Kids Give From the Heart
Near the Site of Tragedy, Gifts From Kids Helped Grieving Workers Cope
All year, church workers have opened endless boxes of gifts sent in to the city. Greetings and prayers from both the city and beyond lined the inside of the chapel. (Photo: Mary Harvey)
Many of their heartfelt letters, cards, and notes landed in police stations and firehouses across New York City. Thousands of them transformed one entire building.
St. Paul's Chapel stands one block from the World Trade Center site. George Washington attended services at St. Paul's on the day he was inaugurated as the nation's first President in 1789.
After the September 11 attacks, the chapel found a new place in history. For nearly nine months, it became a relief center for rescue and recovery workers. Inside, exhausted workers found free coffee and meals, supplies, beds to sleep on, and people to talk to.
They also found powerful messages of comfort and hope. Church workers and volunteers taped up countless cards, letters, pictures, posters, and banners throughout the church. They covered the walls, ceiling to floor, hanging them from every door, column, pillar, and pew.
Rescue workers found baskets of cards and letters with return addresses on them,too. As the long, weary days passed, many took some home and wrote back to the senders.
These colorful gifts helped create a special feeling at the chapel — a backdrop for the work that was going on both inside and out. "People from all different religions, ethnic groups, and backgrounds were all working together in harmony and in total love," says Sister Helena Marie, a volunteer from the Community of the Holy Spirit, an Episcopal religious order for women in New York City. "You just felt the love when you walked in."
"Once I got here and worked I thought, 'OK, I'm staying,'" says Christopher Rickard, a chiropractor from Connecticut. Rickard volunteered at St. Paul's for six months, helping to heal the workers' physical pains.
Throughout the long recovery process, others helped heal the emotional pain. "Kids made angels for workers to put on their Christmas trees at Christmas time," says Sister Helena Marie. "They were made of clothespins, paper plates, and pipe cleaners. There must have been thousands of them. Those angels meant so much to the workers. In a couple days they were gone."
Huge boxes of teddy bears also went fast, she says. And on Valentine's Day, the chapel was flooded with colorful paper hearts to cheer the workers.
At St. Paul's on the anniversary of 9/11, Jack Carlson, an EMS instructor with the FDNY, remembered this outpouring of kindness. "Everyone started sending things," Carlson says. "They all wanted to be a part of it, so they sent candy, cards, stuffed animals, everything."
Carlson, who works in Fort Totten, Queens, has kept one of these gifts with him all year — a beanie-baby dog with floppy green ears. When a child sent it to New York right after September 11 — and it made it's way to St. Paul's — Carlson clipped it to his fire helmet. He even gave it a name.
"He's 'Don, the therapy dog,'" Carlson joked. Throughout the year, he says, it's made his fellow workers chuckle. Several have even petted it. "A kid sent it in, so I'm going to wear it proudly."