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The Pillowcase Project Teaches Irvington Students Preparedness

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The Pillowcase Project helps empower children with the knowledge and skills to prepare for and respond during disasters

Fifth graders at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Irvington learned how they can be better prepared for disasters during The American Red Cross Pillowcase Project.

Created in New Orleans, The Pillowcase Project was inspired by the story of local university students carrying their belongings in pillowcases during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The free, interactive preparedness program teaches students about the science of hazards, emergency preparedness, coping skills and the importance of sharing their knowledge with friends and family. The program is sponsored by Disney.

“Disaster can strike suddenly and often without warning,” said Eileen Painter, volunteer manager American Red Cross New Jersey Region. “The Pillowcase Project helps empower children with the knowledge and skills to prepare for and respond during disasters.”

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

The program utilizes a new method of teaching preparedness aimed to provide children in grades 3 to 5 with the knowledge and skills necessary to help their families prepare for potential disasters.

Each year, the Red Cross responds to more than 70,000 disasters in the United States, the vast majority of which are home fires. The Pillowcase Project also helps educate children about fire safety. Painter taught children how often smoke alarms should be tested, where they should be located in their homes and what they should do if the smoke alarms in their homes sound.

“I was a Clinical Nurse Specialist in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. I remember the name and face of every pediatric burn patient I have ever cared for,” said Painter. “I know how important it is to arm children with fire safety information.”

Students, including ten-year-old Jonathan, practiced how they would escape their home in the event of a fire. Jonathan crawled as he would during a fire to avoid smoke and used the back of his hand to feel the door to determine if it was safe to open. He also practiced using a blanket to keep smoke from entering his room.

“In the event of fire, you may have as little as two minutes to escape from your burning home,” said Painter. “It is essential the children have the knowledge and skills to remain safe and calm should they be faced with a home fire.”

Classmates Emily and Masheria role-played making a 911 call to report a home fire.

“This is the 911 operator. What’s your emergency,” Emily asked.

“My house is one fire,” Masheria responded.

Emily asked Masheria for her address and if anyone was hurt.

“Do not hang up,” Emily said. “Help is on the way, I’ll stay on the line with you until help arrives.”

Students took a pledge to share what they had learned with their family members so their entire household would be better prepared for disasters.

Each student received a pillowcase to create their own emergency supply kit and a “My Preparedness Workbook” at the end of the training.

Third and fourth grade students from the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School also participated in The Pillowcase Project during September.

More than 250 students in New Jersey schools participated in The Pillowcase Project during National Preparedness Month.

For more information about The Pillowcase Project, visit