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:

“Drop, Cover and Hold On!”

"Drop, Cover and Hold on"

It’s a day like any other—you wake up, eat a bagel, drink coffee, go to work, school or even out to buy the groceries at your local supermarket. Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary. The sun is out, the sky is clear and there are people walking busily on the sidewalks.
All of a sudden the ground beneath you begins to shake and someone screams out “EARTHQUAAAAAKE!” What do you do?

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency is encouraging all Illinoisans to take part in the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut on Oct. 17, 2013, at 10:17 a.m. Millions of people across the country and around the world will be participating in the “Drop, Cover and Hold On” drill.

The American Red Cross is a leading partner of ShakeOut. Every year, the goal of the Red Cross and ShakeOut  is to create awareness of the earthquake hazard that exists in Illinois, across the country and around the world. The drill is meant for people to learn and practice what to do if they ever experience an earthquake.

While experiencing an earthquake in Illinois or the Midwest may seem unlikely, it is reported that some of the worst earthquakes that have taken place in the U.S. occurred during the winter of 1811-1812. The earthquakes shook the Mississippi River Valley along the Madrid Seismic Zone. Illinois is one of the seven states that can potentially be harmed.

Last February, more than 2.9 million people across the region participated in the ShakeOut and more than 592,600 of the participants were Illinoisans. The Great U.S. ShakeOut will now be held on the third Thursday of October each year. It will be a large-scale ShakeOut involving millions of participants from more than 40 states and territories and several other countries.

So if the ground ever began to shake, don’t panic. You practiced in the ShakeOut to “Drop, Cover and Hold On.”

For more information about the ShakeOut, log on to the ShakeOut website, Here you will find more information and useful reference materials. Invite friends, families, businesses, schools and other organizations to participate in the ShakeOut.

In addition to participating in the ShakeOut, the American Red Cross website also has useful information pertaining to earthquakes that you can check out.

Written by: Diana Brokop

Team Firestopper Helps Families Feel Safe


Tonya Howard is a foster mom who wants a safe home for children. That’s why she opened her door to the Chicago Red Cross Team Firestopper to check for potential fire hazards.

Tonya lives in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. The area is one of the highest response zones for Red Cross disaster relief teams who respond to home fires there about once a week.

Tonya’s block hasn’t had any incidents, but she’s taking preventative measures. Red Cross volunteers armed her with a new fire extinguisher, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, electrical surge protectors and more. Together, they all walked through the living room, checked batteries in the detectors and headed to the kitchen.

“A lot of fires are sparked by grease over the stove,” said Team Firestopper director Yvette Alexander-Maxie, who advised Tonya to keep the fire extinguisher within arms length. “A lot of people make the mistake of putting it away in the pantry or closet and that wastes precious seconds of time digging for it as flames and smoke climb the wall.”

More than 50 Red Cross volunteers distributed free fire prevention kits in Tonya’s neighborhood whose residents scheduled home visits during a two-day Red Cross community preparedness event last spring.

The Team Firestopper program works to prevent home fires in neighborhoods with a higher number of residential fires as part of its efforts to create a disaster-resistant community. Red Cross relief teams responded to 70 incidents last year in the Roseland neighborhood. After those disasters, the Red Cross assisted more than 300 people, 130 of them children, with food, shelter, clothing, health and mental health services.

Elsewhere in the greater Chicago region, the Red Cross helps people when responding to three to four home fires every day. The Red Cross provides fire victims with immediate assistance and other special needs an affected family might have.

Tonya’s home passed inspection and she was grateful for the fire prevention tips and safety equipment received from the Red Cross.

These safety events are made possible due to Motorola Solutions and State Farm and additional support from UL, First Alert and ACE. For more information on the Red Cross Team Firestopper program visit

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

Team Firestopper Prepares Your Community From a Fire Disaster

Team Firestopper Home Visits 3.29.13 016
Imagine the place you call home, the place you share with your family, the place you grew up, gone. Fires can be one of the most devastating things to happen to a family. It can destroy homes, possessions, memories, and lives. In a matter of minutes, everything that a home holds dear can be burnt away. As you scroll through the pages of this blog you will read the stories of the people whose lives have been altered by destructive fires. The trauma of losing your home is immeasurable; something experienced by too many in the city of Chicago.

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago responds to 1,200 disasters each year, the majority of which are residential fires. The Chicago Red Cross relief team helps assist victims of home fires every day. You cannot rewind back to the moments before a fire, but you can take steps in preventing it. There are simple ways in which you and your family can protect your home from fires and Team Firestopper can help.

Team Firestopper is a volunteer fire safety program that provides fire education and hand-on activities. Each year the program reaches over 10,000 households. This year, on March 29th and 30th, Team Firestopper of Greater Chicago visited 40 homes in the Roseland neighborhood on the south side of the city to distribute free fire prevention kits that included smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and surge protectors. Over the two days, 50 volunteers educated homeowners about fire safety and preparedness.

The team works to prevent home fires in neighborhoods with a high number of residential fires. “Unfortunately, Roseland has a significant number of home fires each year,” said Red Cross community programs director Yvette Alexander-Maxie. Last year, the Red Cross relief team responded to 70 incidents in Roseland, making it one of the highest response zones in Chicago.

The two- day home visits in Roseland helped families become better educated and ready for residential fire hazards. During one of the visits, the team went to the home of Tonya Howard, who was already well equipped with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. “I’m a foster parent, so it’s mandatory,” she said. “We have to do an evaluation, and then we have to have a plan, too.” Team Firestopper successfully aided families in the Roseland community to help stop fires before they happen.

Team Firestopper is working hard to prepare Chicago communities so fewer families have to lose their homes to fires. Do not let your family and home be at risk, stay informed and always be prepared. For more information about fire safety and tips visit Team Firestopper needs volunteers to help teach preparedness techniques and canvass neighborhoods with fire prevention information. For volunteer information visit or call (312) 729-6265.

Written by: Alyssa Barford

Make Your Identity Fireproof

Nobody was home on Friday when the fire broke out in the first floor bedroom. By the time Patricia and LaToya got back home, the fire department had already come and gone. The entire inside of their house was black from the ashes and dank from the layer of watery mucus streaked with boot prints covering the floor. The bedroom ceiling had been gutted and light from the exposed gash provided the only source of light on the piles of splintered wood and overturned furniture now mangled into unrecognizable heaps.

Patricia and LaToya were still reeling from the shock of what had happened to their home when volunteers from the Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) arrived on scene. The group walked through the sisters’ West 61st Street home, taking in the extent of the wreckage in silence. Patricia’s two children, a 14 year-old daughter and a 13 year-old son, were at school– thank goodness for that at least– but where were their medical cards? To assess how the Red Cross was going to help her family, the volunteers needed to verify who lived inside the house. All Patricia could find was the trunk where the children’s medical cards were located—and they weren’t in there now. Angela, a social work intern on the Disaster Action Team, tried to calm her down and told Patricia the Red Cross will give her time to retrieve copies of any documents she needed. Halfway through the interview, Patricia was finally able to locate her medical cards.

The fire in Patricia’s home probably started spontaneously from faulty electrical wiring–there was no way anyone could have predicted what would happen as they left the house on that fateful morning. By the time the family got back, things were so chaotic, physically and mentally, that the simple act of piecing together a coherent picture of life before the fire became fraught with anxiety. Witnessing Patricia’s stress while trying to account for the identity of her children popped all sorts of questions about the safety of my own records at home: Sure, I kept this letter in the yellow folder in that drawer–but would I be able to find it if that room got wrecked? Would there even be anything left to find?

Suddenly I realized how vulnerable we all are to losing our identity. How even more critical those bits of cards and paper become in the immediate aftermath of an attack on our homes. It was a stroke of good luck that nobody was inside when the fire broke out in Patricia’s house, but it also meant that trying to regroup in the wake of all that destruction became that much harder. The last thing you want to worry about when your house lays tattered before you is trying to prove you actually live there. That’s why Angela counsels carrying some documentation verifying your home address at all times. An old bill or a cancelled check tucked into the back of a wallet could turn out to be the small sliver of relief amidst a day of loss and disorientation.

Written by: Christine Li

Frayed Wires Cause Fires

Yamina and Amira stayed home from school last Wednesday with a shared case of pink-eye. Chiquita, their guardian, was at work when the two girls smelled smoke coming up through the vents, and heard the alarms blaring. They ran downstairs and started pounding on the door.
Chiquita rents the second-floor apartment from an elderly woman who lives downstairs with her son and caretaker Jerry. He was taking a midday nap, but the smoke alarms, and perhaps the girls pounding on the door, jolted him awake.

With the overwhelming stench, Jerry knew this wasn’t a false alarm. He swung open the basement door, and smoke poured out as if from a chimney. He couldn’t see a thing, and in the split second before dialing 9-1-1, Jerry mourned the probable death of the three pet turtles he kept in an aquarium downstairs.

The fire department appeared in seconds, and after putting the fire out, they showed Jerry where it all started: the downstairs refrigerator was plugged in to an extension cord, and when it sparked, the surrounding woodwork shot up in flames.

“It was plugged in like that for 50 years,” Jerry said. “I had no idea it was a problem.” The firefighters explained to Jerry that large appliances like refrigerators must be grounded—plugged into a three-prong outlet or power strip—and that electrical cords should be checked routinely, and replaced if frayed. Electrical fires are one of the leading causes of home fires. The U.S. Fire Administration provides tips for preventing these fires.

Jerry was down about the destruction caused by the fire, though he was glad that most of his and his mothers’ possessions were only tainted with the smell of smoke. “We’ve got 50 years’ worth of stuff down there,” he said. He still wore a smile, though: all three turtles survived.

Volunteers from the Red Cross were able to provide food and shelter to the people affected by this fire. Home fires are so commonplace that they often go unnoticed by the media, but they happen 2 to 3 times a day, every day in Chicagoland.

Make sure to inspect your home for fire hazards, and be active in preventing them. See the USFA page on home fire prevention, and our page on fire safety. The Red Cross offers a fire prevention program, Team Firestopper, which provides education and fire prevention activities in communities that are disproportionately affected by home fires. Team Firestopper volunteers conduct home hazard hunts to identify issues like this one before they cause destruction. For information about volunteering with Team Firestopper or to sign up for a visit to your home, go to

Written by: Jonathan Bressler

Windy Welcome

The first impression Chicago made on this native Californian was on the flight here five years ago. Sitting next to me was one of those sweet, gentle-mannered ladies that reminded everyone of their favorite aunt or grandmother so you soon find yourself helplessly babbling on about your plans for the big city under the warm, fuzzy embrace of that empathetic glow. Just as we were about to part ways before the gate, said lady put a firm hand on my arm and looked into my eyes with all apparent seriousness as she warned: “just remember to put some rocks in your pocket before you go out in the winter. You’re so tiny!”

Well…that was bizarre…so I had filed the remark away as a strand of kookiness buried under all those layers of Midwestern charm—until one day that first winter I was trotting down the street and suddenly knew I had to come to a full stop and rebalance my weight, just so, you know, the gust wouldn’t sweep me away.

While I still couldn’t quite bring myself to pad up on the rocks, there are a couple of other things I learned to do to stay on my feet to adjust to the real possibility of hurricanes or almost hurricanes—as the storms we experienced over the last two days apparently were. The Red Cross has step-by-step Before, During, After, and Recovery action guidelines to help you make sure you and your loved ones stay safe and up to date. Know the difference between a Hurricane Watch and a Hurricane Warning. Download this handy checklist to post on the fridge.

Prolonged power outages are another effect of violent weather conditions that can be buffered with some simple preparation. Check out the Red Cross’s page on what to stock up when you’re in the dark and how to check in on how friends and family are doing in the aftermath of a disaster.

Written by: Christine Li

Did you see Contagion and did it freak you out?

Doctors say that spread of a pandemic type virus in the movie Contagion has a kernel of truth. We aren’t trying to freak you out or scare you into bathing in vats of germ sanitizer but it’s something we should probably think about-especially when we all know flu season is coming to schools, daycares and offices near us. Below is an excerpt from story from USA Today on the subject and some of our thoughts on it.

Contagion has already has brought in more than $44 million at the box office in its two-week run. USA Today chatted with doctors and pharmacists who spend their days thinking, and sometimes experiencing, real-life worst-case scenarios when it comes to deadly epidemics. Contagion shows a world where the people who keep civilization together — police, firefighters, sanitation workers, supermarket clerks — are either sick, dead or at home with their families while garbage piles up, buildings burn unchecked, and gun-toting thieves ransack the suburbs for food.

The story goes onto say that it happened to a much lesser extent in Toronto during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, which killed 44 people in Canada. “Support staff didn’t figure their jobs were important,” says Tom Kirsch, a doctor of emergency medicine and co-director of Johns Hopkins’ University’s Center for Refugee and Disaster Response, Baltimore. His center has been thinking hard about what he calls the “willingness to respond.”

Tom Kirsch is also a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. The American Red Cross recommends taking simple precautions like hand washing to avoid the spread of any type of flu. Here are some tips that we recommend on this matter including prevention, symptoms and how to care for others with the flu and if you have little ones, we have a super cute free anti-germ program for kids 4 to 7 called Scrubby Bear.

Related link
Spike Lee (a different one, not that one)talks how hand washing cleanses your mind

Children’s Playroom Reduced to Ash: Early Detection of Smoke Could Save Your Home and Lives

The first thing Michael Green heard wasn’t a smoke alarm; it was his daughter Jasmine rushing downstairs to tell him her room was full of smoke. Faulty wiring started the fire, which slowly filled the walls with smoke while Jasmine and her friend played with toys.

“I’m still in shock, but I knew I had to keep my cool and do what was best for my family,” said Michael as he wiped away sweat from his forehead with a paper towel.

As soon as Michael realized there was a fire upstairs, he rushed both children outside, where he could now see flames climbing up the walls of his house. Michael called 9-1-1 and cut off the power, but it was too late to save the second floor of his recently-remodeled home.

By the time the American Red Cross arrived, the entire upstairs was in ruins. Toys, videogames and DVDs were covered with ash, and the family’s new puppy wandered around sniffing at the charred remains. Jasmine’s bedroom had holes ripped out of the walls and ceiling; even her Mickey Mouse pillows were smeared with soot.

Michael’s wife Adrianne sat with Jasmine in silence, both of them dripping in sweat from the boiling heat. Adrianne’s face was like stone as she sat in shock, holding her daughter by her side. Adrianne received a call at work and rushed home to find half her home had been scorched by fire. Her hands shook as she accepted a bottle of water from Michelle, a Red Cross disaster relief worker. Michelle explained to Adrianne how the American Red Cross could help her family through this difficult time. Due to the severity of the fire the Red Cross would be able to provide the Green family with financial assistance, shelter, toiletries, clothing, food and water.

Sixty-five percent of fire related deaths happen in homes without working fire alarms. Smoke alarms provide a few minutes of advance warning in the event of a home fire, and that extra time can save lives. It is important for all homeowners to follow these safety tips:

•Install smoke alarms in every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.
•Test fire alarms once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year.
•Talk to all family members, especially children, about a fire escape plan.
•Practice the escape plan twice a year, if not more.

Michael and Adrianne were grateful that their family made it out safely, realizing how fortunate they were to only lose possessions. The American Red Cross of the Greater Chicago Region encourages every family to be prepared for fire disasters. More information about how to be prepared, including safety tips, are available on the Chicago Red Cross website

Written by: Joshua Enright Gleason

With Great Tailgating Comes Great Responsibility

The NFL season is officially underway and Chicago fans are hopeful to get another shot at the NFC Championship. There’s hope for the Bears to finally reach the Super Bowl again for the first time since 1985, but most importantly, this new season means that tailgating has officially begun!

Anytime there’s a home game in Chicago, fans arrive at Soldier Field long before to take advantage of some of the best tailgating in the country. Tailgaters love to grill out and have some hot food to go along with their cold beverages on game day. It’s great to get out and support our team, but while celebrating it’s important to prepare and handle food properly to prevent food borne illness. The CDC estimates that food borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago wants to make sure everyone enjoys the fun and excitement of NFL football safely by providing some food safety tips:

•Do not prepare food more than one day before tailgating unless it is to be frozen.
•Don’t cook food partially ahead of time. Partial cooking of food allows bacteria to survive and multiply.
•When packing your cooler, be sure raw meat and poultry are wrapped securely to prevent juices from contaminating ready-to-eat food.
•Transport cold foods in a cooler to minimize bacteria growth.
•Keep foods covered to prevent contamination by insects.
•If you can’t keep hot food hot during the drive to your tailgate, chill the food in the refrigerator before packing it in a cooler.
•Cook only the amount of food that will be eaten to avoid the challenge of keeping the leftovers at a safe temperature. (Also they won’t let you bring it in the stadium!)
•When you take food off the grill use a clean plate, and be sure not to put cooked food onto the same plate that once held raw meat.
•Include lots of clean utensils for preparing and serving.
•Bring water for cleaning if none will be available at the site. Pack wet disposable clothes, moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.

When gearing up for Sunday’s game, remember to be Red Cross Ready and prevent food borne illness. You want to feel your best when watching Chicago play! For more safety tips on grilling, first aid or commuter safety when traveling to the stadium, visit

Remember to be prepared and… Go Bears!

Written by Joshua Enright Gleason

Photo Courtesy of Chicago Tribune