By Kristin Alexander
Staying in an emergency shelter can be overwhelming for anyone. Having just escaped a hurricane, wildfire, flood or other disaster, emotions are high. No matter how well they are run, shelters can be crowded, loud, and lacking the familiar comforts of home. For children with autism spectrum disorder prone to overstimulation, those conditions can be particularly stressful. However, a philanthropic partnership between Amazon and the Red Cross is helping kids feel safe.
“One of the tough things about autism spectrum disorder is sensory overload. Imagine a shelter with 100 people or 10,000 people. Bright lights. Loud noises. You can’t control that environment,” said Morgan Beach, senior corporate partnerships officer for the American Red Cross.
In 2019, members of the Red Cross’ Mass Care Team observed a rise in the number of youth with autism spectrum disorder staying in large disaster relief shelters.
“We needed a sensory support kit but such a thing didn’t exist. Then we went to Amazon with this idea,” Beach said.
Amazon has a history of partnering with the Red Cross. The company has donated disaster relief supplies and provided logistics support worldwide. When a devastating tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, Amazon engineers quickly created a donate button on Amazon.com and raised millions in customer contributions to support the Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts. In response to Hurricane Dorian’s devastation of the Bahamas in 2019, the Amazon disaster relief team quickly mobilized two Amazon Air cargo planes full of donated relief supplies including cleanup kits, solar lanterns and personal hygiene products such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, and wipes.
So when the request for sensory care kits for kids came, Amazon’s disaster relief team answered the call and leaped into action.
“My sister has autism and I understand how special items can make a world of difference and bring comfort to kids,” said Abe Diaz, senior technical manager and disaster relief lead at Amazon. “The sensory care kits will help soothe and calm children with autism spectrum disorder dealing with sensory overload after an emergency disaster situation, which is near and dear to my heart.”
Amazon ordered weighted blankets, noise-cancelling headphones, squishy stress toys and backpacks to store everything. Employees assembled 500 kits and shipped them to a Red Cross warehouse where they will be deployed as needed. The company covered all costs.
Diaz has witnessed the impact of the Red Cross firsthand through not only his work at Amazon, but also as a kid when Hurricane Hugo severely damaged his homeland of Puerto Rico in 1989.
“Seeing the Red Cross help the community really made an impact that this is an organization that’s there for people when they need it,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see how much Amazon and the Red Cross can do together today.”