Friday, January 28, 2011

Where Does the Haiti Relief Money Go?

Today, I had the opportunity to talk with the staff of Threadless -- a t-shirt company that you should know about, if you don't already. They made a $100,000 donation about a year ago to support our relief effort in Haiti, and they wanted to know more about how the money made an impact.

There are a lot of ways that we can answer that question -- "Where does the money go?"

We can do the math: Well, if $100 can provide a cooking set, hygien pack, blankets, and water containers for a family of five, your $100,000 helped 1,000 families.

We can tell the story: "A line of men, women and children stretches around the corner of the white tent, each waiting patiently to tell their story to the attending doctors from the Red Cross mobile health clinic..." and so on.

We can provide the data: Pie charts, maps and such will show you, quite precisely where the money goes.

We can show you very touching videos with pleasant music.

But, with Threadless, this just didn't feel right. I mean, look at their Headquarters, here in Chicago:

Does this audience strike you as one that wants to hear numbers or watch more than a couple of videos? Me neither.

Talking with them today reminded me how isolated our donors must feel from the impact of their donation. It just doesn't occur to you that you actually save lives, does it?

Listen up. You do.

Even $5 bought some individual in Haiti a water container to store clean drinking water. That individual you helped with your 5 bucks may have been this kid:

You did that. Threadless did that for 19,999 additional kids. Do you get what I'm saying?

Do me (and yourself) a favor. If you gave to the Haiti relief effort, do these 3 things:

1) think about how much you gave

2) do the water container math ($5 bucks a pop)

3) and look at the faces of the people it helped.

You matter to that kid. Man oh man. You matter.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Make a Difference With a Blood Donation

You don’t have to be a superhero to make a difference in someone’s life. Even donating a pint of blood goes a long way in preparing and helping a community. Ordinary people took some time out of their busy schedules to give blood at the American Red Cross blood drive hosted by Loyola University. Some came to continue a legacy; others were first-timers who felt it was their way of giving back to society.

“My grandmother gets blood transfusions regularly and I’m just trying to catch up,” said Jeff McDonald, a law student at Loyola University. Jeff’s grandmother is 101 years old and the transfusions boost her health and mental disposition, he said.
Another blood donor, James Wade, was there to fulfill a family commitment. “My dad always gave blood so I’m keeping up the tradition,” Wade said.

One person in the United States needs a blood transfusion every two seconds. Blood and platelets are also used for trauma victims-those who suffered accidents and burns-heart surgery patients, organ transplant patients, premature babies and for patients receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or other diseases, such as sickle cell disease. Thus, the need is unending.

Recently, the American Red Cross sent out an urgent appeal for blood donations. The extreme winter weather and predictions of upcoming storms caused 14,000 blood donation cancellations this season. And this is the first time in ten years that the Red Cross blood supply has dropped this low.

Blood donor, Greg Vera, considers it to be his responsibility. “Giving blood is so accessible that it’s inexcusable not to if you can. For me personally, it’s almost to be like a moral obligation. I try to give once every 8 weeks,” he added.

Donors at the Loyola blood drive had the chance to meet reality star Jillian Harris of the Bachelor and Extreme Home Makeover. Harris is a long time blood donor and also encourages people who are eligible to give blood. While lying on the cot waiting for her turn, she said it was the easiest way to make a big difference in someone’s life.

To schedule an appointment for a blood donation today, please visit, You can also visit for more information.

Written by Erica Serna and Maliha Sadiq.

To see more photos from the Loyola blood drive visit our Flickr page.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Blood, Sweat and Bears

Sixty seconds was all it took for the most anticipated football game in the Midwest to sell out. The Bears and the Packers face off for the 182nd time and are prepared to give it their all. The rivalry between the teams runs deep, so the fans are ready for an intense play-off game 60 years in the making. Already, Chicago is rallying to show our team that we are behind them 150%.

Even though I’m not a football fan, I find it difficult not to feel a sense of excitement and pride in knowing that the Bears are in the plays-offs. I cannot help but be swept away by the energy that radiates from football enthusiasts. The fervor is contagious and makes me want to join the Bears movement and become a die-hard fan.

As I get swept away in Bear fever, I realize that energy and enthusiasm drive us, but loyalty to Chicago binds us. Like Bears fever, the Red Cross of Greater Chicago is a movement that uplifts, unites and inspires Chicagoans. Our disaster volunteers unite to provide aid and support to those in need. We find that there is a joy in having the ability to help someone in need. The joy and energy we experience when serving others drives our donors, staff and volunteers to deepen their loyalty to our movement.

The Bears will leave their sweat and blood on the field on Sunday. Are you ready for that kind of die-hard loyalty? Bear down, and become a volunteer.

By Erica Serna

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Staying Safe on the Road in Drizzle, Sleet, and Snow

When I was a kid I used to love waking up and seeing the sparkly white sheet of snow outside, and wished that there would be enough of it for me to make a snowman. But as an adult the mere mention of snow throws me in a state of panic. This morning I woke up and realized that I had to drive my nephew to his school in snowy weather. Although my nephew’s school is less than 5 minutes away, it’s a dangerous route as the chances of skidding on the narrower street are much higher.

Before leaving my home I decided to make a plan and take the routes that I knew would minimize the risk of my car skidding. If you are in the same situation as me and your best option is to drive, it’s a good idea to pre-plan your commute. Here are some useful tips from the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago:

Before you hit the roads
• Let your family or friends know your destination, your primary and alternate routes, and when you expect to arrive. If your vehicle gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.
• Pay attention to the weather forecast. Your local TV and radio stations can provide updated storm information that can help you avoid treacherous weather.

If you are stranded
• Stranded drivers should stay with the vehicle and not try to walk to safety. You can quickly become disoriented in wind-driven snow and run the risk of developing hypothermia and frostbite. Exercise your arms and legs to maintain body heat.
• Use the heater for 10 minutes every hour and leave the overhead light on when the engine is running so you can be seen.
• Keep the exhaust pipe clear so fumes won't back up in the vehicle
• Make it easier for rescuers to find you by tying a brightly colored cloth to the antenna
• After the snow has subsided, raise the hood to indicate you need help.

In snowy weather it is important to keep calm while driving and be prepared. For more safety tips visit winter storm safety and preparation, please visit the

Written by: Erica Serna

Friday, January 14, 2011

More Than a Sign

The Minnesota Planetarium Society has sent our world into frenzy with the newly-released announcement that most of our zodiac signs have changed due to the Earth’s current alignment. According to some astrologers, Earth’s current position in relation to the Sun means that our signs, which were put into place approximately 3,000 years ago, are now outdated. As a result, date alignment with the signs shifted nearly a month causing many individuals to question their self identity. Whether you are a skeptic or a believer, there’s no doubt that the world has, literally, been shaken by this announcement.

As a Capricorn, my natural appreciation of stability has me feeling extremely uncomfortable with the news. Have we all been living a lie? Does the goat tattoo on my lower back need to be removed and replaced with a centaur? I don’t know the first thing about being a Sagittarius!

We at the Red Cross have daily experience with receiving startling news that can shake up the world on both personal and worldwide levels. We learn first-hand to expect the unexpected. Despite the unpredictable nature of our mission at the Red Cross, one factor remains stable—we believe in hope. This common denominator among disasters of any proportion allows us to persevere through the hard days knowing we have the ability to do what we do everyday. It provides us with the power to help others and stand strongly behind the Red Cross mission. We see this belief all the time. We see it in our volunteers. We see it in our donors. We see it in our staff. We see it in the victims we assist. We see the belief in all of you who believe in us and our mission.

You may or may not believe that the fate of our love lives and stubbornness means changing from a goat to a four-legged man, but when it comes to persevering through the those disasters that seem impossible, we too can say, “keep on believing.”

Hope happens. What keeps you going?

Written by David Roth & Katie Wilkes

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Are You Still in Haiti?"

"Are you still in Haiti?"

Many of the employees and volunteers of the American Red Cross are asked this question. Today, we'll be asked more than usual.

"We are," we answer. "We probably will be there for a few years."

We sometimes forget to remind you, though, that you are still in Haiti.

If you volunteered, donated, helped raise awareness, gave blood, supported evacuees who sought refuge in Chicago Red Cross shelters... if you showed up in any way to support Red Cross efforts between January 12, 2010, and today... you are in Haiti.

Your donation is still at work and will be for years as we unravel one of the most complex relief efforts we've ever undertaken. Take a look at the difference you are making.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Be on Track to a Safer Commute.

2011 has only just begun, but it is already looking like a great year for many residents of Chicago with the arrival of the CTA’s highly anticipated ‘Train Tracker.’ The Chicago Transit Authority and Mayor Richard Daley made an official announcement Saturday, January 8 that the new application was now available for use. With Chicago’s brutal winter season just beginning, it seems like the announcement of the city’s new ‘Train Tracker’ couldn’t have arrived at a more appropriate time. The new technology covers all eight of Chicago’s L-train lines and 144 train stations. Although this new tool is still in its early stages of development, the application is already available from both residents’ computers and smart-phones.

With Chicago’s L-train system being the third busiest system in the United States with over 650,000 riders each weekday, it is crucial that commuters be prepared for CTA emergencies. This past June, a highly reported track fire ignited on the Red Line just north of the Chicago platform. It left 19 injured and created a standstill with the north and southbound red line trains for approximately three hours. Although CTA mishaps of this size aren’t extremely common, emergencies of all sorts do happen no matter how much the city tries to avoid them. Even today, Monday, January 10, smoke was reported between the Lake and Grand stations of the Red Line. Although it was a false alarm, the report resulted in firefighters investigating the scene and the trains to be rerouted on the elevated tracks for a short period of time.

In order to be as prepared as possible for potential emergencies while commuting, the American Red Cross has teamed up with U.S. Department of Transportation to create helpful information for those who may find themselves in a commuter emergency.

On a Train
• If the train stops, follow the operator’s instructions quickly and calmly.
• In an extreme emergency when you must evacuate the train without the operator’s assistance, follow posted emergency procedures.

On a Station Platform
• Familiarize yourself with all the exits at the stations that you use in case you ever have to take a different exit.
• Listen for announcements and follow instructions quickly and calmly.

The American Red Cross also suggests that commuters purchase a Safety Tube, which can be found on our website. This portable emergency safety tube provides commuters with a water pouch, an individually wrapped mask, a whistle, and a foil wrapped-six-hour light stick.

For more information on commuter safety, please visit our Safety Tips page on
Photo credit to Christopher & AmyCrate on Flickr

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Butt-Dialing: What if it had been a Real Emergency Response?

The occasional ‘butt-dial’ usually brings forth a sense of confusion or awkwardness, but for one man it brought a SWAT team to his place of work. On January 4, 2011 a woman received a call from her husband around 5:00 PM. Instead of hearing his voice, the woman was greeted with muffled sounds paired with rap music. Alarmed, the woman reported what she somehow assumed was a hostage situation to 911. Unknown to her and the police force, the man had actually accidentally ‘butt-dialed’ her while driving. Within a short period of time, thirty members of the Lake County SWAT team arrived at Carlton Washburne School in Winnetka, IL. After searching the school, the SWAT team discovered that there was in fact no hostage situation.

While this couple was lucky with a false alarm, it doesn’t always end up this fortunate for those in a real-life crisis. Social media has moved far from the Facebook status update about your New Year’s Eve plans and has become a life-saving device for disaster victims. For example, those affected by the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti were able to communicate to loved ones. “Phones are working somewhat in Haiti. Can't get a hold of my family though," was one post Tweeted among the many others.

As we continue to utilize the benefits of instant communication, more and more people believe in the power – which is both positive, but a serious challenge to emergency response organizations like the Red Cross. In an online survey of 1,058 adults conducted for the American Red Cross found that if they needed help and couldn’t reach 9-1-1, one in five would try to contact responders through digital platforms (such as email, websites or social media). Further, a high percentage of 74 expected help to arrive less than one hour after their tweet or Facebook post. As the rate of socialization increases, the time frame for emergency workers to respond decreases.

The Red Cross held an Emergency Social Data Summit last August to discuss the reality of the public expectations when it comes to using social media as a form of emergency response.

The following questions were asked and are still being discussed:
  • What can we do to prepare in advance of a crisis?
  • Who should have custody of social data? How should it be used?
  • Can we codify a solution?
  • What about issues of accessibility?
  • How do we avoid a duplication of effort?
  • What is the best way to authenticate requests?
  • How do we manage citizen expectations for response?

What do you think - would you use a traditional phone call or social media to find help during a crisis? Have an opinion? Be sure to join the online discussion by using the Twitter hashtag #CrisisData .

Posted by David Roth, Katie Wilkes & Lauren Snyder