By: Susan West

Volunteering never happens in a vacuum.

It takes a trained, well-oiled  team to serve people impacted by disaster, and the Red Cross Eastern Pennsylvania Training Conference, held for four days on the campus of Moravian College in Bethlehem, offered information overload for everyone. For logistics geeks, there was “ConOps”—a.k.a. “Concept of Operations” training, which explored the organizational structure of a relief operation. For Mass Care volunteers, a simulation session walked people through the steps of opening a shelter. For Disaster Action Team members, instruction focused on the recovery needs of people who have endured the worst times of their lives after a fire, flood, hurricane, or other emergency.

Empathy Education

Training is key. One of the most revelatory events at the conference was something called a poverty simulation, designed by Tammy Schoonover of the Bucks County Opportunity Council. The session was meant to challenge our assumptions about people who are under-resourced. After dividing the class into several three- to six-member “families,” Tammy assigned each family a set of circumstances—say, one working parent earning $9 an hour with a daughter in school, a disabled mother-in-law, and some public assistance. Then she threw curveballs at them—car breakdown, big utility bill, stolen purse, Dad with the flu, shuttered daycare. The exercise spotlighted the stress of living on the edge of debt. “Survival can be a full-time job for under-resourced families,” she said. “Poverty causes us to spin in a cycle of survival.” Dealing with impersonal social service bureaucracies, payday lenders, and unresponsive law enforcement can be frustrating and dehumanizing. If Tammy’s intention was to foster empathy and dispel myths about poverty, everyone agreed that she accomplished that goal.

Tammy Schoonover, Bucks County Opportunity Council

Classes and Camaraderie

Why do people volunteer? The reasons given were as varied as the curriculum at the conference. One attendee, a former telecommunications manager dealing with memory loss and cognitive impairment at age 61, is a fierce advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness. “I can’t do the complicated things anymore,” he told me, “but at least I can load trucks.” Others discovered the Red Cross after disaster touched them or a family member. Still others saw volunteering as ministry. “The more training we have, the more sensitive we become,” said one attendee.

Join the Fun

Volunteering has many benefits both physical and emotional. It combats isolation by getting us out into our communities. It helps prevent depression by instilling in us a sense of purpose. It helps us feel valued and part of a team. Perhaps most important, volunteering gives us a chance to leave a legacy and make a difference in the world. It’s good for us and it’s good for  society. The Red Cross has many roles for volunteers to fulfill, and the organization is committed to arming its volunteers with the tools and expertise needed to perform those roles. In short, the Red Cross will train you up good. For more information about how you can volunteer, go to

By: Sophie Kluthe

Employees at UPS in South Philadelphia pack and donate comfort kits

Take a peek into your own bathroom and you’ll probably find at minimum, some soap, a towel and anti-perspirant. Sometimes that shower-fresh feel is all you need to have the confidence to tackle your day. Unfortunately, that’s not a possibility or the reality for a lot of men and women in the years after they finish defending their flag.  

SAF Director Bill Rodebaugh and his right hand volunteer, Julie Martinez, at the UPS comfort kit event

Regional Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces Director, Bill Rodebaugh, knows the scenario all too well as his work is devoted to serving active military, their families and veterans.  

“It is an awful reality that veterans who have served their country can find themselves in situations where they can no longer maintain the basic qualities of life that most of us enjoy.  Being able to wash and be clean has a quality of refreshing a person not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally as well,” Rodebaugh said. 

That’s where companies and comfort kits come in. Recently, TheZenith Insurance Company, ThermoFisher Scientific and UPS have donated, and even taken the time to pack comfort kits for local veterans in need.  

Earlier this week UPS employees (above) gathered around tables in assembly line-fashion, rapidly filling small bags with items like a razor, shampoo, soap and a wash cloth. It wasn’t long before they filled 35 boxes with about 1,200 of these kits.  

At TheZenith Insurance Company a few weeks back (pictured above), employees smiled and packed to folk music, walking around the tables in shifts, lovingly adding one of each item to the bags.  

It only takes a few hours of the employees’ time, but it’s harder to measure the outcome once these kits get to where they’re going.  

Photos: Part of the SAF team poses with employees from ThermoFisher Scientific after thanking them for their donation.

“Building these kits seems so small. but it does a lot to show our veterans that we hold them in high regard and value. If they in turn can begin to recognize and remember what it is to be valued, then perhaps they can take the first steps in valuing themselves again and be encouraged to seek help and better their situation,” Rodebaugh said. 

A military veteran himself, Rodebaugh knows a thing or two about serving your country. He also knows that small acts of kindness, and in this case, comforts, can pave the way for bigger change. 

“For those of you involved in building these kits, you are expressing your humanity in a way that truly reflects the goodness we all strive to do, because you are valuing the humanity of another you lift us all and in that way you have bettered your community in a lasting way.” 

Would your company or organization want to donate comfort kits to local veterans in need? If so, email for more information.  

2018 Photo by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross

June 1-7 is National CPR and AED Awareness Week. The American Red Cross, along with other National Cardiac Arrest Collaborative members, is stressing that every second counts in cardiac arrest and people can save lives by knowing how to perform CPR and use an AED.

If someone goes into sudden cardiac arrest, their heart suddenly stops beating, stopping blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. More than 1,600 people suffer cardiac arrest every day in the United States, so if you see someone collapse without warning, know your ‘Cardiac Arrest 1-2-3.’

The best way to prepare when every second counts is to take a First Aid/CPR/AED course:

By: Samantha Antenucci

After a long winter and wet spring, summer is now ready for its closeup! Sun and warmth usher in your kids’ favorite outdoor activities, but there’s danger afoot: Sunburn, bug bites, and water mishaps could ruin your vacation. Whether you’re home, on the road, or out camping, keep our stay-safe tips in mind.

Sun Safety

Melanoma rates are on the rise, so make sunscreen a part of your family’s everyday get-ready routine. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, children’s skin is particularly sensitive and prone to burning; plus, having a severe sunburn as a child is a risk factor for a serious skin cancer later in life. And if you think people with darker skin is and/or those who “tan easily” are less at risk, think again; this is a huge misconception. The risk is real for everyone. A few reminders:

-Never forget sunscreen! Choose a product with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 to 30—minimum. Whenever you’re out enjoying the weather, use it on all exposed skin.

-Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before leaving the house, and reapply it every two hours. Also reapply after coming out of the water.

-Don’t drop your guard just because it’s a cloudy day. The sun’s UV rays can burn right through the clouds. Slather it on!

-Loose-fitting and brightly colored clothes can help keep you and your kids cool in the heat. Beach day? Make your own shade with umbrellas.

-Keep water nearby and drink it—even if you’re not feeling thirsty. You can easily become dehydrated in warm weather.

Water Safety

Being around water is a great way to cool down, but be aware of your surroundings. More than 800 children drown each year, according to CDC estimates. The Red Cross has many tips for water safety:

-Enroll in swim classes! Learning to swim is not only fun but also gives you the confidence to safely enjoy the pool or beach.

-Always swim with a buddy, but do not trust a child’s life to another child. It is vital that an adult or lifeguard be present when children swim.

-Teach your children to ask for permission to go near water.

-Life jackets can save the lives of novice and experienced swimmers, but they have to be worn! A boat must have one life jacket for each person aboard.

-Adult-sized life jackets will not work for children. A child’s life jacket should fit snugly, and not allow the child’s chin or ears to slip through.

Bites and Stings

Ticks and insects can be a nuisance—or an outright health threat. Pennsylvania, a hotspot for the deer ticks that carry Lyme disease, leads the nation in cases of Lyme—already the most common tick-borne illness in both North America and Europe. A few tips:

-Stung by a bee? Do not pull the stinger out with your fingers or tweezers. Doing this can push the venom back into your skin. Instead, take a credit card or I.D. card and scrape downward. This should remove the stinger without injecting the venom back into the person’s body.

-Be aware of your allergies! If you have an EpiPen, keep it nearby. If you’re bitten or stung and feel itching and have difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately.

-Insect repellents containing DEET are effective, but be sure to read the label and avoid products with a DEET concentration higher than 30 percent. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that DEET not be used on infants.

-DEET should only be used on exposed skin that is free of cuts and open wounds. Do not spray insect repellent directly onto the face; first spray it on your hands and rub the repellant on the face.

-Ticks often lurk in tall grass, so tuck your pant legs into your boots and socks, and wear long-sleeved shirts. Do a “tick check” at the end of the day.

-To remove a tick, use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers. Make sure to disinfect the area and keep a close eye out for any telltale rashes or signs of infection.

By Kathy Huston

May is National Barbecue Month, and as you compile your patio playlist (“Summertime,” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince is always a must), make sure you’re putting grilling safety on the front burner. Here are a few tips.

  • Think about where you grill—that is, well away from your house or other structures. While this advice may seem obvious, some never got that memo: The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that an average of 10,200 home fires are started by grills each year, causing millions in property damage. Even more alarming: 19,000 people a year seek ER treatment because of injuries involving grills, including 9,300 thermal burns.
  • If you grill with gas, regularly check the hose and connections for cracks and leaks. (Use the “soapy bubble test”: Brush on a soap-and-water solution, turn on the gas, and look for the telltale bubbles.) This is especially important after a grill has been in storage.
  • Never leave the grill unsupervised, and keep kids and pets at a safe distance. The NFPA reports that between 2012 and 2016, children under age 5 accounted for about a third of contact burns requiring emergency room treatment.
  • After every grilling session, turn the tank off, let everything cool down, and then clean the grates of fat and food remnants for next time. The NFPA notes that one out of every five grill fires are caused by starting up a dirty grill.
  • If you’re using a charcoal, never squirt additional lighter fluid onto coals that are already burning. Dispose of spent coals properly and safely in a metal container.
  • Invest in a meat thermometer. According to, the correct internal temperature for cooked chicken is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

With safety on your side, have a fun and flavorful Barbecue Month and beyond!

Sidebar: BBQ by the Numbers

  • Seven in 10 U.S. adults own a grill or smoker
  • Gas is the most popular grill type (64%), followed by charcoal (44%) and electric (9%).
  • Memorial Day and July 4 remain top grilling days.

Source: State of the Barbecue Industry Survey

By: Sophie Kluthe

It was high fives all around on Tuesday as a group of about 75 first grade students from New Foundations Charter School visited the Red Cross House in Philadelphia bearing gifts. 

The Red Cross House is a disaster recovery center that provides housing and ongoing support to help local and regional victims of home fires and other unforeseen disasters. Some of the residents arrive with little more than the clothes they were wearing when they were forced out of their home.

That’s why the students’ donations of hygiene kits, blankets, and cloth dolls brought smiles to the faces of the families who graciously accepted them. The New Foundations students also presented hand-made cards bursting with bright colors and well-wishes.

As part of the visit, the students got to meet the Red Cross mascot, Fred Cross, take a tour of the Red Cross House and learn about all the things the organization does to support the community. Before heading back to school, each student was given a disaster preparedness activity book to take home. Hopefully each student will pass along a meaningful lesson about planning and preparedness to their families. The partnership is extra special because this trip has become an annual tradition for first graders at this school.

Thank you New Foundations Charter School for your generous donations and for giving us the opportunity to show you the Red Cross House!

By: Sam Antenucci

The enticing aroma of gourmet food and the sounds of laughter and live music swirled about the Tork Club at Lincoln Financial Field as I wandered through a sea of red ballgowns and black tuxedos. Even though this year marked my third Red Ball, I’m always amazed at what the gala has to offer.

Like previous Red Balls, this one had food purveyors from around the city offering a tantalizing variety of culinary specialties from their restaurants. Games were set up at various locations, and live bands played from early in the evening till the midnight hour. But there was something different at this year’s event, a reminder of why everyone was there. Set up in the center of the venue was a display that drew everyone’s attention: A living room scarred by a home fire.

A display for guests to visualize a living room impacted by fire.

In the fun and excitement of Red Ball, it’s easy to overlook what the event is all about. The Red Cross organizes this annual gala as a massive fundraiser to support the Red Cross House. While most people are familiar with Red Cross blood services, it’s only after an emergency—such as a home fire or an extreme weather event—that others learn of the Red Cross’s many other humanitarian services. Unique to Philadelphia, the Red Cross House is the only one in the country that provides a safe haven for people who have lost their homes in a fire. 

Guy Triano, Regional CEO for the Red Cross Eastern PA

Later in the evening, Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross CEO Guy Triano hopped up on the blackened living room platform to speak to the crowd about how much the Red Cross House has impacted the Philadelphia community. This short-term recovery center can provide private rooms, three meals a day, and a caseworker to help family members get back on their feet. 

Without the Red Cross House, many home fire victims would be left homeless and sleeping in shelters for months at a time. Instead, residents at the Red Cross House stay an average of 21 days at the center, and with the support and resources available, families can go back to normal living within the three weeks they spend at the center. 

While the night was an amazing opportunity to share food, memories, and lots of dances with folks from all over the metro area, the Red Cross couldn’t keep the Red Cross House going if it weren’t for all the wonderful people, businesses, and restaurants that donated to the gala’s cause, And although Red Ball has ended, you can still uphold the Red Cross House’s mission by supporting your local chapter—and planning to attend next year’s gala!