On Mother’s Day in 2015, life changed for residents of Delmont, South Dakota. A tornado swept through the small town of just over 250 people, destroying homes and businesses. The Red Cross responded immediately providing comfort, care and hope for families with the assistance of many other governmental and nonprofit partners.
Tornados and high winds are familiar challenges to the communities in South Dakota and preparedness is a message the Red Cross continues to preach in towns large and small.
50 miles to the east of Delmont is the small town of Marion, with a population of close to 800. This typical South Dakota community is home for Jennifer Ross, Red Cross Executive Director in Eastern South Dakota. Just months after starting her position with the Red Cross, she reached out to local school administrators to offer the “Pillowcase Project”.
“While my kids aren’t old enough to be in this program yet, I knew it would make an impact on the children and ultimately, the community. This is where I went to school, where my dad went to school, and where my Grandma went to school,” Ross said. “Bringing the program to my hometown was very important to me.”
Ross and a trained Red Cross volunteer led 27 students in the 4th and 5th grades through The Pillowcase Project curriculum. The students learned how to prepare an emergency kit and when to use it, about home fire safety and making a plan, practiced coping skills to use in an emergency, and were armed with important preparedness information to share with their friends and family.
The students took the information to heart, understanding that someday it could be their homes impacted by a disaster like a fire or tornado.
"You don't grab nothing when there's a fire, because you only have two minutes to get to your safe spot," fourth grader Levi Wieman said.
Instructors and educators in local schools have also seen the benefit of the program in follow-up conversations with students.
“They were like sponges taking in the information by listening to the presenter and asking questions. What they learned came through with the hands-on activity of decorating their pillowcases,” said Heidi Roth, Fourth Grade Teacher at Marion Elementary School. “I asked them the following day about how many of them shared with their families and they all did!”
The Red Cross has educated nearly 1,000 students in the Dakotas Region through The Pillowcase Project, with many more events planned in communities across the footprint.