How These Special Pillowcases Help Students Prepare Families for Disaster

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JOHNSTON, Iowa -- You never know when disaster will strike, and one project aims at making sure young students play an important role in preparing their families.

Third graders at Beaver Creek Elementary in Johnston pay attention to what Morgan Halupnick has to say, but she isn't their teacher.

"I get to talk a little bit about fire safety and the importance of always being prepared for that because that is something that can always happen in the home," Halupnick said.

Halupnick is a nursing student at Mercy College of Health Sciences. The school teamed up with the American Red Cross to present The Pillowcase Project to about 2,000 students, mostly in the Johnston School District.

“I think it's going to save lives. We've heard a lot about fires in the Des Moines area, and what a better kick-off to say, look at what can happen and how can you be prepared to have the best possible outcome," said Dawn Bowker, associate professor of nursing at Mercy College of Health Sciences.

The 42 nursing students talk about what to do in case of any emergency. They also go over coping techniques so kids can stay calm during a disaster. They also show students what to put in a pillowcase to prepare for a problem.

"In the pillowcase, you put those things that help them reduce stress, maybe a favorite toy. We talk about the importance of water, non-perishable foods. We talk about having a flashlight and a radio," explained Bowker.

Each student got a pillowcase to decorate and take home with the homework assignment of telling their families about the message.

"We're aiming it toward children 8 to 11 that are most likely going to go home and talk to their families and siblings about these preparedness ideas," said Chrissy Bristle, disaster program specialist with the American Red Cross.

It's something the third graders, like Cameron White, are ready to do.

"We'll have safe spots, we'll know what to do. We'll just be safer all around, and I think that's a good thing," Cameron said.

Disney sponsors The Pillowcase Project. The American Red Cross wants to present it to 5,000 students in Iowa this year.

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