The Pillowcase Project: Kids sleep well knowing they’re prepared

Ten-year-old twins Isabella and Daniella have a lot in common, but they have different ideas about what to take in an emergency.

Isabella is packing a flashlight and batteries. Her sister is taking a toothbrush and toothpaste. All are good supplies if their family has to leave their house in a hurry, and both girls discovered a pillowcase is the perfect carrying case for all of it.

The twins and more than 50 of their fellow campers at Evanston’s Y.O.U. (Youth Organizations Umbrella) summer camp at Washington Elementary School this summer learned how to create an emergency kit using a pillowcase they decorated and personalized with colored markers. The American Red Cross program educates kids about natural hazards and coping skills using hands-on learning activities that blend art and science.

It’s called The Pillowcase Project. Y.O.U. Executive Director Seth Green said families of children who complete the program can sleep well knowing their household is more prepared.

“When children are in a safe, comfortable place they trust, they absorb ideas and thoughts to help them grow, learn and be empowered to persevere if confronted in moments of risk,” said Green. “The highlight is watching them connect that learning experience with the images and messages they draw on their pillowcase.”

Nine-year-old Margaret drew pictures of soap, a water bottle and a t-shirt on her pillowcase – necessities she wants underlined with words “I’m safe.” If her family ever has to leave her house at a moment’s notice, she’ll be ready.

“I learned a lot about what to do in emergencies that I didn’t know before,” she said. “When I go home I’m going to put this pillowcase right beside my bed.”

The Pillowcase Project was inspired by a story of college students in New Orleans carrying their belongings in pillowcases during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In the Greater Chicago area, the Red Cross will teach more than 5,000 kids in grades 3 to 5 these preparedness skills through youth development programs including Y.O.U, the Chicago Police Department, Chicago Public Schools, and more throughout the region.

The Pillowcase Project emphasizes the importance of families developing an emergency communications plan, a fire evacuation plan and emergency contact cards. Children also learn about the science of natural disasters, the difference between storm warnings and watches, and dangerous weather patterns including thunderstorms, lightening and tornadoes.

At the end of the lesson, kids have fun using markers to color and personalize their pillowcase, which can easily carry emergency supplies during a disaster. The program is sponsored by Disney.

“Red Cross instructors take a scientific-based approach with hands-on activities, while at the same time, show children how to take a simple object—a pillowcase—and use it in an emergency if they have to evacuate their home,” said Fran Edwardson, Chief Executive Officer, American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region. “Working with youth organizations, the Red Cross is helping children build confidence and learn coping skills in the event of an emergency.”

 Written by Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Greater Chicago

Kamryn McPike, American Red Cross volunteer contributed to this story

Photos by Gerry Holmes, American Red Cross volunteer

For more photos of The Pillowcase Project: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chicagoredcross/sets/72157645617644558/

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