Pressing firmly on a pillowcase with a marker, Juquan Roberts draws a green dog.
“This is old Blacky, and then there’s got to be Rocky and Diamond,” explains the six-year-old as he sketches. “I am making three dogs because I love them, and they should be safe, too.”
Sitting nearby, Makayla Hickman, is tracing: “I love my Mommy and Daddy and they love me too!” on her pillowcase. Beside some happy faces and bunny heads, she adds: “No one can take us apart!”
The two children sit at long tables with about 12 others carefully making their own designs while family members rest nearby on cots, watch television or visit with each other in an American Red Cross shelter for people affected by Hurricane Matthew in Marion County, South Carolina.
Watching each child decorate their special pillowcase, Red Cross volunteer Pam O’Day chats about their artwork, while adding tips about emergency preparedness.
“You know this pillowcase gives you something to put whatever you need in an emergency– a change of clothes, a bottle of water, a book, a snack, toys, a flashlight. You just keep it and you can be ready to go,” O’Day tells one child.
Her gentle, informative approach is part of a Red Cross program called The Pillowcase Project, which aims to create a generation of children who understand hazards, are empowered to take action in emergencies, and excited to share their knowledge with family and friends.
The project started after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when a Red Cross member noticed some university students carrying their valuables in pillowcases when they were evacuated. This inspired Red Cross to create a preparedness education program for elementary school students. In 2013, Disney gave Red Cross a grant to continue the program and now The Pillowcase Project is offered in every region across the country.
O’Day, a Red Cross volunteer from Myrtle Beach, has taught the project for the past year and a half.
“It was one of the Red Cross programs that I heard about and it sounded really interesting, plus I really enjoy working with kids, and it has been great.”
Depending on the setting and audience, the project offers a 40 to 60-minute presentation targeted to children, aged 8 to 11, in schools, after-school programs, summer camps and other places. An 18-page booklet, also given to parents, provides tips on everything from coping skills to emergency contact lists.
At the shelter in Marion County, the project was a welcome diversion for the children forced by hurricane damage to leave their homes.
Ty’Shawn Page, was impressed by the Disney characters outlining his pillowcase. Taking a break from a basketball game outside the shelter, he got busy tracing his name on the fabric.