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What Are You Thankful for This Year?

Written by Anna Kate Twitty, Regional Communications Officer, American Red Cross, Columbia Region

If you had asked me what I was thankful for a month ago, I would have given you an answer like this: “I am thankful for my husband, my family, my friends and all of the amazing opportunities that surround me each and every day.”  I would still include these wonderful blessings in my response, but today my answer would include so much more as my perspective on life has changed in a few short weeks.

After seeing first-hand the devastation left behind by Hurricane Sandy, I now know what it is like to see pure heartbreak, communities destroyed, dreams shattered and hard work depleted in one night.  Through all the devastation that I saw, one thing was constant –people have so much hope and resiliency.  Before Sandy, I had personally never seen the amount of compassion and humanity that are within people and among communities.

I had the great honor to deploy for nine days to represent the American Red Cross in New York.  I met people from all walks of life and spent time at Red Cross shelters, at fixed feeding sites, at mobile kitchens and on mobile feeding routes in highly affected neighborhoods.

Red Cross volunteers in a mobile feeding truck travel through Long Beach, N.Y. to serve meals and snacks to people affected by Hurricane Sandy.

I will never forget riding with our volunteers on a mobile feeding truck through the cold and flooded streets of Long Beach, N.Y.  Homes were destroyed by severe flooding, cars had been washed away to random locations, waterlogged furniture and other belongings pilled the streets and people were left with no power and heat.

While on a Long Beach food route, one woman made an everlasting impact on me when she looked me in the eye and asked the simple question, “Why are you helping me?”  My answer was immediate, “because it’s the right thing to do.”  Once I told her that I had traveled 750 miles from South Carolina to New York, she was shocked and tears filled her eyes while she hugged and thanked me.

She told me her personal story and showed me her destroyed home.  In addition to listening to her, I gave her a turkey sandwich and an apple for lunch.  From her reaction and gratitude, you would have thought that I had given her a million dollars. I think the most important thing that I gave her was hope and reassurance that the Red Cross was there to help.

I spent some time visiting with the Reiter family at a Red Cross shelter at Nassau Community College on Long Island, NY.

I had similar encounters while spending time at a Red Cross shelter at Nassau Community College on Long Island, N.Y.  I met people who profoundly moved me and people who had lost everything, but had so much to be grateful for.  I met Red Cross volunteers that were personally affected by Sandy’s devastation, yet continued to volunteer their time to help others.

Red Cross workers discuss logistics that are involved in cooking thousands of hot meals in one day. The Red Cross is teaming up with the Southern Baptist Convention at multiple mobile kitchens in New York and New Jersey.

I was able to witness partnership and community giving at its best at one of the Red Cross mobile kitchen’s in Deer Park, N.Y.  The Red Cross has an amazing partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention, where together thousands of meals are prepared each day and delivered to neighborhoods hit hard by Sandy.

Through my nine day experience, I can whole heartily say that I am thankful this Thanksgiving for the Red Cross and the massive relief efforts that began before Sandy made landfall and that will continue for weeks and months to come.  More specifically, I am thankful for the following:

  • The 5,300 volunteers that have deployed from all 50 states to help
  • The over 100 volunteers that have deployed from South Carolina to help
  • The more than 300 feeding trucks that are delivering meals, snacks and relief supplies
  • The more than 6.7 million meals and snacks that have been served
  • The shelters that have been open since before Sandy hit that have provided over 149,000 overnight stays
  • The 78,000 health services and emotional support contacts that have been made
  • The various organizations and community groups that are working together with the Red Cross to help thousands each day
  • The generosity of the American people to open their hearts and donate millions of dollars to the Red Cross
  • The husbands, wives, children, relatives, friends, co-workers that are  supporting Red Cross volunteers while they spend countless hours away from their homes and work helping others

I am thankful that I am part of the Red Cross and that I get to see each and every day the important work that this organization does for so many.  The Red Cross works around-the-clock preparing and responding to disasters like Sandy.  Last but not least, I am thankful for the volunteers and staff that will be spending their Thanksgiving holiday away from home providing relief to thousand affected by Sandy in the Northeast.  These volunteers and staff are giving the greatest gift one can give – the gift of time.


Safe Travels This Thanksgiving!

Many people will travel to visit loved ones for the Thanksgiving holiday, and the American Red Cross has travel tips holiday travelers can follow to arrive safely at their destination.

Whether folks travel by plane, train or they take to the highway, there are things they can do to have a safer trip. Thanksgiving is one of the heaviest travel times of the year and we want people to be safe and enjoy their trip.

ON THE ROAD Most holiday travelers get to where they are going by car. To arrive safely, the Red Cross recommends these safety steps for travelers who will drive to visit their loved ones this Thanksgiving:

  • Make sure the vehicle is in good working order.
  • Start out with a full tank of gas, check the tire air pressure and make sure the windshield fluid is full.
  • Buckle up, slow down, don’t drive impaired. Designate a driver who won’t drink.
  • Be well rested and alert.
  • Use caution in work zones.
  • Give one’s full attention to the road.  Avoid distractions such as cell phones.
  • Observe speed limits – driving too fast or too slow can increase the chance of being in a collision.
  • Make frequent stops.  During long trips, rotate drivers.  If the driver is tired, stop and get some rest.
  • Be respectful of other motorists and follow the rules of the road.
  • Don’t follow another vehicle too closely.
  • Clean the vehicle’s headlights, taillights, signal lights and windows.
  • Turn the headlights on as dusk approaches, or if using windshield wipers due to inclement weather.
  • Don’t overdrive the headlights.
  • If car trouble develops, pull off the road as far as possible.

It’s also recommended to keep an emergency preparedness kit in the vehicle. Useful items include water, snacks, a flashlight, first aid kit, extra cash and blankets. Red Cross Emergency Preparedness kits are available in the Red Cross Store.

TRAINS, PLANES, BUSES For people traveling by air, bus or train, the Red Cross reminds them that the seasonal flu can occur as early as October. If people have come in contact with someone who is sick, perhaps the trip should be postponed as they may be contagious for a week before symptoms appear.

Other safety tips to avoid the flu while traveling include the following:

  • Remember that everything someone touches has to be touched by someone else – luggage handlers, etc.  Handle one’s own belongings as much as possible.  Wash hands often with soap and water.
  • Carry hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes and use them to wash hands or wipe down surfaces such as armrests.
  • Bring one’s own pillows and blankets – they can act as a shield against the seat itself.
  • If someone has to cough or sneeze, do so into a tissue or sleeve.
  • Avoid touching the face or eyes.

For more information on how to remain safe while traveling this Thanksgiving, visit the Red Cross web site. 

Be Safe this Thanksgiving in the Kitchen!

The kitchen is the place where family and friends love to gather, but it is also the setting of more fires than any other room in the house.

Cooking is the number one cause of home fires in this country and during the holidays, the American Red Cross wants everyone to be aware of steps they should take to avoid a fire while cooking.

Click here to take a Red Cross quiz to see if your cooking safety knowledge is up to snuff!

Start by not wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking.  Never leave cooking food unattended – stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food.  If you must leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.  Other safety steps include:

  • Check your food regularly while cooking and remain in the home while cooking. Use a timer to remind yourself that the stove or oven is on.
  • Keep the kids away from the cooking area. Enforce a “kid-free zone” and make them stay at least three feet away from the stove.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire – pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, and towels or curtains—away from your stove, oven or any other appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.
  • Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup.
  • Consider purchasing a fire extinguisher to keep in your kitchen.  Contact your local fire department to take training on the proper use of extinguishers.
  • Always check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving the home to make sure all stoves, ovens, and small appliances are turned off.
  • Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms if you sleep with doors closed.  Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.

The Red Cross responded to more than 62,960 home fires during the 2011 fiscal year.  House fires are the worst disaster threat to families in the United States.  To learn how to prevent a fire in your home and how to keep members of your household safe, you can download The Red Cross Fire Prevention and Safety Checklist.  Downloadable fact sheets are also available at www.columbiaregionredcross.org on how to be fire safe over the holidays, how to avoid home heating fires, candle safety, proper use of smoke alarms and teaching your children what to do in the event of a fire.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation’s blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.columbiaregionredcross.org.