Small crosses give a lift to maker, N.Y. workers


LAUREN WARD didn't know any of the people killed in the attacks in New York and Washington Sept. 11. Still, the terrorist attacks filled her with sadness and the wish that she could somehow help ease the pain.

One day in late September, while she was praying, she said an idea came to her: She would make crosses. She took some plastic mesh and cut it into the shape of a cross. Then, she covered it with a simple yarn design of red, white and blue. As soon as she finished, she knew this was special. So, she made another cross, then another, each one a little prayer.

In November, after making 400 crosses, Ward, a mother of three, traveled with her family to the site of the attacks in New York City. She said the sight was so heartrending that she put her head down and cried. Then, walking around the perimeter of the site, she gave the patriotic crosses to police, firemen and other workers. Every time she gave someone a cross, he put it on his uniform right away. Some chaplains asked if they could have extra crosses. She gave them each several handfuls.

Later, the Wards walked around Manhattan, visiting police and fire stations and giving out crosses. They "pinned" every firefighter at Station 54 and, in return, received red memorial bracelets.

On the train ride home, Ward continued sewing her crosses as she chatted with her children. From across the aisle, Sharon Stephens, an Annapolis nurse, watched her.

"Could I buy some of those crosses?" asked Stephens.

"No, I give them away," answered Ward, and she told of her trip to the World Trade Center site.

Stephens had also visited the site, where she had donated sweatshirts for the workers. Because of the dangerous substances they encounter, the workers have to burn their clothing each day after they leave the site. So Stephens and others have been providing warm replacement socks and shirts and other items they need.

Stephens was planning another trip in January and asked Ward whether she would like to join in the group. Ward agreed and got busy preparing.

By the time they left Jan. 24, the group had collected 411 sweatshirts, 160 hand warmers and three cases of lip balm. And Ward had made 450 more crosses.

When they reached New York, they went to the Salvation Army's command center, which provides the workers with food, clothes and and a place to rest.

Along the walls were tables supplying fresh socks, sweatshirts, lip balm and Bibles. But the Bible table was empty. A worker said that the Bibles are snatched up as soon as they are donated. There are never enough.

At the viewing platform, they met a police officer with his three sons. He said he had been at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and was returning to the site for the first time.

Ward spoke for all when she told the officer, "I'm just really glad that you're alive."

Before returning to Maryland, the group visited the Empire State Building. There, at the observation level, Ward saw two firefighters, each wearing one of her crosses.

"Hi," she said, "I'm the cross lady."

They turned to her in surprise and one touched his cross as he said softly, "You don't know how much this means to me. My chaplain gave me this a couple of months ago." The firefighter said he wears the cross all the time.

Since returning to Maryland, Ward has been sharing the stories of the rescue workers. She wants to be sure that the rescue workers dealing with the physical and emotional devastation every day are not forgotten.

So, Ward and Stephens and their friends are preparing for another trip next month to help out with the Salvation Army's work at the site. They are collecting sweatshirts, socks, lip balm and Bibles for the workers.

And Ward is still sewing her crosses. For her, the sewing has been a healing task. In making the crosses, she said, her heart has found a measure of peace and quiet joy in remembering the looks of gratitude on the faces of workers receiving them.

Lauren Ward has made 2,400 crosses.

Her husband asked her one day, "How long are you going to make them?"

"Until God tells me to stop," she answered. "And He hasn't told me to stop yet."

Donations of sweatshirts, socks, Bibles and lip balms are being collected for the group's trip next month to the Salvation Army center at the World Trade Center site. Items can be brought to Annapolis Area Christian School on Bestgate Road in Annapolis or to Harundale Presbyterian Church in Glen Burnie between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays until March 1.

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