Following the events of Feb. 14, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has received various forms of gifts and messages of hope from across the country. Recently, over 2,000 MSD students received ceramic hearts with thoughtful messages to help lift their spirits and brighten their days. These ceramic hearts were all from Hearts of Hope, a nonprofit organization that paints ceramic hearts with messages on them for people suffering from serious medical issues or are coping with tragedies.
Hearts of Hope was first created in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and since then has sent more than 80,000 hearts to people across the country. These hearts are primarily sent to hospitals, cancer centers, military bases and communities like Parkland that have experienced trauma first-hand.
“I consider it a pay forward act of love. These hearts are very important during these types of situations because when something like this tragedy happens, many are withdrawn. As a community, people are off-centered. These gifts of hope offer hope in a very hard time,” founder and executive director Judy Pedersen said.
These hearts are created at different gatherings or individual projects. People across the country receive kits that supply everything needed to create a thoughtful message and heart. The leadership staff packages the hearts and sends them to their recipients.
“This is an art program that is accessible to everyone. Our organization is all made up of only volunteers. We are a nonprofit, so we collect donations, which is used to create for kits,” Pedersen said.
The first chapter of Hearts of Hope was created after the Sandy Hook tragedy. One of the volunteers asked if she could bring a heart to MSD. Pedersen and other volunteers then visited the school and talked it over on how exactly they were going to deliver the hearts.
“The amount of love and support is absolutely incredible. From young, old or in between, just having people say ‘we love you’ is such an amazing feeling,” Office Manager and Confidential Secretary Teresa Basilone said.
This delivery was the second largest delivery of Hearts of Hope in the foundation’s 17-year history — second only to the Sandy Hook event.
“Just to get all 2,000 hearts to Douglas people [they] had to squeeze them in their suitcases and drive them. It was a huge effort that I’m proud we did,” Pedersen said.
The hearts were given out during first and second lunch and will remain in the front main office. Hearts of Hope wanted to make sure that every student at the school was given the opportunity to obtain a heart.
“As well as giving the hearts out at lunch, we have given these hearts out to a lot of the teachers, and hopefully they are giving them out to their students. We are definitely trying our best to get these hearts out to everybody,” Basilone said.
The hearts came in a maroon mesh bag that also contained a note from the volunteer who created it. Many cards stated the person’s name, where they are from, some information about them and their message of love. The physical hearts are decorated with caring messages and inspirational images and tied with a ribbon.
“The first thing I did was look to see whose mine was from. For instance, mine was from a girl in Washington who loves puppies. It was super interesting to see how much support we’ve received from across the country. These hearts really illustrate that,” sophomore Nicole Scotto said.
Pedersen indicated that for every heart created, delivered and received, the heart touches at least 10 people.
“It’s a labor of love too incredible to explain,” Pedersen said.
Whether big or small, Hearts of Hope demonstrates that messages of love can influence others and lift the spirits of those who are suffering.