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Where It’s Needed Most: Help for Home Fires in 2014

You know we’re approaching the end of the year when you spend the better part of the week watching year-in-review videos from our favorite social networks (what? Just me?). Not one to be left out, the Red Cross released the annual year-end summary of stats and impact. Take a gander at the nifty visuals (and share them with a friend, why don’t ya?)

Here’s a preview. Head online to check out the whole thing.

Infographic grab

Our work is made possible by the generosity of the American public. You can help people affected by disasters big and small by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables us to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters.

You can donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Your donation helps provide food, shelter and emotional support to those affected by disasters.

Real Adventures in Babysitting

Grant Hansen is a Director, Product Development (First Aid/CPR/AED & Babysitting) for the American Red Cross.

When the Red Cross put out a call for “so-bad-they’re-funny” babysitting stories, we got quite the response.

It goes to show that when our Babysitting Basics and Advanced Child Care Training instructors tell sitters to be prepared for the unexpected, they are right on the money.

A half hour after putting a baby to bed, contest winner McKenna, 13, heard a strange sound coming from the room. Alarmed, she bolted upstairs, only to find the baby giggling while sound asleep. (That must have been some funny dream!) As the contest winner, McKenna and a friend will attend the Red Cross Babysitting Basics course for free, and they’ll blog about it here.

Here are some babysitting adventures that caught our attention.

• Bridgette, 12, sent one of her charges to his room for misbehaving. Not five minutes later, the frantic boy called Bridgette for help because he had managed to get his toy poodle trapped between the window and the screen. It took Bridgette’s dad, a ladder and a gaggle of neighbors to free the dog. Babysitters, keep an eye on the small pets, especially around mischief-makers.

• On a fairly normal day of babysitting, Reece, 13, changed a rather dirty diaper – not a big deal for this seasoned sitter. But then her little charge kept going. And going. And going. Sums up Reece, “Sometimes they go, and then they GO!”

• Rebecca, 14, took her eyes off her charge for three minutes, which apparently was enough time for him decorate himself and the kitchen floor with a once-full bottle of pancake syrup.

• And finally, bedtime went fine for the 4-year-old girl that Rhiannon, 13, was watching. Rhiannon spent a lot more time with the 6-month-old baby, who had colic and kept crying. After the baby finally drifted off, Rhiannon tiptoed down the hall to check on the 4-year-old. The little girl was gone and didn’t answer, and so Rhiannon called the parents on the phone. To her surprise, they calmly asked if she had checked under the little girl’s bed, which was where she sleeps when the baby cries. Sure enough, this story had a happy ending.

Would you know what to do in these situations? Want to know more? Check out all three Red Cross babysitting course options:

Advanced Child Care Training for ages 16 and up
Babysitter’s Training for sitters aged 11-15. This course also comes with the option of adding pediatric first aid, CPR and AED training.
Babysitting Basics, a self-paced online course for ages 11-15.

Holiday Quiz! Cooking and Decorating Fire Safety

‘Tis the season for stuffing your face with cookies and outdoing your neighbor’s holiday light show. (Or something like that.) While merriment and holiday fun is encouraged, do you know how to stay safe?

Take the quiz, and then use the questions as small talk at your next holiday party. You’ll thank us later.

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Holiday Gifting That Matters

I start my holiday shopping in January. Yes, January. When I see something that I know one of my family members, friends, neighbors, or kids’ teachers would love, regardless of the time of year, I buy it right that very minute and store it until the following December. This shopping method keeps me ahead of the holiday game, and alleviates a great deal of the stress I once associated with this busy time of year.

At the end of November I check my list (twice) to determine for whom I still need to buy gifts. Despite the fact that I start shopping a little earlier (alright, A LOT earlier) than most people, I still find myself without presents for some of my harder-to-buy-for family members and friends. These folks always seem to have everything they need and want, so instead of buying sweaters they won’t wear or picture frames they won’t use, I purchase “gifts” in their names for those in need through the American Red Cross Holiday Gift Catalog.

Here are a few of my favorite options from this year’s catalog:

  • Reconnection Workshops ($30 and up) After returning from deployment many service members have difficulty readjusting to home life. These workshops are led by mental health professionals and help restore military families by teaching communication skills, anger management techniques, and how to recognize signs of depression and PTSD.
  • Hot Meals ($30 and up) In the wake of a disaster, many in affected areas find themselves without food and/or water. American Red Cross volunteers provide those in need with hearty, comforting meals to give them strength for the challenges ahead.
  • Vaccinations for 25 Children ($25) Measles still kills an estimated 330 people – mostly children – every day. This gift provides children with a lifetime of protection against this deadly disease.
  • Emergency Family Kits ($100 and up) When international disasters strike, many families find themselves with next to nothing and barely able to survive in the blink of an eye. The American Red Cross sends Emergency Family Kits, which contain a cooking set, toilet paper, toothbrushes, water containers, and blankets, overseas to help these families through their first few difficult weeks.

images-1Take a moment to browse the 2014 American Red Cross Holiday Gift Catalog. Perhaps you’ll find the perfect gift for your hard-to-buy-for family members and friends!

Holiday Sweater Alternatives: Symbolic Gift Ideas

Looking for some fresh new giving ideas? Only finding weird Christmas sweaters left in the stores?  Whatever the case, the American Red Cross Holiday Gift Catalog has you covered:


Give blankets to children and families standing in the cold after their home is destroyed by fire. (Note: Blankets will be delivered in a normal, square shape. Not sewn together into a two-headed sweater).

B and S


Help keep babies healthy in the aftermath of disasters.

Stephanie and baby


Help provide items like a toothbrush and a robe for injured military members brought in from the battlefield with no personal belongings. It’s always nice to have your own things. Otherwise, someone might get hurt. #Sharingiscaring

H and S fight


Instead of trying to exchange gifts with coworkers, why not pool your money and gift vaccinations to an entire village? Our international team will [heart] you if do!

J and N heart


Here’s your chance to help ensure an ongoing blood supply without rolling up a sleeve. Or dealing with whatever this is:

Givingblood chair fial

BONUS FEATURES Let people know you honored them with a gift, or encourage them to donate as well, with free holiday greeting cards or eCards to announce your donation. There’s also an opportunity to grab some Red Cross swag for yourself. While supplies last, you could pick up a Red Cross water bottle, fleece throw, messenger bag and first aid kit and more.

Head online to help our troops, fulfill urgent needs in the United States and show your compassion for global needs – all with the click of a button.

Appreciating Restoring Family Links Volunteers

Story by Lisa Ghali, National Headquarters, Caseworker for Europe and Asia













Working for the Red Cross has given me the opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and a wide range of life experiences.  After dedicating the last nine years to the Red Cross mission, I can honestly say I’m still amazed at the commitment and effort of our devoted volunteers.  From the time I worked at the local chapter to here at the national office, I have watched these wonderful people give their lives to alleviating the suffering of those in need.  For this year’s International Volunteer Day, I would like to whole heartedly thank three volunteers, who through the years have exemplified the Red Cross Fundamental Principle of Volunteer Service.  Betsy Amin-Arsala, Annie Werbinsky and Leslie Cartier, my hat is off to you.  Thank you.

Betsy Amin-Arsala worked for the Red Cross long before I arrived and can always be relied upon to reveal the historical knowledge of our program.   She is able to answer questions that no one else can with a lively and generous spirit.  Betsy’s investigative and research abilities enable us to locate and reconnect families across the nation and around the world.

We also benefit from Betsy’s travels as she provides cultural insights through her storytelling, which always captivates the Restoring Family Links team.  Once, Betsy invited the entire RFL unit to her home to teach us how to sew.  Rather than paying attention to my stitching, I found myself wrapped in the details of her times living in Afghanistan!  Betsy’s a lifer, meaning that she has made the commitment throughout her life to the Red Cross mission.

Annie Werbinsky has also dedicated her life to volunteerism, even when she was working full time.  When I asked her why, she looked at me in disbelief and said “of course, it is always important to give back to society.”  Annie began volunteering with the Red Cross in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, monitoring and evaluating how we provided services.  From there, Annie worked with the Historical Tours program and the Safe and Well unit, making her a perfect fit for RFL.

Annie wholeheartedly brought a wealth of information from our counterparts and immediately engaged in the effort to reconnect separated families.  I remember once we went to the National Archives to look at old Red Cross documents and Annie seemed right at home buried in the records and coordinating with our colleagues.  Her attention to detail and great compassion is illustrated in her work consistently finding and reconnecting family members.

Leslie Cartier had been a volunteer at the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center in Baltimore, Maryland when it transitioned to the Restoring Family Links unit at National Headquarters.   At the beginning of the transition, Leslie and I were introduced.  We realized we recognized each other’s names from when I worked on WWII cases at the local level in New York!  Our mutual dedication to the program was apparent and we quickly went about collaborating with each other on reconnecting families separated by various humanitarian crises.

Leslie sometimes seems like a hard working ghost, because she is able to get work done without actually being in the office!  Leslie is RFL’s first virtual volunteer, dedicating countless hours to the RFL mission from her home in Florida. She has strong research skills with a knack for finding information and people when all others have hit a dead end.

Leslie and I had a conversation the other day when we were figuring out how long we had been collaborating on casework.  She said, “I’ve worked for you since the Center closed.”   I immediately responded, “No, Leslie, we have been volunteer partners since then.”  This is what I think of all the volunteers who dedicate their time to working for the Red Cross.  They are our partners in a mission and critical to the success of the Red Cross Movement. Each year, thousands of families are reconnected because of the compassion and dedication of volunteers across the US and around the globe.  For this year’s International Volunteer Day, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to these three volunteers as well as every volunteer that makes reconnecting families possible.

Red Cross Counters Most Recent Media Stories Regarding Spending

We stand by the fact that an average of 91 cents of every dollar the American Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. Our financial statements are clear in this regard. Our costs are listed in those statements and have long been available on our website for transparency.  They are audited each year by an independent auditor. You can view our official media statement on our website.

The story omits crucial context that was given to the reporters over the course of responding to several waves of questions. That context is included below:

The Red Cross has misled the public about its overhead expenses, which are actually higher than the 9% it claims.

This is unequivocally false. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. We firmly stand by that. As we have always said, this percentage is calculated on overall spending each year of the entire organization, and spending on management, general and fundraising.

Our 9% support services cost is based on information contained in our audited financial statements, which are available on our public website. Here are those public figures for the past several fiscal years, -in the exact format we provided to ProPublica and which they chose to ignore in their reporting:



Management & General

Subtotal MF&G

Total Program Services

Total Expenses

Ratio Supporting Services/Total Expenses




































(In thousands)

The management/general figure covers work that supports the entire Red Cross, since we also must fundraise for our programs across the entire organization as well, not just disasters.

In a wide range of our materials, donor stewardship reports and financial statements, the Red Cross has said that an average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs.

There have been cases in which we could have been clearer about this and we have worked to correct that. But the idea that there has been any attempt to mislead the public is totally false.

The Red Cross refused to say the percentage of donor dollars going to humanitarian services.

This is not true and is yet another example of critical context being left out of the story. Here is the exact response we provided to ProPublica on this matter, clearly indicating that we do not track our costs in the way they requested, not that we refused to provide the information:

“We are not declining to say what percentage of a dollar is accurate. The Red Cross receives contributions from many different sources-not just fundraising-so whether you support the Red Cross through a financial contribution, or a donation of blood, or an in-kind donation of clothing or other goods, an average of 91 cents of those donations are invested in our humanitarian programs and services. All of these are important donations to the Red Cross, and we do not track management, general and fundraising to each separately.”

The Red Cross’ public “meals served” number actually reflects the number of meals prepared.

The Red Cross’ public “meals served” figures represent just that, meals served – not meals prepared.  Our policies clearly instruct our workers that reporting of “meals served” is reflective of the quantity of meals served to clients, not the quantity of meals prepared. We provided ProPublica with copies of our policy and procedure manual that clearly instruct workers how to produce accurate meal counts. 

The Red Cross wasted 30% of the meals it produced during the early days of Sandy.

ProPublica and its source continue to allege incorrectly that 30% of meals during the Sandy response went to waste. However, neither provided any evidence that supports this claim, other than an unsubstantiated estimate from a single individual who worked for a brief time on a disaster operation that lasted for months. Other than the unsubstantiated claim of one person, no one can produce evidence that 30% of meals and snack served by the Red Cross were wasted at any time during the operation.                                                      

What Not to Do: The Mindy Project Demonstrates Fire Safety

Thanks to one free week of Hulu Plus, I spent my Saturday evening doing all sorts of wonderful things. Namely, starting season 1, episode 1 of The Mindy Project. As happens to most Red Crossers, relevant safety lessons jump out of pop culture around every corner. Let’s take a moment to glean some critical fire safety lessons from season 1, episode 6 (yes, I made it that far in one night, no judgement please).

In this particular episode, Mindy’s boyfriend makes her a seemingly lovely Thanksgiving meal – tilapia. Prepared on a panini grill (one of 6 he apparently uses to cook everything and anything). The tilapia was completed with a Red Bull glaze, let’s not forget.

Notwithstanding the fact the meal is disgusting (as Mindy so boldly points out), the entire “cluster” of panini grills blows a fuse and starts a fire during dinner.

Hey, did you know the #1 cause of home fires is cooking? Josh and Mindy do. And now for a breakdown of what went wrong:

Josh had six fairly powerful kitchen appliances plugged in and running at the same time. Don’t do that.


Josh sees the fire and grabs his wine. We understand you want to take your most important possessions, but really, you should leave your home safely and call 9-1-1.


Josh hides behind Mindy. Mindy is not a fire extinguisher. Mindy is not a trained professional. Hiding behind Mindy is basically the opposite of what you should be doing here.


Mindy grabs a candle from the table in order to “fight fire with fire.” I think we can see what went wrong here. Moving along…

smart gif

There was no plan. Baseline fire safety here folks — have a plan and execute it. Josh, you should have a fire escape plan (AND a smoke alarm, where was that?) and should be ready to help all household guests follow the plan. How was Mindy supposed to know the escape route?




Celebrities Star Struck by Young Philanthropist, Sophia on #GivingTuesday

For several years 15-year-old Sophia Greenwalt from Missouri has been raising money for people in need every month, by getting people to pay a dollar to wear a hat to school, one day out of the month. She calls it “Helping Hats.”  With a little help from local businesses that often match these donations, Sophia has helped give people in need a Thanksgiving dinner, help pay medical bills, support disaster survivors, and so on… and so on… and so on… She is a tireless and impressive young philanthropist.

In the last year, she hasn’t slowed down in “trying to make the world a better place.” What is even more extraordinary about that? She’s been battling cancer and undergoing chemo while she continues to help heal the world. Last week, while undergoing her last chemo treatment, she funded a Thanksgiving dinner for people in need. Last year, she did the same with her personal winnings from a local Volunteer of the Year award.

Sophia asked to raise funds for Red Cross on #GivingTuesday, so our celebrity volunteers decided to get involved by surprising her with a “Helping Hats” moment of a lifetime. When Sophia awoke today, she thought she was going to learn how to use social media and the web to raise more money for “Helping Hats.”

What she discovered, instead, is that her supporters extended far beyond her small town in Missouri. Some of Sophia’s favorite stars like Emily Kinney and Chandler Riggs from The Walking Dead and the cast of The Today Show sent her video messages or Skyped in to talk with her.


Reba McEntire and Amy Grant made generous personal gifts.


Many other celebrities, including IM5, Alyssa Milano, Chad Warrix, and Nancy O’Dell posted, tweeted, or payed a buck and posted a hat picture from their social media accounts. Fans decided to #GiveWithMeaning and celebrate her.



#GivingTuesday is about giving — bold, open-hearted, unfettered, full-spirited generosity. Sophia exudes this and got an experience worthy of her goodwill.

Sophia, already today, you’ve raised more than $20,000. You are an inspiration to us all, and we are most grateful for you and what you’ve done to help Red Cross save lives and alleviate suffering.

How do we all begin to thank you?

But That Could Never Happen To Me!

Did you know the American Red Cross responds to a disaster every eight minutes and the majority of those responses are home fires? I know what you’re thinking:

“Well, that could never happen to me.”

I know you all too well, my friend. But actually, it can happen and I recently had my first home fire experience.

Imagine cooking dinner in your nine-floor brick apartment in Washington, DC. Sautéing this, flipping that, and smelling the sweet, wonderful aromas of… gas? Then the fire alarm suddenly starts ringing and panic starts to set in – did my crazy good cooking skills start this fire?

Readers, I ask you this – without even thinking, what would be your first reaction? Would you:

A. Turn the stove off and run out the door.

B. Leave the stove on, there’s a fire make a run for it!

C. Grab your phone, tweet about the incident (this selfie is too good to pass up, #firedrill) and then run out the door.

Obviously I’m expecting none of you to pick “C.” If you did, better brush up on those fire safety skills. “B” don’t leave on your stove, what if this was a fire drill and you just left that on to start a real fire? I did “A.” If I’m being really honest, I’m known to be an accident waiting to happen and the possibility that I started a fire while cooking was highly plausible. Therefore, after quickly assessing my surroundings for a fire, I turned the stove off and ran out the door.

Okay, so I passed the first test. Next, I briskly and calmly walked to the stairs which were overcrowded with people. This is normal for a fire drill, right? Still in denial that this could actually be a fire. Turn the corner to the next flight down and lo and behold there’s a fireman hooking the fire hose up for water.

Readers, do you:

A. Keep your cool, this is no time to panic. It’s time to get out of the building.

B. Push everyone aside as you make a run for it. This is a fire people – MOVE IT OR LOSE IT!

C. Grab your phone and tweet about seeing a fireman in action (this is for real, I can’t not document this. #notafiredrill).

“C” pickers are you still here? No tweeting, put that phone away! Chooser number “B,” slow your roll. I did “A.” I kept my cool and kept moving down the stairs to get outside because panicking doesn’t help anyone, not even yourself.

Passed test number two. Now, we’re outside the building at a safe distance, gazing up at our apartment building wondering if everyone is okay and where this apparent fire was. All the sudden, I see smoke coming out of an apartment complex and firemen doing an excellent job of putting out a fire. Then I count up one floor and oh look! My apartment is the one right above the apartment on fire. No wonder I thought I started the fire because it was right below my feet.

Fast forward to today and all is well at Hillary’s humble abode. In the afterthought of what happened, I brushed up my fire safety knowledge and skills because things could have been a lot different. For instance, what if I was unable to use the nearest stairwell to my apartment? I can’t jump out the window because I’m too high up, there’s no fire escape… where’s my second evacuation route?

So in light of my experience, are you still thinking a fire couldn’t happen to you? It’s okay if you are, but do yourself a wonderful favor and at least make sure you know your fire safety As, Bs, and Cs.