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Teaching Children Life-Saving Emergency Preparedness Skills Through the Red Cross Pillowcase Project

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

It’s not uncommon to hear about natural disasters occurring every week. According to FEMA, there have been 90 disaster declarations in 2019, and, as we’re writing this blog, Southern California is experiencing horrific wildfires. Many families are evacuating with very little time to pack their belongings.

Having an emergency kit is critical during a disaster, that’s why the Institute for Childhood Preparedness supports the efforts of the American Red Cross Pillowcase Project, which helps children mentally and physically prepare for natural disasters.

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What Inspired the Pillowcase Project?

The American Red Cross developed the Pillowcase Project after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Louisiana in late August 2005. The Red Cross learned that “Loyola University students carried their valuables in pillowcases when they were evacuated for Katrina. This inspired a program in which children living in makeshift communities across New Orleans decorated pillowcases as emergency supplies kits.” Since 2005, Red Cross chapters across the country have participated in the project. The pillowcase project reaches 225,000 children annually, and the project proudly reached its millionth child in 2018!

What is the Pillowcase Project?

The Red Cross Pillowcase Project “aims to increase awareness and understanding of natural hazards and teaches safety, emotional coping skills, and personal preparedness.” Children learn how and why natural disasters occur. If an emergency happens, they are prepared with emergency supply kits, and with the knowledge and skills to evacuate. The pillowcase project also helps to ease stress during a chaotic situation. When children are prepared and aware, they are better able to cope and recover during traumatic emergencies.

Image via American Red Cross-Northern Nevada

The Red Cross says, “In this program, trained Red Cross volunteers help students learn how to create an emergency supply kit by packing essential items into a pillowcase, which makes it easier to transport items in the event of a disaster or emergency. Students are also given the opportunity to personalize their pillowcase and encouraged to share what they’ve learned with their loved ones.”

Prepare, Respond, and Recover

Prepare, respond, and recover are the basic tenets of emergency preparedness. Having young children participate in the pillowcase project is a great way to teach them about natural disasters in a non-threatening way. The pillowcase project teaches children:

  • About emergencies and natural disasters that are common in their communities.

  • How to stay safe during an emergency.

  • Skills to cope and self-soothe during an emergency.

  • Hands-on activities to teach children about emergency preparedness, response, and recovery.

  • Encourages children to talk to their family and community members about best practices for emergency preparedness.

Melania Trump and Karen Pence Participate in the Pillowcase Project

On Wednesday, October 30, 2019, First Lady Melania Trump and Second Lady Karen Pence visited Lambs Elementary in Charleston, South Carolina. The Post and Courier said that Trump and Pence engaged with a fifth-grade classroom, asking the children whether any of them had to evacuate before. A White House press release said, “As children decorated their pillows, they talked about the different items they would take from their home in case of an emergency. The First and Second Ladies distributed Be Best flashlights for the kids to include in their safety kit.”

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First Lady Trump said, “I applaud the Red Cross and Lambs Elementary for proactively teaching our youth important readiness skills so that they can be better equipped for emergency situations.” Second Lady Pence then stated, “I’m also grateful for Red Cross and the lessons they shared with students at Lambs Elementary School on how to best handle an emergency situation.” Having Trump and Pence participate in the pillowcase project is a great way to raise awareness about the need for emergency preparedness, for both children and adults.

The pillowcase project teaches students about natural disasters and emergencies and provides children with resiliency and life-skills. Learning to pack an emergency kit is one small step in emergency preparedness, and we’re happy to know that the American Red Cross is providing this life-saving project across the United States and in six countries abroad.

The Institute for Childhood Preparedness has decades of experience in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery. Our staff provides trainings to childcare programs and communities, and we’re proud to offer our trainings in English and Spanish. Schedule a training with us today:



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