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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.

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.

Here as a volunteer blogger for the SEPA chapter, I’m getting a chance to learn some of the things that the Red Cross does that don’t make it onto your local news but does make an impact on people’s lives.

Whether it’s mental health volunteers helping out in Colorado or the SEPA Communications team being the first on the scene to help survivors access the help they need following a fire in Philadelphia, I’m also learning that the hundreds of Red Cross chapters nationwide and their volunteers adhere to one vision and one mission.

Two Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania workers console a woman displaced by a fatal fire in West Philadelphia.

The mission is to “prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”

The vision is to turn compassion into action so that:

.all people affected by disaster across the country and around the world receive care, shelter and hope;

..our communities are ready and prepared for disasters;

…everyone in our country has access to safe, lifesaving blood and blood products;

….all members of our armed services and their families find support and comfort whenever needed; and

…..in an emergency, there are always trained individuals nearby, ready to use their Red Cross skills to save lives.

Both are daunting tasks and responsibilities.

Yet both were demonstrated during the number of tragedies this past summer. Tragedies that ranged from but not limited to house fires, water main breaks, and some natural disasters on the local level as well as wildfires and mass causality crises on the national level.

American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania mental health volunteer meeting with a man displaced by the Colorado wildfires.

Through them all, the American Red Cross was there to help and through their actions I begin to realize how volunteers live the American Red Cross mission and vision everyday.

– Jabril Redmond, volunteer guest blogger