By Y. Hope Osborn, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
Knock. Knock. Knock. Someone at the door. Who is it? Why are these young men and women at my door? I am not interested in buying any.
The strangers tell the occupants of the home, “We aren’t selling anything. We are the 71 STURON Division, the student squadron, from Vance Air Force Base, and we volunteer with the Red Cross. Can we install smoke alarms in your home as a service to help protect you, your loved ones, and your dwelling?”
I really don’t want to buy anything. Besides I only rent my home. Nobody just gives away smoke alarms. And what do I do with smoke alarms anyway? How do I install them?
The volunteers reassure her, “We are going door-to-door in the neighborhood to make sure everyone has smoke alarms. We install them in rented or owned homes—at no charge to you. House fires are the number one disaster in America, and the Red Cross and we want to help protect you from fatalities.”
The woman welcomes the volunteers into her home, and they ask her, “Do you have friends and family who need smoke alarms installed? Call them, and we will be right over.”
Maj. Joe Aubert says projects like these, “help develop [the servicemen and servicewomen] as officers so that they learn how to serve not only the base but learn the importance of the relation of a base to the community and how they can serve the people around us.”
The Home Fire Campaign is one of the projects with which the Vance Air Force Base student squadron in Enid, OK is partnering with the Red Cross. On a quarterly basis, these young men and women strategically target 10 by 10 blocks of the neediest areas. The student squadron makes and posts fliers, and they even made a television commercial, so residents know how to request smoke alarms and are aware of the volunteers canvasing their neighborhoods. Since July 2015, these volunteers installed over 200 10-year lithium-ion maintenance-free smoke alarms, going door-to-door and by appointment.
When the Vance Air Force Base student squadron isn’t installing smoke alarms, they work on the Red Cross’ Pillowcase Project.
Garrett, an elementary school student, wants to be in the military when he grows up. One day when Grandma picks Garrett up from school, he comes out and gets in the car, carrying a pillowcase. He tells Grandma that these “guys” came from the air base, and they had on their uniforms. Garrett showed her all the stuff in his pillowcase. His mom said that night he started going around the house looking for stuff to add to his pillowcase. She told him his pillowcase had the stuff in it already.
He said, “But Mom, there’s only one bottle of water, and there are four of us in the house.”
Garrett learned lifesaving disaster safety information from the Vance Air Force Base Red Cross volunteers who distributed nearly 600 of these pillowcases to kids since July 2015. The Pillowcase Project is in partnership with Disney, so the kids color Disney characters on their pillowcases. The volunteers play games and have lessons that teach kids like Garrett about different hazards. They learn how to make their own go-kit, starting with a few things the Red Cross provides, such as a whistle, glo-stick, or emergency blanket. And the parents learn in turn to have a plan.
Most of the servicemen and servicewomen are 20-25 years old and don’t have children yet. As Maj. Aubert says, “Learning how to interact with a 3rd to 5th grader is sort of challenging.” But once they figure out how to be fun and engaging “the kids just adore them and soak up every word they say.” And the Pillowcase Project creates a “greater tie and connection to the community.”
The student squadron of the Vance Air Force Base, partnering with the Red Cross, took the initiative to bring the Home Fire Campaign and the Pillowcase Project to Enid which Maj. Aubert says, “supports [them] so much.” He says, “It is a nice way to give back.”
If you live in Enid, OK and need a smoke alarm, call (580) 237-5994 to make an appointment. For all other Oklahomans, visit redcross.org/oklahoma to contact your nearest chapter office.