How do you deal with a million of something?
Well over a million Christmas cards were sent to 8-year-old arson survivor Sa’fyre Terry in last month’s global outpouring of love. And figuring how to deal with them has led to a 20,000-square-foot warehouse space in Rotterdam.
Sa’fyre’s Angels, a volunteer group organized to open all the cards, set up shop last week in donated warehouse space at the Rotterdam Industrial Park last week.
The space, provided at no cost by the Galesi Group, is home base as Sa’fyre’s Angels seek more volunteers to open cards and sort their contents in the coming weeks and months.
The new space, organizers say, allows for regular hours for as many volunteers as needed.
“What it means to us is it’s one place now,” Ann Murphy, one of the effort’s organizers said last week. “It’s just one place, because as incredible as it was, as universal as it was, it was daunting to think about the magnitude of it.”
Sa’fyre’s Angels began nearly a month ago as an ad hoc effort, initially on the lawn of Sa’fyre’s legal guardians, her aunt and uncle Liz and Michael Dolder, in Rotterdam.
It soon moved to Rotterdam’s Maple Ski Ridge as unseasonably warm temperatures left the resort closed to skiers. The owners opened the lodge for the volunteers. The Saturday after Christmas, nearly every table in the hall was filled with an unlikely band of bikers and other volunteers opening each card.
Inside the cards were messages that ranged from simple wishes of holiday cheer to personal letters to words of encouragement from fellow burn survivors. Many included money or gift cards, creating security concerns.
With the new space comes security measures ensure that nothing happens to the warehoused cards waiting to be opened. Organizers hope to have all of the cards moved into the space soon, including those still waiting at U.S. Postal Service sites.
The Dolders have set up a formal trust in Sa’fyre’s name for donations.
Donations are also coming in to support the Sa’fyre’s Angels effort, the biggest being the Galesi Group’s donation of the space. Galesi is also picking up the tab for heat and utilities.
The Galesi Group heard of the need for space first from both the Schenectady Mayor’s Office and the postal service, Galesi Chief Operating Officer David Buicko said.
“It’s a story that tugs at your heart strings,” Buicko said. “We all have kids.”
The donations have kept coming, from tables and chairs to office supplies and water coolers. Capital Region Toys for Tots provided manpower, time and logistics. Organizers are compiling a full list of everyone to thank.
On Friday, Sa’fyre’s aunt Liz Dolder wrote on Facebook about the community that has stepped up to help. “We have named these wonderful dedicated people Safyre’s Angels,” Dolder wrote on the page that now has nearly 150,000 likes.
Sa’fyre is the only child to survive the devastating May 2, 2013, arson fire at 438 Hulett St. in Schenectady. The fire claimed the life of her father, David Terry, and her three siblings, Layah, 3, Michael, 2, and Donavan Duell, 11 months. The arson remains unsolved.
Sa’fyre, 5 years old at the time, suffered severe burns and underwent months of surgeries and hospitalization. She lost a hand shortly after the fire and has since lost a foot. There are more surgeries to come, her most recent came this past week to loosen scar tissue.
The million Christmas cards came after a family friend sent out a challenge to fill the Rotterdam family’s small card tree for Sa’fyre. The Internet community instead filled a warehouse.
Through the Albany County Correctional Facility Childrens’ Benefit Foundation, Murphy has known the Dolders since shortly after the fire. Murphy, the foundation, the Steel Riders motorcycle club, other biker groups and many more people have since helped with the response.
“Sa’fyre has touched the world and the world responded,” Murphy said. “We get the joy of being able to see it and be a part of it.”
Anyone wishing to volunteer time to open cards can go to the Sa’fyre’s Angels Facebook page for information or go to the Rotterdam Industrial Park and get directions and more information.
Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, [email protected] or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.