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In Big Ways and Small, Haiti Continues to Recover

This post was written by Jenelle Eli, a member of American Red Cross’s international communications team, who travels often to Haiti.  

Each time I travel to Haiti, I’m amazed by the progress that has been made in between my trips. What was a school under construction this summer was handed over in autumn to the school principal—new desks, chalkboards, latrines, and all. What was a quarter-finished walkway is now a well-trod path for neighborhood residents.

Some months ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Haiti with Gail McGovern, President & CEO of the American Red Cross. While I’ve been coming to Haiti for about two years now, Gail has been traveling here since the earthquake struck. The changes she has seen in those past six years have been striking.

“Every time I come back to Haiti, I see it improve a little. But this time, it is a huge leap,” she told a group of American Red Cross staff members during her trip. That’s not an exaggeration. During a walkabout of Campeche—one of eight neighborhoods benefiting from American Red Cross’s LAMIKA project—those leaps of progress were made abundantly clear.

Newly-constructed stairways replace the steep rocky inclines we had to climb in the past; solar streetlights dot the landscape that was once pitch black at night; houses that were damaged or precarious are now busy, disaster-resistant homes. These are no minor feats. Indeed, the stairways improve accessibility, which creates an environment that is safer and more conducive to economic expansion. The streetlights can prevent crime, enable businesses to stay open later, and even allow kids do their homework after the sun sets.

In the first year after the earthquake, one mother told us that she had used a Red Cross cash grant to buy her daughter a school uniform—a small but important way that her family was returning to normalcy. Now, Campeche is home to this airy and earthquake-safe school, Ecole CEMEAH. Renovated with funds donated to the American Red Cross—it’s one of ten educational facilities to be reconstructed or expanded by the American Red Cross in Campeche and neighborhoods nearby.

Click here to see more photos of the school and meet a student >>

We also visited Canaan—an area of about 200,000 inhabitants that was completely unoccupied before the 2010 earthquake. Now a busy city, its residents are served by a Haitian Red Cross health post, which offers residents access to basic health services and medicine. The American Red Cross is funding that health post and is working with the residents of Canaan to promote safe development and prepare them for future disasters.

As our trip came to a close, Gail offered words about the generous people who made all this progress—and more­—possible, “Anyone who donated to the Red Cross would be so proud of the work I am seeing here.”

For more information about our work in Haiti, visit redcross.org/haiti

The Gift of Life: A Blood Recipient’s Poem of Gratitude

Christi 008In 1998, Christi Mead Nielsen’s life was first touched by American Red Cross blood donors when she had two valves in her heart replaced. Over the next 12 years, she received more than 50 blood transfusions, all from generous volunteer blood donors.

Christi passed away in September 2010 at the age of 47 after many years of complications from heart disease. Her funeral sermon included these words: “Chris found joy in life because she was filled with gratitude.”

The aspiring author’s gratitude extended to the Red Cross blood donors who gave her more time, more life and more stories to tell. Following Christi’s death, her husband, Kim, found the following poem that she once wrote.

The Gift of Life

Someone saved my life today.

I don’t know who they are

or even know their name.

I don’t know if they are male or female

or the color of their eyes or skin or hair.

I don’t know how they make their living

or what they dream of doing when they go out to play.

I don’t know if they believe in God

or just the kindness of strangers.

I don’t know what made them open that door

and leave a part of themselves inside.

I do know their priceless gift was the difference between life and death.

My life. My death.

Without their gift

my husband would be without his wife,

my son without his mother.

People I love would mourn

a sister, a daughter, a friend.

Without their gift

my dreams would have died

unrealized, unshared, unexplored.

But someone saved my life today

with a sacrificial gift of blood.

My family lives together

whole.

I live a life of dreams I now make real.

Someone saved my life today.

I don’t know who or where or why.

Whoever you are

I would just like to say

Thank you.

This January, National Blood Donor Month, we join Christi in expressing our gratitude for the volunteers who roll up a sleeve to help patients in need through the Red Cross.

We’re also asking for their generosity again. We have an urgent need for blood and platelet donors of all types to give blood now to help prevent a shortage.

You can help give patients like Christi another reason to be grateful. Please schedule your appointment by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

The Ultimate Guide for Winter Weather Safety

As winter hits full stride across the country, the Red Cross offers these winter storm tips to help you safely weather the storms.

(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 winter storms roll in, check on your elderly neighbors and help those who may need special assistance, including people with disabilities and children.

Quick Tips:

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Fire Safety Resolutions for 2016

Want to make a resolution that can help protect your loved ones? Here at the Red Cross, we want to make sure you are prepared for emergencies — especially home fires — in 2016.

Here are two simple steps you can take. The first is to practice your 2-minute drill; can your family safely escape your home in under two minutes? The second is to make sure you have smoke alarms installed in every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Test the batteries every month, and replace the batteries at least once a year.

Additionally, following a few simple guidelines can go a long way towards preventing home fire deaths and injuries.

Resolution #1: Electrical Appliances

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Resolution #2: Candles

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Resolution #3: Outlets

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Resolution #4: Cooking Safety132401-Twitter-Fire-Safety-Resolutions-FINAL-stove

Resolution #5: Space Heaters

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With the help of thousands of local partners, our Home Fire Campaign has installed 215,000 smoke alarms for free in homes across America. Fire safety programs have educated 395,000 youth. To date, the campaign has been credited with saving at least 39 lives. Here’s to a safe and happy New Year!

Your Yearly Calendar: Red Cross Tips and Reminders

On one hand, I really enjoy keeping my household updated on safety checks and preparedness items. On the other, I’m admittedly really, really bad at remembering to do everything. I depend on an assortment of online tools to keep most of my life together, so why not add on a nice calendar to remind me about things like checking my smoke alarm and cycling items out of my survival kit?

To stay on track without having to come back to this post, use our public Google Calendar or print this nifty pdf for your own list to stick on the fridge.

Every month

  • Test smoke alarm batteries

Every three months

Every 56 days

  • Donate blood (see redcrossblood.org for additional qualifications and information. Calendar reminder quarterly) Note: Blood (whole blood) can be donated every 56 days. Platelets can be donated every 7 days, up to 24 times per year.

Twice a year

  • Practice your home fire family escape plan.
  • Turn and Test! Test/replace smoke alarm batteries and turn your clocks an hour ahead or behind.
  • Check and restock if needed your emergency kit’s food, water and medicine supply.

Every two years

  • Take a First Aid/CPR/AED course to keep your certification current (calendar reminder yearly)

Every 10 years

  • Replace smoke alarms 

 View the Google Calendar | Download the iCAL file | Printable List

(Click the Google Calendar button  – Google Calendar Icon – at the bottom of the embedded calendar below to open this up in your own Google Calendar list. It should show up in the list of “Other calendars”) 

How Our Preparedness Kit Taught Me to Re-Define Disaster

By Leigh-Anne Dennison, American Red Cross Communicator

After moving into our own first house, I brought to a happy corner of our finished basement my ready-made backpack preparedness kit and a large plastic bin. Over the course of a few weeks, as we moved around and unpacked boxes, I filled the bin with all the things I know you need in a disaster preparedness kit. A new family first aid kit, bottled water, travel-sized toiletries for me and my spouse, a few rolls of extra toilet paper and so on.

As months and years wore on, our new home came together, and situations arose that prompted trips to our basement preparedness kit. Mostly little things…

  • Organizing the boxes in our attic necessitated my use of a dust mask to keep allergies from devastating my sinuses and latex gloves to protect my hands from the dry air and possible splinters.
  • The first aid kit in the bathroom ran out of bandages, but the first aid kit in the basement was full.
  • A pair of feral cats moved into our garage in one of the coldest winters on record – the emergency mylar blanket from our go bag and a couple leftover Styrofoam coolers from summer became a make-shift insulated shelter to help shield them from the cold.
  • A “boil water warning” that followed a storm that had knocked out power had me snatching bottled water from our emergency supply.
  • The can opener at my husband’s office kitchen disappeared, and he needed one to take with him to open his soup for lunch.
  • Then there’s that time I forgot to pick up new toilet tissue during our weekly grocery trip…

The first few times I felt badly about dipping into our “stash” of preparedness supplies, until I realized that not every disaster comes with lightning, thunder and 50-mph winds or is accompanied by sirens or warnings from the Emergency Broadcast System. Sometimes we just need to be ready for the scraped knee that comes from falling while riding a bike or be prepared to offer creature comforts to a stranger (or two) who crosses our path.

That epiphany was followed by another thought – while it’s okay to take from your preparedness kit when faced with life’s little emergencies, you also have to replenish your supplies. You want to be sure they are ready and waiting for you the next time you have a skull-splitting headache and reach into your medicine cabinet only to find the bottle of aspirin is empty.

As I inventoried our disaster supplies, Chewbacca pointed out that our kit seemed seriously lacking in emergency kitten supplies. He's right, of course, so cat food, treats and toys are being added to our replenishment list.
As I inventoried our disaster supplies, Chewbacca pointed out that our kit seemed seriously lacking in emergency kitten supplies. He’s right, of course, so cat food, treats and toys are being added to our replenishment list.

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The Meaning of Volunteering — Wise Words from Red Cross Donut Dollies

Written by Greta Gustafson, Media Relations Intern, American Red Cross

I had the privilege of mingling with some of the Red Cross Donut Dollies at the American Red Cross Overseas Association (ARCOA) award ceremony in October. These amazing women have served members of the U.S. military in WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, among many other military operations, helping to support soldiers and their families. I didn’t think I would have much in common with them, but the majority had recently graduated college when they chose to serve overseas, and they were looking for something meaningful and exciting. As we poured over old photographs together, they reminisced about their life changing volunteer experiences, and they left me with advice I will always remember.

  1. There is nothing more fulfilling than helping others.
    “It is so satisfying because individual volunteers go out and literally put themselves on the line; put their lives on the line. There’s no finer group of people I’ve ever worked with. My Red Cross experience changed my whole belief system about people, because of the military men I helped provide service for.” -Elaine Bailey, Vietnam
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  2. Experience is truly the best way to learn.
    “I think the Red Cross was probably the best graduate school I could have ever attended. I learned more from that one year of volunteer experience both about myself but also about really challenging myself, and stretching what I thought I was capable of doing or was maybe afraid of doing, and Red Cross doesn’t give you a chance to say no. You just get in there and start doing it.” – Carolina Smith Morton, Vietnam
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  3. Sometimes you have to take a chance and step out of your comfort zone.
    For many of these women, it was their first time overseas, or even away from home. But Payton Wooldridge, a Donut Dolly in Vietnam, said it best, “Why not?  It will change your life. It’s worth every minute.”

This holiday season, draw some inspiration from the Donut Dollies and consider how you can dedicate time to something meaningful, by helping others. The Red Cross provides numerous opportunities to get involved in your community. To find out how you can help, visit http://www.redcross.org/support/volunteer.

#GiveWithMeaning: 10 Days of Giving Back

We’ll be updating this blog post for the next 10 days leading up to Giving Tuesday. Follow Red Cross on Facebook and Twitter, as well as this post here!


DAY 1 — Providing Emergency Messages to Service Members

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Being separated from family is difficult, especially in times of an emergency. We help deliver urgent messages to service members who may need to return home during a family crisis. The Red Cross is the only organization trusted to provide verified reports of family events, such as births, illnesses or deaths, enabling service members and their commanders to assess the need to return home.

Major Andy Anderson was one service member who was helped by our emergency messaging services while he was deployed to Iraq. Hear him tell his story about how he was able to return home for the birth of his child thanks to this important message.

DAY 2 — Preparing Kids for the Unexpected

123201 Holiday 2015_Social Image_Day 2Inspired by university students carrying their belongings in pillowcases during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, The Pillowcase Project is a free emergency preparedness program developed by the Red Cross for 3rd to 5th graders. Interactive lessons focus on three principles: learn, practice and share. Students are taught about home fire prevention and safety, and other potential hazards such as tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes.  Since the 2013 pilot launched, more than 300,000 young students have participated in the program. Learn more at redcross.org/prepare.

Kids can also learn about disaster preparedness through the Red Cross app Monster Guard, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, or by texting “MONSTER” to 90999.

 

DAY 3 — Helping Families After Typhoon Haiyan

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Two years after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, families and neighborhoods are healthier, safer and better prepared for future storms and emergencies. Ten thousand families are now living in safer shelter, and more than 10,000 households have received cash grants to help them restart businesses or create new income-generating opportunities. To learn more, visit redcross.org/Haiyan.

DAY 4 — Our Young Leaders on #GiveWithMeaning
This month, 10 members of the Red Cross National Youth Council came together at the St. Louis Area Chapter to recap the past year and to plan for 2016. Here, they give 10 reasons why they love the Red Cross. If you’d like to share as well, we’d love to hear from you! Simply use the hashtag #GiveWithMeaning.

DAY 5 — Giving Thanks to Volunteers

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It’s been another busy year across the country and around the world for American Red Cross volunteers as they have answered the call to help those in need time and again. Whether providing disaster relief, serving military families, helping at blood drives, providing lifesaving training, or helping communities get disaster prepared, it is the heart and selflessness of volunteers that make it happen and get the work done!

Read a few stories of our volunteers near and far.

 

DAY 6 — Safe Travels This Thanksgiving
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Millions of people will be traveling to visit loved ones for the Thanksgiving holiday. Whether you’re making a quick trip to the mall for holiday shopping or traveling across state lines to share a meal with family, the Red Cross has a list of easy travel tips to help keep you safe: http://rdcrss.org/travelsafe

DAY 7 — Rallying Communities Around Fire Safety
In communities across the country, the Red Cross is spreading the word on fire safety by installing smoke alarms, and helping families create their home escape plans. Learn more about our Home Fire Campaign here: http://www.redcross.org/home-fire

DAY 8 — Give Blood, Get Recipes
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The holidays are a time for families to come together for old traditions, favorite recipes and comfort food. There’s a big act of service in preparing a holiday meal. Serving a favorite meal to someone else shows them how much you care.

There’s also a big act of service in donating blood or platelets. Along with our celebrity chef partners, we would like to say thank you. When you come to donate at a Red Cross blood drive from Nov. 25 to Nov. 29, you’ll receive recipes, courtesy of John Besh, Richard Blais, Rocco DiSpirito, Mike Isabella, Ellie Krieger and Ali Larter, along with a limited-edition holiday serving spoon (while supplies last). Your donation and gift of time means so much to so many this holiday season. Book your appointment by downloading the free Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting http://rcblood.org/thanksgiving or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

 

DAY 9 — Pizza Boy Turned Pizza Man
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When 19-year-old Anson Lemmer went on a routine pizza delivery run, his Red Cross babysitter training was far from his mind. But that delivery turned into a chance for Anson to save a stranger’s life using the CPR skills he learned from the Red Cross. His unforgettable quote – “I left a pizza boy and returned a pizza man” leaves us applauding, and wondering: Who is the next Anson? You could end up saving the life of someone you love dearly – or the life of a total stranger. Find Red Cross courses available in your area.

 

DAY 10 — Join us in Celebration
Welcome! We’re glad you’re here. In the spirit of #GiveWithMeaning, we’re counting down the stories that inspired us, humbled us and make us proud to be Red Crossers. Watch this special video to learn more about the 10 Days of Giving Back.

Giving Thanks to Volunteers

It’s been another busy year across the country and around the world for American Red Cross volunteers as they have answered the call to the help those in need time and time again. Whether providing disaster relief, serving military families, helping at blood drives, providing lifesaving training, or helping communities get disaster prepared, it is the heart and selflessness of volunteers that makes it happen and gets the work done!

The following are but a few stories of some of the volunteers making the work possible. Please share your own story in the comments below.

Susie Mahlstede (left) became a Red Cross volunteer in October when her community in Austin, Texas was struck by flooding. At the local emergency shelter she met Edna Quensel, a Red Cross volunteer of more than 20 years from Ticonderoga, New York. Together they teamed with other volunteers to help neighbors find safe refuge from the storm. Both have persevered through their own personal heartache to bring comfort to those in need. Read more of their heartwarming story here.

JohnMcCombs

In addition to working his full-time job, John McCombs also volunteers for the Lowcountry, South Carolina Chapter of the Red Cross. There he leads Home Fire Campaign efforts to install smoke alarms and make local communities safer and better prepared. In addition he is also a Disaster Action Team member responding to local disasters and, in his “spare time,” also helps out with Public Affairs!

 

JillJill Hofmann (center) of Santa Cruz, California has been a Red Cross volunteer for 34 years! Her International Services work with the Red Cross has taken her to an earthquake in Turkey, floods in Venezuela, refugee camps in Croatia, and a typhoon in the Philippines. In the United States, she has responded to every type of disaster, including months spent in New York City following 9/11. She is fluent in Spanish, a Disaster Mental Health manager, and an instructor for Disaster Cycle Services and International Services. Truly a talented and invaluable volunteer.

Don

Don Nelson, a Red Cross disaster volunteer from Endicott, New York, replenishes some of the shelter supply boxes at the Wenatchee, Washington, Red Cross chapter. When wildfires hit the State of Washington, Nelson deployed as a specialist in Red Cross care and sheltering, traveling across the country to help. When disaster strikes, volunteers like Don put their own lives back home on hold for several weeks at a time to make sure affected communities get the help that they need. Photo Credit: Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross

WichitaFalls

This past spring and fall, the State of Texas was slammed with historic storms, flooding, and destruction. Thousands of volunteers and supporters from around the country came together to assist affected communities by providing more than 350,000 meals, more than 200,000 clean-up items and running nearly 100 shelters. Pictured here is the volunteer team in Wichita Falls during Spring floods, representing so many who came together to help!

On this day and every day, we extend our deepest gratitude to those who give so much of themselves in service to others. Thank you to ALL Red Cross volunteers!

5 Cooking Safety Tips to be Thankful For

Written by Greta Gustafson, Media Relations Intern, American Red Cross

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During my last Thanksgiving at home my family’s tiny kitchen was filled with more than 20 people immersed in the chaos of cooking, snacking and catching up. Among the laughter and conversation, there was a loud crash and a profane exclamation from my dad. Everyone stopped their conversations and looked toward the oven. Our massive turkey slipped from the rack onto the heating elements in the oven, resulting in a grease fire. The kitchen quickly filled with smoke. My mom immediately ran to grab a rag to extinguish the fire while my dad grabbed the burning bird. Thankfully together they salvaged the turkey, minus a few crisp appendages, and the celebration continued.

Call it luck or stupidity, but this was the third time this same catastrophe occurred during our Thanksgiving celebrations. We always managed to save the turkey and our home, year after year. However, this is no way to spend Thanksgiving, and I urge you to learn from our mistakes!

Cooking fires are the most common cause of home fires and fire injuries, and Thanksgiving is a time when you are more likely to be distracted while preparing a meal. According to The National Fire Protection Association, 45 percent of all home fires are caused by cooking equipment.

The American Red Cross recommends these tips to make sure all family and food make it safely to the table:

  1. Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup.
    My family could have really benefited from remembering to clean the oven prior to roasting the turkey.
  1. Consider purchasing a fire extinguisher to keep in your kitchen. Contact your local fire department for training on the proper use of extinguishers.
    Using a rag to put out a fire is not the best method.
  1. Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms if you sleep with doors closed. Use the test button to check it each month and replace all batteries at least once a year.
    This was one thing my family had going for us. Following the mini-fires we always knew our smoke alarms were working well. But you can easily test your alarms without going through this exercise.
  1. Keep children and pets away from the cooking area. Ensure they stay at least three feet away from the over and stove.
    This is incredibly important. Small cooking fires can happen at any time.
  1. If you’re simmering, baking, roasting or broiling food, check on it regularly.
    I can’t stress this one enough. If my parents weren’t quick enough to put out the flames, we may not have been so lucky.

This Thanksgiving, I recommend being prepared and following the steps above to help avoid cooking fires and to enjoy a safe and festive holiday season.