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Welcome to Giving Tuesday. I’m not a big fan of made up stuff so people can have a cool hashtag, but you can’t really argue with a day to recognize and draw attention to wonderful charitable organizations doing amazing work.

In deciding to write about our Red Cross blankets in honor of Giving Tuesday, I was motivated by one thing, the airing last night of the beloved holiday special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

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Scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas

That episode is a timeless classic I watch every year. There are so many great moments, but what always sticks out to me is the part where Linus and Charlie Brown are joined by the rest of the gang to decorate the pathetic tree Charlie picked out. Who can’t relate to the symbolism of that scene?

Now that I work for the Red Cross, I am particularly struck by how they use the blanket to secure the base of the tree to keep it from falling over. I never really thought much of it before. That’s not the case anymore. Now I think about the impact blankets have, symbolically and more importantly, practically.

For the Red Cross, the care we give to people who have suffered a disaster almost always begins with the blanket. In its most basic and utilitarian form, the blanket keeps people (and sometimes pets) warm. Red Cross blankets provide warmth to an elderly woman forced from her home by a hurricane on a chilly October day, to families in the dead of night as they watch their home burn to the ground, to passengers floating on an airplane wing in the middle of a river on a Fall afternoon, and to commuters who suddenly find themselves standing by a mangled train that ran off the tracks in a tragic accident. Feeling warmer is a small but vital step to recovery.

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Woman enjoys a friendly moment at the Red Cross shelter at Palisades High School in Bucks County after Hurricane Sandy. Credit: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

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Families gather after their apartment building in Yeadon, Delaware County, is destroyed by fire. Credit: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

 

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11 year old Ahmet keeps warm after a fire destroyed his home in Upper Merion Twp., Montgomery County. Credit: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

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Dozens of passengers wait to be rescued from downed jetliner in what is known as the Miracle on the Hudson Credit: AP

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A passenger is taken away on a stretcher after being rescued in the Miracle on the Hudson. Credit: American Red Cross New York

Passengers try to keep warm after their commuter train derailed in the Bronx. Credit: American Red Cross New York

Passengers try to keep warm after their commuter train derailed in the Bronx. Credit: American Red Cross New York

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A kitten rescued from a house that caught fire in Philadelphia. Credit: Red Paw Emergency Relief

As the person whose job it is to help protect and promote the image and reputation of the American Red Cross, I often comment that the blanket is the best PR the Red Cross could ever get. The sight of a person wrapped in a Red Cross blanket at a disaster scene pretty much sums up in as powerful a way as possible what the Red Cross does and what the Red Cross is all about.

While the Red Cross provides far more than blankets to those affected by disaster, the blanket is usually the most immediate physical and emotional need the Red Cross meets. Each blanket costs about $6. And PR aside, it’s the best $6 the Red Cross could ever spend. So on this Giving Tuesday, think about Charlie Brown and the blanket that helped make that sad tree beautiful. Then think about the Red Cross blanket and how much comfort, hope, and recovery $6 can buy.

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One can’t help but be moved by the quiet and unassuming miracle that is Red Cross House – the one-of-a-kind short term disaster recovery center that graces University City, on the corner of 40th Street and Powelton Avenue. Although I’ve been volunteering in the Public Affairs Department for more than a year, Tuesday was my first visit to the House. Our group of employees and volunteers was there to help serve lunch to the residents.

After a tour, my co-workers and I quickly got into the spirit of things and, with the help of the kitchen staff, washed hands, donned aprons and positioned hairnets. (Hairnets are a purely utilitarian device – meant to keep one’s pesky hairs from floating down into food. Sadly, they are not for the fashion forward.) However, once “hairnetted” in solidarity, we began welcoming current Red Cross House residents to a satisfying luncheon of lasagna, salad, macaroni and cheese and Salisbury steak. Our chef, Darryl Cook, serves three meals a day to an average of 30 clients. He’s had a very busy late winter as the House had over 100 residents for several weeks at a time. Our luncheon service was quiet by comparison; we served a handful of adults and three beautiful children.  After a short time, we were able to sit down and sample Chef Cook’s food for ourselves. FYI – he makes a mean lasagna.

I’ve heard a lot about Red Cross House in the year I’ve been volunteering, and I’ve written countless blogs and articles that mention its 26 private hotel-style suites, its casework offices, training rooms and counseling services, its outdoor playground and laundry facilities, and its heartbreakingly empty storage lockers. I already knew it was a special place, but I was amazed at the feeling of warmth evident during our visit. The foyer is surrounded by a colorful mural of happy and hopeful Philadelphians and there is cheerful artwork throughout the facility. The rooms are immaculate and private, with separate bathrooms. There is a children’s room, a den with a large television, a comfortable library and an up to date computer center.

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These amenities make Red Cross House a model facility, not just because it is bright and orderly, but because it communicates tremendous respect for its clientele. The message to people in our area who have suffered a house fire or other disaster is – you matter. You are worthy of our care and concern. You deserve the assistance of your community to get back on your feet and recover. Red Cross House’s recognition of its clients’  humanity and agency, despite their state of desperate need, is why it is successful. I, for one, feel enormously proud that it was built here, in Philadelphia.

Submitted by Communications Volunteer Sarah Peterson

Last week I got a chance to visit the Red Cross House at 40th and Powelton Avenue in University City. As a new volunteer member in the Communications Department with Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania, I was referred to the Red Cross House for a visit to become familiar with some of the services the Red Cross offers disaster survivors in Philadelphia. A few of the things I instantly noticed when I arrived at the Red Cross House was that the facility was clean, the front desk staff was friendly, and the building supported a cool climate, which seemed requisite for a July day, and a welcome reprieve from the temperatures outside. After explaining the nature of my visit to the staff at the front desk, names were shared between us, handshakes were exchanged and then I was taken for a tour of the Red Cross House.

The Red Cross House, I learned is a solution to disaster, a one-of-a-kind facility, where temporary stay and support is offered to victims of housing displacement and disasters ranging from house fires, chemical leaks, power outages and other forms of property damage. Inside the Red Cross House, beyond the front desk one can find a kitchen and dining room area where people are fed three meals a day. There are also computers available for temporary residents to use to plug into a search engine. There is a modest sized library for browsing through books and a room for listening to music. There is a laundry and storage room in the basement. Upstairs are bedrooms and even a play space allocated for children.

Within 24 hours, a caseworker meets with the newly arrived disaster victims and family to map out short and long-term disaster recovery plans. In addition to case worker services the Red Cross House offers safety training, mental health services, life skills information and housing search assistance. All of these services are provided for individuals and families staying at the Red Cross House to strengthen them during a hard time, to provide consolation, and to advocate for them in their time of rebuilding back to a place of normalcy. The Red Cross House is just another way the Red Cross is ready to help those confronted with disaster.

Click here for more information about Red Cross House and its services.

Jabril Redmond, Volunteer