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The Pillowcase Project Helps Children Prepare for Disasters

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Hands-on activities help build confidence, preparing children to take action during an emergency.

Many children in New Jersey have experienced severe storms first-hand and know just how devastating natural disasters can be. On July 30th, children learned how to be better prepared for hazards and disasters during The American Red Cross Pillowcase Project at the Wharton Public Library.

The Pillowcase Project is a pilot program available in select Red Cross regions, including the North Jersey Region. 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. 

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. 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. 

In Wharton, students were excited to learn how they can help prepare their family for disasters. Red Cross volunteers Carmella and Tom Ditmars led students in activities to teach them about fire safety and local hazards such as hurricanes and thunderstorms.  

After reviewing steps children can take to stay safe during a thunderstorm, Tom led students in a chant to help them remember what they had learned.

“If thunder roars, go indoors,” the young students yelled.  


Created in New Orleans, The Pillowcase Project was inspired by local university students who carried their belongings in pillowcases during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Through the program, the Red Cross aims to incorporate preparedness education into elementary school and after-school curriculums nationwide. The program is sponsored by Disney.

“We are thrilled to bring The Pillowcase Project to New Jersey,” said Michelle Esposito, regional director of volunteers, American Red Cross North Jersey Region. “The program gives students the opportunity to learn about the science behind various hazards and the importance of preparedness in a fun and interactive way. The hands-on activities also help build confidence, preparing children to take action during an emergency.”  

At the conclusion of the preparedness presentation, the Wharton students pledged to continue to learn about potential emergencies, practice how to stay safe and share what they learned during The Pillowcase Project with their families. 

Each student who participates in The Pillowcase Project receives the My Preparedness Workbook, a pillowcase and a certificate at the completion of the training.

The program is currently offered in 60 Red Cross regions and the organization hopes to expand the pilot to 96 regions by the end of 2015.