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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Prepping pillowcases for emergencies

Yoshiko Ishii, left, checks out a pillowcase her granddaughter Sophia Dwyer decorated during a Red Cross program as Sean Kett from the Red Cross, right, watches on Wednesday at the Spokane Public Library’s South Hill branch in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Yoshiko Ishii, left, checks out a pillowcase her granddaughter Sophia Dwyer decorated during a Red Cross program as Sean Kett from the Red Cross, right, watches on Wednesday at the Spokane Public Library’s South Hill branch in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Destiny Francia, 9, drew a crocodile on her pillowcase as a comfort item because that’s her favorite stuffed animal.

Inside the pillowcase provided by the American Red Cross, Francia plans to store a water bottle and nonperishable foods with other supplies as a household emergency kit, in case her family ever faces a natural disaster causing a power outage or evacuation.

Sophia Dwyer, 7, drew a water bottle while coloring with fabric markers, and she sketched other items she plans to pack in her kit.

“This is a change of clothes,” Dwyer said, pointing to her art. “This is a paper and pen. I like to write.”

The children were among about 10 kids who attended a one-hour Pillowcase Project workshop with parents last week, a nationwide program offered by the American Red Cross through a partnership and grant from the Walt Disney Co.

Red Cross chapters bring the emergency preparedness activities to schools and libraries to help elementary-age kids learn about natural disasters, including wildfires, flooding, major storms or earthquakes.

The program first began in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A regional Red Cross official learned that Loyola University students carried valuables in pillowcases for Katrina evacuation, and that inspired work with an art therapist.

It led to creation of a program decorating pillowcases for children living in makeshift communities after Katrina and grew into emergency preparedness education in schools.

In early 2013, Disney funded the design and development phase of a multiyear effort to create the preparedness education program for elementary-age students.

Sean Kett, AmeriCorps community preparedness coordinator in Spokane, helped present the recent workshop geared to ages 8 to 11 at the South Hill Library. Kett will repeat Pillowcase Project sessions at the Indian Trail and Hillyard libraries this week, and he previously presented it at regional schools.

“For the Pillowcase Project specifically, it came down as a partnership with Disney after Hurricane Katrina, and people were fleeing houses with their belongings in pillowcases,” he said. “Someone realized it might be a good way to teach families about natural disasters.

“It’s a big, sturdy pillowcase they can personalize, and then they’re more likely to take the time to put the necessary things inside.”

During the workshop, Kett asked the kids questions and had them give examples of natural disasters.

Answers came quickly: Lightning storm, earthquake, flood, fire, hurricane, tornado. One boy raised his hand to call out, “a nor’easter.”

Kett touched on events more likely to occur in Washington state, including floods, blizzards, wildfires, and windstorms, such as the Nov. 17, 2015 windstorm.

“Flooding is the most common natural disaster in Washington state,” he told the group.

He asked the kids questions about what they think are different examples of preparing if their home lost power for several days, or if a family must evacuate for wildfires. The session included guessing games and playing charades to act out different types of winter storms.

The children also received an activity book to take home and talk with family about emergency planning, including a fire escape map and meeting point for all family members.

“We try to explain it in a way that is fun and just good knowledge to have,” Kett said. “What I say is, ‘This is the information, and it isn’t to scare you; it’s just to be prepared in case something should happen and to perhaps help others.’

“We go through learning about coping methods, and teaching kids about ways they can relax. We talk about thinking of a favorite color and to pretend they’re breathing in and out that color.”

To build a home emergency kit with the pillowcase, the American Red Cross offers suggested items that include batteries, a flashlight, nonperishable food, water and a comforting item such as a stuffed animal.

However, Kett and other volunteers tell kids that if there’s a house fire, they need to get out of the home quickly without stopping to grab the emergency kit.

“We tell them if there’s a house fire, don’t worry about grabbing the kit,” Kett said. “The kit is for the bigger natural disasters. For a home fire, it’s more important to get themselves out immediately.”

Frank Cejka, another Red Cross volunteer who talked to the kids, said families should practice how to respond to a home fire.

“Your school has a fire drill once in a while, right?” he said. “Would it be a good idea to have a fire drill at home? Talk as a family about planning.”

Cejka said community groups or clubs can contact the agency to schedule a variety of training workshops offered by American Red Cross volunteers, including emergency preparedness and basic first aid. Contact the Greater Inland Northwest chapter at (509) 326-3330.

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