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It was shortly after the celebration of America’s Birthday ended when a devastating fire ripped through the 6500 block of Gesner Street in Southwest Philadelphia. The raging fire destroyed or damaged 10 homes, leaving 42 residents without a place to stay. Sadly, 4 children did not escape the fire. This was a tragedy that stunned the entire community.

Red Cross workers, some who had just worked nearly 20 hours at the Wawa Welcome America events along the parkway, responded to assist a neighborhood in grief. Volunteers provided blankets, water, hugs, support, comfort and counsel in the early hours of July 5th. A reception center was set up nearby at Bartram High School where more than 2 dozen residents registered. By Sunday afternoon, Red Cross had provided financial assistance to 10 families, 33 people… 18 of who are in our care staying at Red Cross House.

rco_blog_img_GesnerThe Red Cross will continue to provide assistance to other families who may come forward in the days to come and will continue to support those families in grief over the loss of these children.

We have been inundated with requests to help, so here are the ways you can help:

First, please consider making a financial donation to local disaster relief to allow the Red Cross to have resources constantly available to respond to disasters like this one and to continue to provide support to the families affected by the Gesner Street fire. You can d this by calling 1-800-RED CROSS or by clicking here.

For those wishing to donate material items specifically to the affected families, many partners are coordinating these efforts. Here is a short list of places to contact or take items:

Christ International Baptist Church
2210 South 65th Street
Philadelphia. Ph:215-729-0214

Community Support Center
Connell Park
6401 Elmwood Ave
Philadelphia, PA

Liberian Association of Pennsylvania, Inc.
1155 South 54th Street
Philadelphia, PA
Ph: 215-651-9322

Saving Grace Orphanage
4918 Baltimore Ave
Philadelphia, PA
Ph: 215-779-5726

First Baptist Church of Paschall
7100 Woodland Avenue
Philadelphia, PA
Ph: 215-724-3294

(This list will be updated as more information becomes available)

Also, consider joining the Red Cross as a volunteer to respond to disaster like this one. We are always looking for dedicated people. You can learn more and sign up by clicking here.

 

I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps member at the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania.  Our year of service is quickly coming to a close and we are already in our last rotations. I will be finishing out my year with the communications department, but I would like to use this blog post to reflect on my rotation at Red Cross House.  Going in I knew very little about what my days would look like.  I knew the statistics, but what I didn't know was all the work that goes on over there. The caseworkers spend many hours helping residents who are staying at Red Cross House following a disaster find assistance and residents spend many hours searching for a new place to live. Anyone who has looked for an apartment or house knows how stressful the process is, but imagine adding that to the stress of just having lost your home and belongings. When families first enter Red Cross House it is not uncommon for them to be overwhelmed. They have a daunting journey ahead of them. Soon, typically the day after they enter, they will sit down with their caseworker.  The trained caseworkers go over what the family lost, what their recovery plans are, and what the next steps should be.  After this first meeting you often can see that the family is visibly more relaxed, because they now at least have an idea of what to do to get back into a home.  The road ahead is still difficult, but they have a sense of control again.

Residents also take classes while staying at Red Cross House.  Some classes offer practical knowledge, such as fire safety and financial literacy, while other activities are ways for the residents to have fun and decompress, such as yoga class or getting a free haircut. None of these classes would happen without our volunteers and financial supporters. In fact, Red Cross House would not run smoothly without the many volunteers who help at the front desk, serve lunch, teach classes, and offer counseling services, or the financial support to help keep the place looking nice.

One of the things about Red Cross House that stands out to me the most is how quickly residents form bonds with each other. After all, no one understands what you're going through better than the people staying down the hall. It was not uncommon to see people sit down at lunch together and start talking about what had brought them to the house.  Soon you would see them checking in on each other, and sometimes even helping each other look for a new place to live. I believe that the sense of community is one of the first things that helps people on their road to recovery, because they are reminded that they are not alone, and they see others who were in the same place as them moving back into a home.

Working at Red Cross House showed me how resilient the people of Philadelphia are.  All of the residents staying there were going through a very challenging period, but they all continued to move forward and do what needed to be done to get them back into a forever home. ​In the meantime, Red Cross House stands ready to act as home whenever needed. Learn more about Red Cross House. - Submitted by Megan Wood, AmeriCorps NPRC Member

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.

Does your home have a working fire alarm?  Do you have an escape plan in the event of a fire?  Did you remember to turn off the stove?

Growing up in the suburbs near Trenton, New Jersey, I found questions like this a nuisance because fires in my area were a rare event.   It was not until I began school at Temple University that I started to appreciate why my school engraved fire safety tips into our minds.  During my years at Temple, I would often hear a sound unfamiliar to me when I lived in the suburbs; the sound of a fire truck siren.  To my surprise, it was not uncommon to see a fire truck racing down Broad Street three, four times a week.  Now, working at the Red Cross as an AmeriCorps NPRC member, I’ve seen first-hand the effects of fires on the people of Philadelphia and the importance of fire safety.

Firefighters and damage 3

 

September was National Preparedness Month, and one of the things we all need to prepare for is fires.  Fire is an unforgiving chemical process that will continue to spread and be fatal if not accounted for.  Of the 74,000 disasters Red Cross responded to this past year, 93 percent of them were fire related.  In fact, fire kills more Americans each year then all the natural disasters combined.  As National Fire Safety Month begins, it is essential for everyone to take steps to help protect their homes and the people they care about.

Common house hold items are often a source of fire; anything from the stove in the kitchen to the space heater used to warm up the house during those cold winter nights are all potential fire hazards.  Even things we cannot see like the wiring behind the wall can cause fires.  It is important to learn more about these items in order to prevent fires from occurring.

The most important way to help save lives in the event of a fire is that first alert to a problem.  This is why it is essential to install and maintain all smoke alarms throughout the house.  Smoke alarms can help notify people a fire is occurring and help them escape before the fire spreads to all available exits in the house. The next thing you must do is have and practice your escape plan. In fact, the Red Cross recommends having at least two ways out of every room in your house.  At Temple, that meant investing in a fire ladder for myself. My second way out was through a third story window, so I had a ladder ready, just in case.

Preparing and planning for fires can protect what you love most.  Please take the time to visit http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/home-fire to learn more about fires in order to prevent them and prepare for them in the event that a fire does occur in your home.

DSC_0168_7138In the early morning hours of January 23nd, there was a serious house fire in East Norriton, Montgomery County. Since my volunteer role at the SEPA Red Cross began, I’ve been in the habit of checking the local news each morning. That’s how I saw the interview with the Montgomery County fire chief where he explained that the recent cold snap created some special challenges for the responders. It took a while to find a working hydrant. Water froze on contact with everything it touched: the grass, the pavement, the house. The hoses froze to the pavement and could not be moved once the fire was extinguished. Two fire fighters were hurt slipping on the ice. Two residents were hurt jumping out of a second floor window. It is safe to say that 10 degree temperatures made a terrible situation even worse, but the fire fighters were there to do their job and they deserve our admiration and respect.

The American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania was also there. Volunteers rose in the middle of the night to be at the scene and care for residents forced out into the cold. They were there with financial assistance for food, clothing, shoes and winter coats to four people affected by the fire. Frozen hoses are not the only challenging consequence of a cold snap. Cold and fire are old friends. When heating bills become high and un-payable, people take risks to create heat. Stove burners are turned to high, a space heater overloads a socket, and an oven is turned to 500 degrees and left open.

In the last few frozen days, our volunteers responded to 10 fires in all five Southeastern, PA counties. We helped 48 people who were forced out of their homes. In every case, Red Cross volunteers were there side by side with fire fighters to do the other half of the work: care for the people involved.

These volunteers are extremely special people. Most of us are good at caring for our family and friends; very few of us are good at caring for strangers in 10 degree temperatures at 2:00 in the morning. But still Red Cross volunteers are there. We were there this week. Our volunteers are dedicated middle of the night risers, unstoppable on ice and determined to provide relief. We will see our region through the winter months, no matter how cold it gets

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Below is a video of a separate fire response, this one Friday evening 1/25/13 in N. Wales, Montgomery County. It further underscores the point made above.

Although October may be the month of haunted houses and horror movies, there is one “scare” we never want: fire. The combination of Halloween décor and dry autumn weather makes October the perfect time for Fire Safety Month. Here are some tips to keep your home and family safe this season:

  • Keep the Halloween jack-o-lantern tradition alive, but forgo any actual flames. Using candles in jack-o-lanterns is a huge hazard, and easily avoided by using flashlights or battery operated lights.
  • Also, be cautious in your placement of jack-o-lanterns or other luminaries. Having a well lit pathway is nice, but the close proximity of flames to high-traffic areas is not.
  • Corn stalks or hay bales should be placed far from any flames or heat sources, as they are highly flammable. Remember, light bulbs give off heat and should never be draped with fabric, etc.
  • Whether your trick-or-treater wants to be Thor or a kitty cat, be sure the costume is flame-retardant. Rayon, acrylic and cotton/polyester blends are the most flammable fabrics.
  • How are your smoke detectors? Change Your Clocks, Change Your Batteries is right around the corner (November 4), but it never hurts to double check the batteries in your home.
  • It’s getting colder out there. If you’re digging out space heaters or opening up the chimney, be sure to take preventative measures. Sweep your chimney, install a fire guard and keep heaters away from flammable materials.
  • Not only are there precautions for inside your home, but outside, too. Clear your roof and gutters of debris buildup, such as pine needles and leaves, and learn the outdoor burning regulations in your area. Burning leaves and other outdoor debris (illegal or not) can be very risky.
Viewing Danelle Stoppel’s posts on the wildfire situation in Colorado, has helped me learn to an even greater extent the kind of support the Red Cross offers in critical moments. As a new blogger with Red Cross Philly and as a new volunteer still growing acclimated to all the services the Red Cross provides, I was impressed to learn that in the midst of the wildfire crisis, the Red Cross was there also in Colorado providing temporary shelter, handing out supplies, serving meals and otherwise offering supportive services so essential in a crucial time of need.

Scanning through the local newspapers last week is when I first came across coverage of the ravaging wildfires tearing through parts of Colorado. The Philadelphia Daily News printed on June 28, that thousands fled their homes due to the fires. At one point the numbers reached a staggering 30,000 plus people who had been displaced. The Metro’s June 29 –July 1 weekend paper projected the number of homes destroyed in the hundreds. Add to that total, the various structures and buildings burned down in the wildfires’ periphery and the count of destroyed properties climbed by several hundred. Consequently, an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer indicated that the ongoing wildfires, which firefighters and other emergency personnel have worked hard to contain, are the most destructive in Colorado’s state history. 
Reading in the newspapers the massive damage brought about by the wildfires gave me awareness to what was happening in Colorado. Nevertheless, reading Danelle’s posts and viewing the pictures on the Red Cross Philly blog helped me to understand in a more tangible way the amount of effort and hard work that goes into supporting disaster relief situations, the hardships that the volunteers share with the victims, and the camaraderie that bonds the volunteers, workers and the people together during a time of crisis. When you go to the Red Cross Philly About” page and read the first sentence in the About Us” section you’ll see that it mirrors just the thing Danelle and other volunteers were carrying out in Colorado as Red Cross representatives which is “to be in the unique role of serving as the safety net for the American people in their hour of greatest need.” That I’m learning is the essential service the Red Cross provides.

– Jabril Redmond, volunteer