320a0_oThe Rinks have been here before, less than two years ago when they saw another tornado coming at them before it turned and hit sister city Diamond in November 2013. Back then, the Rinks joined relief efforts to support the community. Now the community is coming out to support them in Coal City.

“Small towns are great for helping people out,” said Diann.

In many ways the Red Cross is like a small town. When disaster strikes, volunteers move in. Strangers at first, but quickly become a neighbor and a friend.

“People need to lean on each other in hard times,” said Red Cross volunteer and shelter manager Joyce Cook. “Volunteers18525502083_ea593c96d5_o are people who care. That’s just at the heart of who we are and what we do.”

With open arms, volunteers help people who lived through a disaster cope with the anguish and give them hope. They lead survivors through twisted terrain in a town that used to look familiar.

Volunteers are a compassionate shoulder to cry on and a calm, comforting ear willing to listen. They make sure people have true, basic survival needs met like food and shelter in the immediate aftermath of a storm.

In the following days, weeks and even months later – the Red Cross community is still there helping families map out long- term recovery plans and access the resources they need to get back on their feet, and plant a new garden.

19119823286_64587bee30_oNEED HELP? If you’ve been affected the Northern Illinois Tornadoes and Storms call our Red Cross call center 312-729-6250.

GIVE HELP After a disaster, financial donations are the quickest and best way to get help to the people who need it most. If you would like to help those affected by disasters like the recent Illinois tornado outbreak, please visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

Story By: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Photos By: dirkfletcher.com

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