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Remembering Our First Date

Written by Gail McGovern, President and CEO of the American Red Cross

My husband Don and I enjoyed a very special moment together earlier this month.  In honor of the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday, we celebrated our three decades-plus of marriage by commemorating the meal we shared together during our first date.

Gail and Don White Castle January 2015

Don was new in town and asked me to organize a date that would be “a New York experience.”  I’m sure he expected dinner at an expensive, swanky restaurant, followed by a Broadway show.  Instead I asked him to pick me up at 11 AM dressed in jeans; the rest would be a surprise.  We went to the Bronx Zoo, had dinner at White Castle, and then we went to a Yankees game.  Unbeknownst to me, Don was a diehard Yankees fan, despite being from Tennessee.  (As it turns out, there was a Double A farm team for the Yankees that used to be located right in his home town.)  He was also a HUGE White Castle fan – a true Craver.  When he dropped me off that evening, he said, “I think I’m in love.”  My answer: “Me too.”

Of course, I couldn’t have known then that one day I’d serve as President and CEO of the American Red Cross, which has a long track record of partnering with White Castle in communities across the country.  This month, White Castle has once again sponsored the Turn White Castle Red Campaign – which allows their legion of fans, known as Cravers, to donate $1, $3, or $5 in support of Red Cross Disaster Relief.

On a Monday evening in early February, Don and I found some time to sit down after work and enjoy a meal of delicious White Castle burgers.  As always, it’s such a treat to spend some quality time together on a peaceful evening – and it wasn’t long before we both found ourselves reminiscing back to that first date of ours in the Bronx.

This February, I’m grateful to the entire White Castle community for their commitment to the vital work of the American Red Cross – and Don and I look forward to enjoying many more White Castle meals and memories in the years ahead.

Door to Door: The Story of a Measles Campaign in Benin

The American Red Cross, as part of the Measles & Rubella Initiative, supported a measles vaccination campaign in Benin in November 2014. Some 1,000 Benin Red Cross volunteers went door to door in three different cities to encourage mothers and fathers to vaccinate their children. In all, more than 3 million children were vaccinated as part of the campaign. In this short video, we follow mother Josephine as she takes her children to get vaccinated after Benin Red Cross Volunteer Francoise tells her about the campaign as part of these door to door efforts.

At just $1 per shot, the measles vaccination is one of the most cost effective global health interventions. Learn more and donate at measlesrubellainitiative.org.

This Family Escaped a Home Fire (Thanks to Matthew, Age 5)

Early one morning, around 4:30 a.m., 5-year-old Matthew briefly woke up by smoke alarm beeps, but he went back to sleep.

Matthew remembers, “I woke up then went back to sleep, I woke up then went back to sleep, I woke up then went back to sleep, and then I saw fire at the bottom of our bed.”

After spotting the fire, Matthew immediately screamed, “there’s a fire!” to his brother, Daniel, who was beside him.

They both jumped out of bed and ran to their parent’s bedroom screaming, “there’s a fire!”

Both parents, startled awake, immediately ran into the boy’s bedroom to see what was going on. The boys’ mother, Christy, found not only the ottoman at the bottom of their bed was on fire, but the entire room was fully engulfed in a matter of seconds. She ran back yelling for everyone to “get out of the house now!”

She grabbed baby Maddie while dad (Daniel Sr.) got the boys, and the family frantically ran out of the house. When they were all outside and accounted for, Dad called 9-1-1.

No Home, No Clothes, No Food

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The fire department arrived and began battling the fire.

“We were just standing there in a daze watching our home burn to the ground within a matter of minutes,” said Christy. “Everything we have worked so hard for was in flames. It was all gone. And then I looked down at our children, and remembered it was because of the smoke detector that we were all safe. So I encourage everyone to make sure you have a working smoke detector in your home – it saved our lives.”

As they remained standing outside in the dark, the children started to get cold. They realized the only things they had were the pajamas they were wearing – not even a pair of shoes.

“It was at that point that I comprehended we were homeless – no home, no clothes and no food – we had nothing,” said the elder Daniel. “Then out of nowhere, a Red Cross truck drove up, and it was such a relief to see them. Because of the Red Cross, we didn’t have to sleep in our car. They made it possible for us to have a roof over our head – food to eat, clothes on our back and a great deal of support. We couldn’t have made it without them. Thank you, Red Cross. The work you do and the support you provide are awesome.”

The Aftermath

Today, the family has moved into a new home, and they are slowly getting their lives back together. Matthew is still a little shy when talking about the fire. He holds his stuffed animal tightly when he talks. However; most important to Matthew, and the only time he put his stuffed animal down to chat with Red Crossers again, was to express that he’s had a birthday — he’s is now 6.

Ordinary items (a blanket, clothes, shoes, a smoke detector and more) become extraordinary for home fire survivors like Matthew’s family. Now you can help the Red Cross give back what fire takes.

Learn more about the campaign and how you can fundraise on Crowdrise.com.

Super Bowl XLIX: Four Kitchen Safety Tips for Sunday’s Game Plan

Whether you’re a huge football fan, or are really just in it for the commercials, everyone has one shared Super Bowl experience: the food. Our calorie-fueled celebrations apparently fall second only to Thanksgiving. Solidarity, my friends.

Luckily, the Red Cross understands your priorities this weekend, and we’ve put together four handy tips to help ‘advance’ your fire safety skills while preparing snacks for your party guests. Or for yourself. No judgement.

Keep your eye on the ball.

Do not leave the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen, even to quickly catch that instant replay, turn off the stove first. Michelle understands how important this is.

you got it dude

Sideline flammable items.

Keep your guests and anything that can catch fire—like foam fingers, pom-poms, paper football plates and jerseys— away from the stove. So you don’t end up like this guy:

restofthefire

Run pet interference.

Keep furry friends off cooking surfaces and countertops to prevent them from knocking things onto the burner. Well, maybe you don’t have to watch ALL your pets…

post-35931-tuxedo-cat-counter-jump-fail-g-YdE8

(Just kidding. You do)

Stay in the game.

Remain in the home while simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food. Check it regularly and use a timer (not the game clock) to remind you that food is cooking. We’ll be watching you.

marypoppinsstare

Learn more about the new national home fire campaign and learn how you can help home fire survivors on redcross.org.

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Gif credits

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http://seattlish.com/post/69081173189/fires-caused-by-cooking-now-menacing-area-cats

http://www.reddit.com/r/gifs/comments/1c7lek/the_grace_of_all_cats_is_simply_overwhelming/

http://vontrapps.tumblr.com/post/12989192450

 

Sleeves Up!

As a regular blood donor for nearly 20 years and a previous employee of American Red Cross Blood Services, I understand the amount of time and energy that go into organizing a blood drive. Volunteer blood drive coordinators – from high school administrators, to student organization presidents, to church activities directors – spend hours on logistics, publicity and recruitment in the days and weeks leading up to a blood drive. And they work incredibly hard to make sure everything runs smoothly on collection day. It’s a big job, but as the saying goes, somebody’s gotta do it.

I considered organizing a blood drive once, after a good friend and co-worker of mine suffered a Guillain-Barre Syndrome relapse. However as badly I wanted to host a blood drive in her honor, between family and work I simply couldn’t spare the time needed to guarantee a successful drive.

sleeves-up

But now a new American Red Cross program can help anyone host a blood drive – even those without a connection to a location or organization, and/or those without the time once needed to make it all happen. It’s called SleevesUp.

The new SleevesUp campaign walks coordinators (and I use that term loosely, as very little coordinating is actually required) through creating a virtual blood drive in honor of a birthday or anniversary, or in memory of a loved one. Coordinators can then invite family members and friends across the country to join them in donating blood and helping save lives. Through the online campaign, coordinators can set collection goals, choose a hashtag and upload pictures and stories about why blood donation is important to them. The process is simple and easy, yet personal and effective.

This winter has thus far been a rough one. Inclement weather and wide-spread illness have simultaneously affected blood collections and resulted in a higher-than-usual number of appointment cancellations. What better way to recognize January as National Blood Donor Month than by helping save lives and honoring your special someone with a virtual blood drive?

Let’s go, friends – sleeves up!

Learn more about how the SleevesUp campaign works here.
Read about a few of the currently-collecting SleevesUp blood drives here.
Start your own virtual blood drive here.

“The city that refused to die”

When the Sixaola river dam collapsed in Guabito, Panama, the community was wrecked by severe flooding. But through hard work and perseverance, the town survived and thrived, prompting a local Red Cross volunteer to dub it, “the city that refused to die.”

The American Red Cross works in Guabito and other disaster-prone communities across Latin America to help families prepare for and recover from natural disasters. Through its Resilience in the Americas Program, the Red Cross provides classes to Guabito’s residents on sanitation, health, first aid, risk reduction, and alternative methods for earning income.

We are proud of this grassroots work, knowing that people with basic first aid skills, economic opportunities, and access to clean water are better able to get back on their feet after unexpected disasters.

Fighting Ebola and Its Stigma in Liberia

Jono in LiberiaThis post was written by Jono Anzalone, an American Red Cross division disaster executive who is on a month-long deployment to Liberia with the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).

It’s been three weeks since my plane landed in Liberia, where I’m helping the ICRC to put cash in the hands of families impacted by the Ebola virus. In Liberia alone, Ebola has claimed more than 3,600 lives; 178 of whom were health care workers.

Through our program, called Mobile Money, we identify Ebola survivors and families of the deceased and provide a $200 USD cash transfer payment via SMS text messaging. In a country where the average annual income per capita is less than $500 USD, the cash can make a huge difference. Our goal is to serve up to 4,500 families impacted by the virus and restore economic security in the region. Thus far, we have served 800.

Today, we spoke with a woman whose story stuck with me. She recovered from Ebola, but her husband left her due to stigma attached to the disease. She has five children but no income, no home, and no hope. The $200 USD provided her enough to begin a small business where she was able to regain hope for her family, to the point where she no longer had thoughts of taking her own life. While $200 may seem like a drop in the bucket in the United States, the program in Liberia is truly providing another chance at life for those impacted by Ebola.

The ICRC is the part of the global Red Cross network that works in conflict situations. As such, it has been working in Liberia since the 1970s. The ICRC has a unique mandate under the Geneva conventions to protect victims’ lives and health, to ease their plight, and to ensure that the consequences of conflict—disease, injury, hunger or exposure to the elements—do not jeopardize their future. While emergency assistance saves lives and mitigates the worst effects of conflict, the ICRC tries always to keep sight of the ultimate aim of restoring people’s ability to provide for themselves.

Prior to Ebola, the ICRC was active in promoting humanitarian law, making prison detention visits, and providing economic security to the vulnerable. The ICRC has been building on the capacity to deliver essential services, such as the construction or repair of water-supply systems or medical facilities and the training of primary health care staff for years in Liberia, and saw a dire need during the Ebola outbreak to contribute.

I am humbled to be a small part of the global Red Cross network’s role in this lifesaving mission, and want to thank our American Red Cross donors for their support of the Red Cross—knowing that what they do and the support they provide does have a global impact.

Check out redcross.org/ebolaoutbreak for more information about how the Red Cross’s work in West Africa.

Lifesaving Smoke Alarm Installations: An MLK Day Canvassing Story

Jenny Baragary is a senior officer with Development Opportunities at National Headquarters in Washington D.C. 

My cooking has set off a smoke alarm in more than a few instances. While it may have seemed like an annoyance as I frantically waved a towel by the smoke alarm to stop the beeping, it did provide some reassurance that it would work if a real fire broke out in my apartment. However, after taking part in a smoke alarm installation canvassing event last week, I now know that periodically burning toast is not an effective way to check my smoke alarm.

The canvassing event was set up as part of the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, which aims to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries over the next five years. A major aspect of the campaign is going door-to-door in neighborhoods that are vulnerable to home fires to do two primary things:

  1. Install smoke alarms or replace smoke alarm batteries
  2. Provide residents with fire prevention tips.

I was very excited to see the campaign in action as I joined about 25 other volunteers at the Arlington, Virginia fire station on Martin Luther King Day of Service to receive training and hit the streets armed with new smoke alarms, batteries, fire escape plans and fire prevention materials.

L - Marleny Chavez. M - Camila Chavez. R - James Huddleston v2

Our group of 6 volunteers arrived at our assigned neighborhood and began knocking on doors to explain that we were canvassing the neighborhood to check smoke alarms. At first this was a little intimidating, but most residents were friendly. Once they heard about what we were doing, they were more than happy to let us into their homes.

I was shocked at the number of people who didn’t have a working smoke alarm. In many cases, all we needed to do was change the batteries in the alarm. In other cases, we removed the nonfunctioning alarm and replaced it with a new alarm. In either case, it took just a few minutes to provide the family with a lifesaving tool.

As the afternoon went on and word spread across the neighborhood, residents asked us to visit their neighbors to ensure their smoke alarms were working too! In some cases, people actually met us at the door before we could even knock. In a matter of hours, we canvassed the entire neighborhood, installing several smoke alarms, replacing even more batteries and potentially saving lives.

L - Peter McDonnen. M - Emily Jorgensen. R - Sarah Bergin v2

Canvassing events are happening throughout the nation so there are still plenty opportunities to take part!  Learn more about the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign and find out how you can help at redcross.org.

The Ultimate Guide for Winter Weather Safety

As a winter storm threatens millions of people along the East Coast, the Red Cross has winter storm tips to help you ride out the storm safely.

(And if you don’t have an emergency kit together, start with that!)

In your house:

pet winter safety

  • If there’s a power outage, go to a designated public shelter to stay warm. 
  • Keep your thermostat at the same setting day and night.
  • Bring pets indoors. If that’s not possible, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm and that they can get to unfrozen water.
  • Run water, even at a trickle, to help stop pipes from freezing. Keep garage doors closed if there are water lines in the garage
  • Before taking on tasks such as shoveling snow, consider your physical condition.
  • Insulate your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

Outside:

  • Know the signs of hypothermia – confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. If someone has these symptoms, they should get immediate medical attention.
  • Watch for symptoms of frostbite including numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness or waxy feeling skin.

In the car:WinterStormTips_snowman

  • The safest thing to do during a winter storm is stay off the roads if possible.
  • Winterize your vehicle and keep the gas tank full. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Clean the lights and windows to help you see.
  • If you can, avoid driving in sleet, freezing rain, snow or dense fog. If you have to drive, make sure everyone has their seat belts on and give your full attention to the road. Avoid distractions such as cell phones.
  • If you have to travel, keep a disaster supplies kit in the car.
  • Don’t follow other vehicles too closely. Sudden stops are difficult on snowy roadways.
  • Don’t use cruise control when driving in winter weather.
  • Don’t pass the snow plow truck.
  • Find out what the weather is where you are traveling. Before you leave, let someone know where you are going, the route you plan to take, and when you expect to get there. If your car gets stuck, help can be sent along your predetermined route.

If you’re stuck in the car:Slide1

  • If someone does get stuck, stay with the car. Do not try to walk to safety. (Unless, of course, you can see a heated building that you can safely get to)
  • Tie a brightly colored cloth (preferably red) to the antenna for rescuers to see.
  • Start the car and use the heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Keep the exhaust pipe clear so fumes won’t back up in the car.
  • Leave the overhead light on when the engine is running to help rescuers see the vehicle.
  • Keep one window away from the blowing wind slightly open to let in air.

Out in the cold:

  • Dressing in several layers of lightweight clothing keeps someone warmer than a single heavy coat.
  • Mittens provide more warmth to the hands than gloves. Wear a hat, preferably one that covers the ears.
  • Wear waterproof, insulated boots to keep feet warm and dry and to maintain one’s footing in ice and snow.

Remember, when temperatures drop and snow storms roll in, check on your elderly neighbors and help those who may need special assistance, including people with disabilities and children.

It’s a Small World: Measles Anywhere is Measles Everywhere

Children visited by Red Cross volunteers during a social mobilization effort for measles in Benin. Photo: American Red Cross/Niki Clark

Children visited by Red Cross volunteers during a social mobilization effort for measles in Benin. Photo: American Red Cross/Niki Clark

It’s almost become a cliché in the headlines. But in many ways, it’s true. It is a small world. While news of the measles outbreak at California’s Disneyland and information about vaccinations are making headlines this week, the American Red Cross has been focused on the virus—and its elimination—for nearly a decade and a half. Because measles anywhere means measles everywhere.

Even though measles was eliminated from the United States in 2000, outbreaks can occur when unvaccinated travelers pick up the measles abroad, importing the virus as an unwelcome, and often unknown, souvenir. Last year’s outbreaks in Ohio, Washington state, New York, San Diego and Nebraska have all been linked back to unvaccinated Americans that had recently visited measles hotspots abroad.

Those hotspots are exactly the type of places where M&RI is working the hardest. Since 2001, the Red Cross, as a partner in the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI), has vaccinated 1.1 billion children in some 80 countries, helping to raise measles vaccination coverage to 84% globally, and reduced measles deaths by 71%. Which means there are less chances of measles being imported into countries that have already eliminated the virus. And while health advances have been impressive, outbreaks like the one in California—now confirmed at 51 cases—have clearly demonstrated that the work of M&RI is far from over.

The Red Cross serves a unique role in measles and rubella campaigns. In a world where one in every 500 people on the planet is a Red Cross volunteer, our reach is unsurpassed. And that reach enables us to go door to door in communities where campaigns are happening, both before, during and after, spreading the word to mothers and families. In order for a campaign to be considered successful, a 95% coverage rate is needed. Red Cross volunteers, neighbors living in the communities in which they work, can help this happen.

Measles is a highly contagious virus, spread by contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing. When one person has measles, 90% of people they come into close contact with will become infected, if they are not already immune through vaccination or previous contraction.

Before the formation of M&RI, more than 562,000 children died worldwide from measles complications each year, some 1,539 every day, mostly children under five years of age. While there have been great improvements, today an estimated 122,000 children—approximately 330 per day—still die from measles-related complications every year. This number is even more tragic when considering that is only costs $1 to vaccinate a child, making it one of the most cost effective global health interventions.

It is a small world. Outbreaks in Africa, Asia and Europe later show up as outbreaks on our own front doors. But together, we can eliminate measles once and for all.

For more information or to donate, visit www.measlesrubellainitiative.org. To see how Red Cross volunteers help spread the word during measles campaigns, watch Door to Door: A Measles Campaign in Benin.