ARC ‘Pillowcase Project’ increases hazard awareness

Brennan Avants, disaster program manager at the Hill Country Chapter, American Red Cross, displays one of the official pillowcases.

The American Red Cross “Pillowcase Project” sponsored by Disney is a free, interactive preparedness program designed for youth ages 8 to 11, generally students in grades three to five.

The Pillowcase Project was originally developed by the Red Cross Southeast Louisiana Chapter following Hurricane Katrina.

The New Orleans Red Cross CEO, Kay Wilkins, learned that Loyola University students caught in Hurricane Katrina carried their belongings out in pillowcases when they were evacuated from the hurricane.

This inspired Wilkins and her team to work with an art therapist to create a program around decorating pillowcases for the children living in makeshift communities across New Orleans during recovery from the hurricane.

Their pillowcase project became a preparedness education program for elementary students.

The original pillowcase design, made from heavier fabric than usual home bedding, includes an oval of words printed on one side to tell the young owner what needs to be kept inside the pillowcase, in case of an emergency.

That list is:

• Bottle of water;

• Soap;

• Flashlight;

• Toy;

• Change of clothes;

• Toothbrush and toothpaste;

• Portable radio;

• Paper and pen;

• Blanket;

• First aid kit;

• Extra batteries;

• Family photos;

• And an item special to that child.

The project has expanded to the entire country and Puerto Rico; and is spreading across the globe through the Global Disaster Preparedness Center.

The program aims to increase awareness and understanding of natural hazards, and teaches safety, emotional coping skills, and personal preparedness.

Local Red Cross staff says third to fifth graders are the target audience because at that age they go home from school eager to talk a lot to their parents about everything they learned that day. So their families learn a lot of the same lessons.

Through instructor-led presentations, students learn the best ways to stay safe and how to create their own emergency supply kits by packing those essential items in a pillowcase for easy transport during a disaster.

Students also have the opportunity to decorate and personalize their pillowcases as they share what they’ve learned with friends and family.

The local Red Cross staff has been delivering The Pillowcase Project in local area school districts as well as in identified schools throughout the Texas Gulf Coast Region.

Jacques Dubose, executive director of the Hill Country Chamber of the Red Cross, said he and other staff members presented this program in the Hunt, Comfort and Harper school districts last year; and he intends to do the same in Center Point and for private schools in the coming school year.

Brennan Avants, disaster program manager, said this Pillowcase Project was presented in the Kerrville schools already, before last school year.

Additionally, school officials may request the “Pillowcase Project” one-hour presentation for a school or youth program.

The “Mickey and Friends Disaster Preparedness Activity Book” also is available for download.

Teaching children how to be prepared for emergencies is an important part of the campaign.

Red Cross workers also are educating kids about fire safety through The Pillowcase Project, an educational program to teach children how to make sure they are prepared for emergencies and help their loved ones get ready, too.

The Activity Book includes lessons on where hurricanes and tornadoes occur most often; an explanation of earthquake and volcano safety; common damages and protections from them; a home fire escape plan and map; emergency contact plan; each child’s “preparedness network;” likely areas on a U.S. map for home fires, flooding, thunderstorms and lightning and extreme winter storms; a quiz to test learned information; and suggested coping skills.

Sponsored by Disney starting in 2013, The Pillowcase Project has already reached more than 180,000 young people across the country and plans are to reach thousands more by next spring. The program emphasizes the importance of developing an emergency communications plan, fire evacuation plan and emergency contact cards.

Students learn about hazards, how to prepare for emergencies and how to cope. They practice what they have learned and share their knowledge with friends and family. The students receive a pillowcase and are encouraged to create their own emergency supply kits by packing essential items in a pillowcase that they can easily carry during an emergency.

Local Red Cross staff said Disney officials have said that company will be shifting its contributions to more direct disaster relief in the near future, but the Red Cross organization plans to continue the Pillowcase Project because of its value for young students and their families.

Oklahoma success

During recent tornadoes in Oklahoma, the importance of The Pillowcase Project was seen when children who had attended the class were impacted by the storms.

Prior to the tornadoes touching down, the Red Cross had visited several schools in the area to teach kids about being prepared through The Pillowcase Project.

Parents used social media outlets to explain how valuable that training proved to be.

“While we were in the shelter today, my daughter was quoting things she learned from you guys yesterday. She was calm, a big difference from last year. What you do makes a difference. Thank you.”

“Thank u. Today we had a tornado in our town and a couple days ago u came to my son's school and gave him the pillow case full of important things. He took this with him in the shelter today and was more prepared then I was. Thank u.”

“Thank you so much for coming to Winding Creek Elementary in Moore and preparing our students for emergencies! We are heartbroken again for our community and can't thank you enough for helping our kiddos! I'm hearing wonderful stories about how our students stayed calm and followed the procedures they learned from Jennifer this week at school. I appreciate you so much! Moore kids were prepared with their pillow cases provided by you all!” Paula Gifford, Principal.

Find out more

Presentations can be arranged for schools, after-school programs, scout meetings and other sites and events.

For information about the program in this area, contact the local Red Cross Hill Country Chapter at their office at 333 Earl Garrett, or call 257-4677.

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