Children in New York, who experienced their own trauma on September 11, are shipping presents to their peers in need in Afghanistan. It is part of a project called Operation Christmas Child.
Children in the Brooklyn Tabernacle Youth Choir bundled up in coats and scarves to sing in the December chill at Kennedy airport. They were the opening act in an event to airlift 90,000 gifts, handpicked by New York children, to youngsters suffering in Afghanistan.
For New York children who experienced the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, sending a present to peers in war-torn Afghanistan has special significance.
Like many of the children, 12-year-old Whitney Vega wrote a letter to an Afghan girl, and packed it in her box along with a brush, a hair clip and a doll. "Dear friend," she said. "You are probably going through some tough times where you live and so are we here in New York City. Ever since September 11th, we have experienced a little bit of what you go through every day of your life and it's really hard. I think it's really cool that even though you live on the other side of the world I can still share something with you like this shoe box. Please keep me in your prayers and I will keep you in mine. Love, Whitney Vega."
Eleven-year-old Taylor Harris packed a tooth brush and wash cloth in her box, items she says a child in Afghanistan might desperately need. "[There is] a lot of war going on where they are and I feel bad," he said. "They don't have homes or clothes, so I think it's good that they have presents."
The gifts were collected in communities, churches and schools. They were placed in shoeboxes and wrapped in bright red and green paper, topped with holiday bows.
This year, each box carried a unique sticker with the name of one of the more than 3,000 victims of the September 11 attacks. The idea to dedicate the gifts to the people killed in the terror attacks came from New York firefighter Bruce Weaver, who spent hours lifting buckets of rubble at ground zero, the site of the destroyed World Trade Center.
Mr. Weaver said, "After coming back from ground zero I felt an emptiness for what we tried to accomplish, and I needed to do more. So what I did was I came up with the idea of a label putting it on the Samaritan Purse, Operation Christmas Child shoe box, in memory to all the people that lost their lives on September 11th."
Operation Christmas Child has been shipping gifts to needy children all over the world since 1993. This year the group is sending five million gifts to children in more than 90 countries. Its president is Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.
Mr. Graham, who was in New York for the ceremony, reflects on the event. "I think it is love," he said. "For the first time in this country, children I think are more aware of suffering because of what happened on nine-eleven. They see it on television in other countries, but now, this time, it's home. And to think that many of these boxes right here are coming out of New York, thousands of them from New York going to children in Afghanistan, I think there is a great symbol there."
After the ceremony, the children formed an assembly line to load the gifts onto the cargo airplane. At the same time, they hummed the tunes sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Youth choir.
Once the airplane arrives in central Asia, organizers say the gifts will be distributed by both the Northern Alliance and aid workers. They say they are giving more than a shoebox. They are trying to make a difference by building bridges.