Giving Bigger

By Kayla Ihrig

Screenshot 2015-11-27 17.17.37.png

The day after Thanksgiving holds varied importance for everyone. Some people spend time with out-of-town relatives, indulge in holiday decorating or go shopping. The thought of Black Friday may make you roll your eyes, but it has always been an important day for my sister and me.

I come from a large family that loves gift-giving, so planning Christmas surprises often starts back in October or September. My sister and I plan and budget for weeks before Thanksgiving, and after turkey we caffeinate and drive off into the night.

Many members of our family work in the medical field and work most, if not all, holidays, so my sister and I usually shop alone on Thanksgiving night. Some people call for a boycott of shopping on the holiday, but on a college student and teacher’s income, it’s the only way we can afford to buy for everyone. We were also raised to be thrifty. Black Friday shopping was never about mass commercialism or greed for us, it was a way to get the most for our money and spend time together.

This year, I’ve shifted toward giving my family small, practical gifts that will help keep them safe. Instead of budgeting my holiday spending, I’m budgeting my holiday time that I’ll have with them while I’m break. I’m also encouraging everyone who is at a loss for what to buy to consider donating instead.

A donation can be just as meaningful for the gift receiver, and the money does more than just buy new headphones or accessories. It can impact a community or even save someone’s life.

This holiday season, you can make your gifts meaningful. And that is as easy as as going online: purchasing life-saving gifts or donating to


Don’t Mess With the Weather

Not From Here? Then don’t mess with the weather

By Jacqueline Koch

Hurricane Isaac 2012

The holidays are fast approaching and you can count on the weather forecaster predicting nasty storms in various parts of the country. As for the Pacific Northwest, if you are new to the region, just visiting, or even if you live here—but you are just a tad bullheaded—this blog is for you.

Here’s where I’m coming from: I’m a Seattleite who recently left our west-of-the-mountains, rain-rinsed town seeking sun in Texas.

I bet you can’t guess what happened? It poured of course. And poured. As luck would have it, Hurricane Patricia, a Category 5 super-storm was preparing to wallop the west coast of Mexico and spread precipitation across Texas—far, wide and deep.

Regardless of the weather, I had a plan to drive from Dallas to Austin and I was sticking to it. After all, it was just rain. Coming from Seattle, we know rain. In the Pacific Northwest, while we don’t have hurricanes, rain has made us famous. We have marathons of precipitation: steady rain, showers and downpours, mixed with drizzle and spittle. This goes on six to nine long, dark months at a stretch—and as we all know too well—with very few sunbreaks in between. We endure our protracted, wet winters, buffeted between the alternating whims of El Niño or La Niña. Yet, we Gortex up, get out, and greet the Pineapple Express. Hello atmospheric river, go ahead, let it rain, we’ll carry on.

Not so in Texas. Hurricane Patricia quickly washed away my provincial understanding extreme weather. In DalIas I discovered that weather systems are capable of brewing up big-time disaster in no time. Take the “super cell”: a severe thunderstorm said to “feature” rotating winds that may result in hail—the size of crocket balls, or, God forbid the “T”-word: a tornado. On radar maps a super cell will appear in frightfully bright red areas indicating heaviest rainfall and labeled “frog strangler.” No joke. Go ahead. Google it.

All of this of course can lead to flash flooding, an extremely risky event that brings a torrent of swift moving, high-level rush of water that is littered with deadly debris plowing forward at full speed.

So here’s the take away: Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have our share of extreme weather events too and we need to be aware. Flash floods can happen in our neck of the woods. It’s an especially perilous time now after two years of punishing wildfires and drought leaving hillsides barren and prone to landslides. Inform yourself on the phases of a flash flood. First it’s a warning, next a watch, and then a full-on flash flood emergency. (Spoiler alert! This means it’s actually happening. Look out. Get to high ground. Fast.)

It’s important to remember that wherever you are and planning to travel a considerable distance, weather can lead to chaos, hazardous conditions and life-threatening situations very quickly. At times, you might not have much time. Tune in, stay informed. Check with state and local weather channels and resources like NOAAH— National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—and useful links like WSDOT (www.

Let people know where you are going, check in. Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged. Don’t take risks, if it looks iffy, stay put.

Texans like to remind anyone who asks, “Don’t mess with Texas.” I’d take it a step further “Don’t mess with weather” no matter where you are traveling.

Windstorm Strikes Hard, Red Cross Support Remains in Place

Red Cross Helps Responds to Massive Wildfires in Central WA - July 2014

The November 17 windstorm crippled eastern Washington communities with extensive damage and power outages. Red Cross teams rapidly mobilized meals, shelter and other support services in the aftermath of the weather emergency.

An update from Megan Snow, Executive Director Red Cross serving the Greater Inland Northwest.
As you know the magnitude of the November 17 wind storm, the resulting damage and the impact on our community took us all by surprise. Yet our volunteers and staff were prepared to respond and our team focused on the task at hand, rallied our partners and got to work to provide help when the power went out and homes were without heat.
In three days, we opened five emergency shelters in Cheney, Spokane, Spokane Valley, Pullman and Coeur d’Alene. The areas without power and in need of sheltering services were extensive and widespread, yet we successfully covered considerable ground.
I am always impressed by our organization’s ability to mobilize when we are needed most and this week’s disaster is no exception. We have key volunteers who have assumed lead positions during our response; many of whom were personally affected by the storm. While our shelters may not have had  high overnight populations, we provided anyone who needed it with a place to seek warmth, meals, support and electricity to charge their mobile devices and laptops.
UPDATED 11-25-15 4 P.M. 
  • People who cannot stay in their homes can call a Red Cross caseworker 509-714-3313. 
We continue to monitor the situation and I’m proud of the many volunteers that have done such outstanding work in our community. Thank you for your continued support.
Megan Snow
Executive Director, Red Cross Serving the Greater Inland Northwest

Mother & Daughter Simultaneously Serve Their Washington Communities

By Kayla Ihrig


Service work runs in the family for Elle Barnes (left) and Dakota Gates (right). Elle and her daughter Dakota are both currently serving their Washington communities through a term with AmeriCorps.  Elle serves Tri-Cities with the American Red Cross in the Northwest region, in the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) position. Dakota serves in Kitsap.

This is not their first brush with service work. When Dakota was a teenager, she and Elle volunteered together different places, supporting local food banks, St. Judes Hospital and fighting world hunger. Dakota was also involved within her high school, and Elle volunteered time toward other causes and events.

Elle and Dakota both began their year of service work this fall.

“We talked a lot about different options when it came to employment and when these separate opportunities presented themselves, they felt right to both of us,” Elle said.

Elle Barnes picblog photo 2




Filling in the Gaps with Missing Maps


By Jasmine Turner

Disaster Preparedness & Response Coordinator, AmeriCorps


Recently, in the bustling University Village Microsoft store, people of all walks of life could be seen sitting in the back of the building, hunched and hyper-focused over their personal laptops as they worked towards their goal for the day: Mapping vulnerable, uncharted areas in Khayelitsha, Cape Town South Africa. This particular area is only one of many slums that are susceptible to rapid fire destruction, a result of close-knit communities housed under faulty wiring, surrounded by thin walls built on unsafe or structurally unsound foundations. This in tandem with the inability, at times, to contain fires meant to keep families warm at night, brings chaos. One home goes up in flames, setting off a chain reaction in the surrounding area. Pathways between homes are narrow and often blocked, making evacuations frantic and dangerous. Most residents do not know whom to call for firefighting assistance. If, by chance, firefighters are available and able to help, they have a difficult time navigating the confusing alleyways and dense housing, seriously limiting their capacity to respondto fires quickly enough to make a difference.

This is where Missing Maps comes in.

An innovative partnership between American Red Cross, British Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and OpenStreetMap trains digital volunteers with the skills to stealthily map these vulnerable areas. All it takes is internet access. Then, volunteers in a given country, such as South Africa, can take action to help, such as going to Khayelitsha, visiting the community members, and undertaking disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities and help save lives.

The local Microsoft Store hosted a “Mapathon” to celebrate a year of successful progress on the Missing Maps project. As an AmeriCorps member of the Red Cross, I worked with a diverse group of people, striving to reach every community possible. We’re excited about getting people involved in international service work, whether they want to come together in a group volunteer setting or dial in from the comfort of their own homes. Either way, we are making a difference. Little by little, this particular area of Cape Town has been mapped with buildings, roads, rivers, and many other identifying markers to help the Red Cross partners in Africa. Their goal is to install a low-cost, smart home solar-powered sensor system to each home, making these spontaneous neighborhood areas safer for all who reside there.

Because of the great collaborations for this project, this corner of Cape Town is just one of dozens around the world that are open for mapping. And the best part? It’s easy and accessible to anyone. All you need is a computer and some time. It’s a great way to bring different people, groups and corporations together, to bring vulnerable people safety from the disaster—home fire, landslide, hurricane, earthquake or other– that may come their way.

“All I Want For My Birthday is a Home”

By Jacqueline Koch

timothy craig

Timothy Craig’s son Kaiden was about to turn 10 years old when the family home caught fire.

“We aren’t sure what caused the fire, we were gone for 30 minutes, then we got a call from a neighbor and told us the house was on fire,” explained Craig, who lives in King County, Wa.

“The Red Cross was on the scene within 45 minutes of the event and providing assistance,” he added. “You guys are fast, I was shocked at how fast they arrived and started asking us if we needed help.”

Everything in the home was completely lost due to fire and smoke damage.

Craig’s family was assisted by a local Red Cross disaster action team (DAT) volunteer on site. “He was just awesome, an amazing guy. I immediately bonded with him. You could tell he cared about what he was doing, he was sincere,” explained Craig, “It was like he knew what it was like to be in that position.”

In the last year, mobilizing the members of the 4,677-strong volunteer corps, the Northwest region of the Red Cross has responded to 766 disasters, large and small and provided financial support to 1,278 families and households in the wake of a disaster.

With Red Cross assistance and guidance through the recovery process the Craig family quickly had a new home lined up for lease.

“It was a really big help, Red Cross gave us a number of useful resources. And we found a place and were ready to move in within two weeks.”

Craig added that the day they signed the lease was especially auspicious: It was his son Kaiden’s 10th birthday.

“He was so traumatized by the fire,” said Craig, “he was distraught, the fire burned so hot, he’d lost everything. That day, he kept telling us all he wanted for his birthday was a place to live.” The fire event was a painful one, especially for a young child, Craig added. “It’s a lot to go through for a 10-year-old. It makes me sad to think about it. He was far more interested in us finding a house than getting toys for his birthday.” The family has had a chance to settle into the new home and have benefitted from the new location: Kaiden is living closer to his grandma.

What is Missing Maps? An Amazing Collaboration for Responding to Crisis by Putting People on the Map!

A collaboration among non-governmental agencies will put vulnerable people on the map to improve emergency and disaster response.

A collaboration among non-governmental agencies will put vulnerable people on the map to improve emergency and disaster response.

Missing Maps is a joint effort between the American Red Cross, British Red Cross, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and Doctors Without Borders. The objective of Missing Maps is simple: to map the most vulnerable places in the world so that NGOs, communities and individuals can use the maps and the data to better respond to crises. The project seeks to literally and figuratively put people, and their communities, on the map.

Missing Maps is powered by the enthusiasm and hard work of digital/remote volunteers here at home and abroad. Through open-source technology, digital volunteers can trace satellite imagery that helps disaster responders measure damage, identify priority areas, navigate around damaged roadways and more efficiently deliver aid to people in need. You don’t need experience to participate.
Missing Maps is celebrating it’s one year anniversary this month. To date over 3,500 volunteers have attended map-a-thons (a mapping party) in one of 11 countries, collectively making 12 million map edits and putting 7.5 million people on the map. We can easily make a difference in another corner of the world from the comfort of our own home, school or workplace.  
Join thousands of volunteers around the globe and leave your own mark on the map November 15 at the University Village Microsoft Store. Drop in anytime with your laptop between 12PM and 5PM to map for as long as you want. Red Cross volunteers will be on hand to get you started and show you how to map. In exchange for your participation, we’ll treat you with refreshments and swag! 
Watch this video to find out more about Missing Maps and check out this before and after map of Kathmandu to see how 2,000 volunteer mappers added 30% more buildings to the map in the first 48 hours after the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal.