Morgan Sommers (center) works for the American Red Cross and returned to Luverne Friday to present The Pillowcase Project to fifth-graders. Sommers graduated from Luverne in 2011 and was assisted by Jonathan Gacke (left) and her brother, Joe, both LHS 2015 graduates.After the large group presentation, American Red Cross Disaster Program Specialist Morgan Sommers answers questions Friday about emergency preparedness by visiting each of the fifth-grade classrooms at Luverne Elementary.Morgan Sommers (center) with the American Red Cross in Mankato talks with Luverne Elementary fifth-graders about The Pillowcase Project. Assisting Sommers are Jonathan Gacke (left) and her brother, Joe Sommers (right).

Luverne grad returns home with Red Cross message of preparedness

Morgan Sommers returned to Luverne Friday morning armed with more than 80 white pillowcases.

Sommers, an LHS Class of 2011 graduate and local disaster program specialist with the American Red Cross, instructed fifth-graders at Luverne Elementary School about preparing for emergencies.

Being ready for emergencies is similar to learning a sport, Sommers said. “Learn, practice, share,” she said.

The Red Cross has launched a nationwide campaign to reduce the number of deaths and injuries due to fires by 25 percent over the next five years.

Students learned that every eight minutes a house fire starts somewhere in the United States. Two minutes is all the time a person has to safely exit. Having a plan saves time and lives.

“I want you to go home and practice,” Sommers said. “And don’t keep it a secret.”

Students received workbooks to draw safe routes out of their homes.

Besides fire, Sommers offered the students tips to play safely outside in cold weather, stay calm in emergencies and to organize their own emergency preparedness kit using a pillowcase.

Called The Pillowcase Project, it was developed for students in grades 3-5 and is patterned after the New Orleans Red Cross chapter’s experience with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Sommers said the same disaster helped direct her career path when she traveled with her youth group from Luverne to the New Orleans area.

While there, they helped residents recover from the disaster. After attending the University of Minnesota in Mankato, Sommers began working full time with the Red Cross in August.

Friday’s presentation was the first time The Pillowcase Project was represented in a large group setting within her 19-county coverage area.

“It’s a large area,” she said of her southwest Minnesota territory. “And it’s kind of cool I can bring it to my hometown area.”

After the presentation, students used markers to decorate their pillowcases and to take them home.

Items such as bottled water, food, a first-aid kit, flashlight, radio and one special comfort item such as a stuffed animal should be placed in the pillowcase and placed where it can be easily grabbed in an emergency. Each family member should fill an individual pillowcase, Sommers said.

Tornadoes are the most common disaster in the Midwest, she pointed out. Fires, flooding, thunderstorms and winter weather are typical emergency events.

Helping Sommers with the large group presentation were her brother, Joe, and friend Jonathan Gacke. Both graduated from Luverne in 2015.

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