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By: Marta Rusek

Now that pumpkin season is in full swing and temps are on the descent, it’s time to break out the puffy vest and serve up some hot apple cider. It’s also the time when you suddenly notice your thermostat, the fireplace, and that space heater you had stored in your coat closet all summer long. So as you snuggle into nesting season, take a few moments to make your household is fire safe. Here’s how: 

Test your smoke alarms and review your home fire escape plan.

While you’re up on the ladder hanging your Halloween skeleton, hit the test button on your smoke alarms and replace batteries as needed. Fully functional smoke alarms are true lifesavers: The National Fire Protection Association reports that three out of every five home fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms, or nonfunctioning ones. Moreover, in nearly half of fires where a smoke alarm didn’t work properly, it was due to missing or disconnected batteries. Equally important is having a dialogue with your household members about a fire escape plan. Everyone in the home should be able to escape in under two minutes. Talk about it.

Follow space heater safety guidelines. 

A recent Red Cross survey found that more than half of U.S. adults have used a space heater. These devices are so widely used that they’re involved in two out of every five home-heating fires. To prevent a fire emergency, make sure to allow three feet of open space around your heater. Do not place a space heater on a carpeted area or rug, and keep it away from curtains and bedding.  Place it on a ceramic tile floor if possible, or choose or a surface is hard, fireproof, and level (not slanted or uneven). Never leave a space heater unattended. That means turning it off when you go to sleep.

Be mindful of burning candles and fireplaces. 

If you just can’t give up your candle-lighting habit, you’ll need to be vigilant. A candle can go from a fall mood-setter to a bad dream in no time, so never leave candles unattended and keep them away from kids and pets. And think about flameless candles! If your home has a fireplace, use a protective screen—and heed the same precautions as you would with a space heater. Keep furniture, fabric, and flammable decorations at least three feet away and never leave it unattended. 

Fall is a time to be festive and celebrate longstanding traditions. Make fire safety and prevention part of your fall traditions too. Fore more information about fire safety, redcross.org/get-help and click on “How to Prepare for Emergencies.”

Timing your gift at year-end can be crucial. The gift date—the date used for tax purposes—is the day you transfer control of the asset. And that depends on the asset and your method of giving.

How the Gift Date is Determined:

  • Checks — The USPS mailing date, as postmarked, is the date of the gift, when making a gift from a checking, savings or money market account.
  • Credit cards — The day the charge is posted by the credit card company is considered the gift date.
  • Pledges — Pledges are deductible in the years they are fulfilled and not the year the initial pledge is made.
  • Securities — If securities are electronically transferred to the American Red Cross, the gift date is typically the day the securities enter our account. If security certificates are mailed, the mailing date, as postmarked, is the gift date. It is important to send, by registered or certified mail, the unsigned certificates in a separate envelope from the signed stock power and letter indicating the purpose of your gift.
  • Real estate—The day you deliver the signed deed to us is the date of the gift. If your state law requires recording of the deed to fulfill the title, though, then the date of recording is the gift date.
  • Tangible personal property—The gift date is the day you deliver the property with a signed document transferring ownership, if necessary.

IRA Qualified Charitable Distributions

The IRA Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) has been a popular option for friends of the American Red Cross, who are 70½ or older, to transfer up to $100,000 directly from an IRA to the Red Cross, without having to declare the funds as taxable income.  QCDs must be deducted from the qualified retirement account before December 31 to count during that tax year.  Speak with your CPA or other advisor to determine if a QCD is the right choice for you.

As you decide how best to fulfill your year-end gift to the American Red Cross, please take into consideration the time needed by brokerage firms and fund administrators to process your requests.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Colleen Becht-Foltz at 215-299-4082 or via email at colleen.bechtfoltz@redcross.org. Thank you for supporting the American Red Cross.

This information is not intended as legal or tax advice. For such advice, please consult an attorney or tax advisor. Figures cited in examples are for hypothetical purposes only and are subject to change. References to estate and income taxes include federal taxes only. State income/estate taxes or state law may impact your results.

By: Cait Waxler 

You may not be thinking about swimming now that winter is approaching, but the American Red Cross is. On a hot summer day in Philadelphia, a public pool is one of the few places you’d want to be to cool off; but not everyone has the skills they need to master the water. Adding to that challenge, municipal pools across the area struggled with an increase in the number of lifeguards they were required to have on duty, which lead to shortages. So a few industry movers and shakers put their heads together to start a dialogue about it.  

Some of the panelists chat leading up to the start of the Aquatics Symposium in September

In September, in an effort to build collaborative awareness about drowning rates and the current lifeguard shortage, experts met at the Red Cross Chapter in Philadelphia. This event was co-chaired by Cait Waxler, Aquatics Executive with the American Red Cross for Philadelphia and New Jersey, and Dr. Angela Beale-Tawfeeq, Red Cross Scientific Advisory Member, Board Member of Diversity in Aquatics and Department Chair at Rowan University.  

Cait Waxler of the American Red Cross addresses the room at the September Aquatics Symposium

A panelist of experts in aquatics and community development included: Dr. Angela Beale-Tawfeeq; Amy Pitman, educator and head swim team coach at Girls High; Bianca del Rio Director of the Netter Center’s University-Assisted Community Schools at the University of Pennsylvania and former PDR swimmer; Brannon Johnson head coach and owner of BLJ Community Rowing; Megan Ferraro, Executive Director of the ZAC Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to water safety and drowning prevention education, awareness and prevention; Noah White, kinesiology adjunct professor for aquatics at Temple University; and Robert E. Miller, attorney by day and water safety advocate/lifeguard by night.  

The panelist engaged with around 20 community members with ties to the aquatics field, including lifeguards, swim instructors, administrator, plus representatives coming from Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, local charter schools, and local non-profits such as TeamUp Philly.  It didn’t take long for the conversation to flow. Dialogue revolved around everything from developing youth safety skills in and around the water, potential job opportunities/leadership skills, International Water Safety Day on May 15th, partnerships, water awareness (how water isn’t even needed to start the conversation), Diversity in Aquatics (how they are as an organization and how to get involved) and more! 

With drowning being the leading cause of death for children in the United States and African-American children ages 5 to 19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than those of white children in the same age range, conversation around this complex topic have just begun. The group plans to meet again in a few months (in conjunction with an aquatics job fair) to continue the conversation and have more partners involved. For more information on the event or to get involved, contact Cait Waxler at cait.waxler@redcross.org or 215-260-7657. 

With highs in the 90s this week it might not feel like fall, but make no mistake; the 2019-2020 flu season is here and it’s time to get your influenza vaccine now.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), millions of people in this country get sick with flu every year, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and, unfortunately, tens of thousands die. The best way to help avoid getting influenza is to get vaccinated every year.

While seasonal influenza (flu) viruses are detected year-round in the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter. Influenza activity often begins to increase in October and most times peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May. It takes about two weeks after receiving your vaccine for the antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body so it’s important to get your vaccine now.

The CDC recommends that everyone be vaccinated by the end of October. Children 6 months through 8 years of age who need 2 doses should receive their first dose as soon as possible after vaccine becomes available to allow the second dose (which must be administered at least 4 weeks later) to be received by the end of October.

AT HIGH RISK FOR FLU:

  • Adults 65 years and older
  • Children younger than 2 years old – although all children younger than 5 years old are considered at high risk for serious flu complications, the highest risk is for those younger than 2 years old, with the highest hospitalization and death rates among infants younger than 6 months old.
  • Pregnant women and women up to 2 weeks after the end of pregnancy
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

The CDC also reports people with the following health and age factors are also at an increased risk of getting serious complications from the flu:

  • Asthma
  • Neurologic and neurodevelopment conditions
  • Blood disorders
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Metabolic disorders
  • People who are obese with a body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher
  • People younger than 19 years of age on long-term aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications.
  • People with a weakened immune system due to disease or medications

Flu vaccine is available now in many locations such as your doctor’s office, pharmacies, grocery stores and health departments.Your vaccine will help protect you throughout the 2019-2020 flu season.

DO I HAVE THE FLU? The common signs of influenza are high fever, severe body aches, headache, being extremely tired, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose and vomiting and/or diarrhea (which is more common in children). If you think you have the flu, call your health care provider. Seek immediate care if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Fast breathing, trouble breathing or bluish skin color.
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen (adults).
  • Confusion or sudden dizziness.
  • Not drinking enough fluids, not being able to eat, or severe or persistent vomiting.
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
  • Not waking up, being so irritable that the child does not want to be held or not interacting (children).
  • Fever with a rash (children).
  • No tears when crying or significantly fewer wet diapers than normal (children).

YOU CAN HELP STOP THE FLU FROM SPREADING

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing and throw the tissue away after use. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home if you’re sick.

More information about how to help keep you and your loved ones protected from the flu is available on this website and in the free Red Cross First Aid App. See all the Red Cross apps at redcross.org/mobileapps.

By: AJ Suero

One of the most fulfilling aspects of serving at the American Red Cross is the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of total strangers. This is never more true than when our volunteers and staff deploy to a disaster relief operation. 

Recording a Hurricane Dorian update from Daytona Beach, FL

Back in late August, I traveled to Florida and North Carolina to assist in preparedness and relief efforts for Hurricane Dorian. As a story producer for the Red Cross’s Public Affairs team, I worked with a videographer to tell the story of what was going on in the hours leading up to, during, and after the passage of this deadly storm. We spoke with locals, tourists, and officials, all of whom where glad to see that the Red Cross was there to help. In Florida, we helped spread the word about the importance of emergency preparedness planning. “I had such a sense of relief when I saw your team out here,” said one Melbourne resident. 

Our public affairs team in Melbourne FL 
Left to right:  Regional Communications Manager Bill Fortune (Denver, CO) , me,  Communications Volunteer Cindy Huge, Blood Services Communicator Cynthia De La Torre (Las Vegas, NV) , National Media Relations Director Anthony Tornetta

In addition to my role in the making of videos, I also helped our team of spokespeople with interviews. Many media outlets wanted to get a sense of what was happening and how the Red Cross was helping. As we entered shelters and traveled from county to county, I was so overwhelmed to see so many dedicated volunteers across the region who were serving in shelters and at community centers. I felt an instant kinship with these amazing Red Crossers, people who had traveled from places near and far. It is incredibly gratifying to be reminded that there are compassionate people in the world—people who are willing to literally run toward danger to help those in need.

By: Nicole Foulke

Perched in her American Red Cross Philadelphia office chair, surrounded by charts and instructional binders of her own making, Service to the Armed Forces volunteer, Judy Burns, greets new visitors like old friends. “Eric [a volunteer] once got the best meatball recipe on a call!” she said, encouragingly, to a new volunteer.

With her gregarious nature, Judy could befriend anyone.

As both the Service to the Armed Forces Mid-Atlantic Resiliency and Preparedness Lead and its Interim Casework Lead for Eastern Pennsylvania, Judy is an indispensable part of the program that itself can be dated back to the establishment of the American Red Cross. She is pure determination, even when she does not feel her best, on the days when her multiple sclerosis involves use of a wheelchair or keeps her homebound.

Judy, who has traded her own struggles for a life devoted to positivity, began at a young age to volunteer: “I think it was really fortunate that I’ve had seizures since I was born and got sick as a teenager; it made me stay in touch with the world and know it was not all about me,” she said.

Judy, whose no-nonsense workwear today is suitable for office hours, as well as for running into a burning building and saving a stranded cat (one of her many anecdotes), is a wealth of technical knowledge and familiarity with the community.

“Because of the personal relationships she has, she is able to connect the right people and organizations when it counts to really maximize possibilities,” said her supervisor, William Rodebaugh III, SAF Director for Eastern Pennsylvania.

Although Judy was born into a military family, it  wasn’t until her brother was injured in service in Somalia did she realize that military families have special needs. She began to volunteer for military family organizations and found her way to the Red Cross.

Each year on her birthday in September (Happy Birthday Judy!), Burns chooses a charity to focus her energy on in addition to the American Red Cross. This year, Judy is supporting the Major Stuart Adam Wolfer Institute (MSAWI), whose namesake was the son of her friends who was killed in action in Iraq in 2008, as it collects used cell phones to benefit the Cell Phones for Soldiers program. MSAWI is an authorized depository center for the program, which recycles any cell phone (the SIM card should be removed before donating) and uses the funds to purchase pre-paid calling cards for deployed soldiers to call home. (Anyone interested in learning how they can donate a cell phone can contact Judy via email at judy.burns@redcross.org.)

At the Red Cross, Judy is also spearheading an experiment in Service to the Armed Forces volunteer training; she created a pilot and Eastern Pennsylvania is the only region in the country that trains new volunteers with mock phone interviews and onboarding before allowing them to make calls, waiting for the standard computer training courses until later in the process.

A Pennsylvania native, Judy has volunteered with the Red Cross in the Eastern Pennsylvania for five years, always with the purpose of landing in a position where she could help the military community. A spot opened in 2018 and she began to work with mental health caseworkers and community partners to help those in need.

Judy was later promoted to Mid-Atlantic Resiliency and Preparedness Lead, coordinating workshops in numerous states, and received the additional title of Interim Casework Lead for Eastern Pennsylvania, which means she is responsible for recruiting, training, and onboarding volunteers for the Service to the Armed Forces Hero Care Network, an emergency communications network for military families in crises.

Embodying the what it means to be a volunteer serving their community, Judy says she is just grateful to have the opportunity to do so.

“The feeling that I could be empowered as a vital part of this mission, and I hope that those opportunities continue both for me and for those that I have noticed are as passionate as me about SAF.”

Interested in volunteering for the Service to the Armed Forces division of the Red Cross? Check out this link: https://www.redcross.org/local/pennsylvania/eastern-pennsylvania/volunteer.html

By: Sophie Kluthe

Every day our team is amazed by the generosity of our community, from the big corporations we partner with to the individual citizen who may only have $10 to give. But this week, one donation in particular arrived with a letter containing a story that touched our hearts. With the permission of the sender, Barbara McConaghey, we decided to share the story behind the financial contribution. 

It read:

“I am enclosing a donation check for $350, the proceeds I received from a birthday promotion I did in August. I am a distributor of health and wellness products, and for one week, anyone who purchased these products received cash back. The proceeds of these sales would be donated to the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross.”

But the generosity didn’t end there. As it turns out, McConaghey was carrying out a legacy of giving back to the community that first began a generation before her.

Robert L. Benner, photo courtesy Barbara McConaghey

“My late father, Robert L. Benner, was the Fire Chief in Whitehall Township. Up until his passing in March 2016, he always said that no matter what the disaster, the Red Cross was there to assist. So I felt my need to give back and I would like this money to help anyone who needs it in a time of disaster. This is in memorial to him, my father. He always gave his time and dedication to the community he served in, and he became an icon here in the Lehigh Valley.”

If you’re from that area, you probably know the name Robert Benner; it’s knit into the fabric of Whitehall Township. Benner served the township for almost five decades. A fire training center is dedicated in his name, and his passing brought the entire community together in mourning. The township later named a road in his memory

To learn that Robert Benner’s daughter, Barbara McConaghey, chose the American Red Cross to donate to in honor of this great man humbles us and fills us with gratitude. Thank you, Barbara, for supporting disaster prevention and relief in your community, and for sharing your story with us. 

The letter from Barbara McConaughey