Young arson survivor spreads the love

2015-12-24 21:42
In this December 17 file photo, Safyre Terry receives packages from Santa Claus in Rotterdam. (Mike Groll, AP file)

In this December 17 file photo, Safyre Terry receives packages from Santa Claus in Rotterdam. (Mike Groll, AP file)

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Rotterdam - An 8-year-old girl who lost her father and younger siblings in an arson fire that left her severely scarred is sharing the good cheer that has been bestowed on her, by the tractor-trailer load, since her simple Christmas wish went viral.

Safyre Terry, of Rotterdam, New York, has received more than a million cards from around the world, including a personal message from the White House, since a family friend shared a Facebook post with the little girl's wish for cards to fill a display tree.

She has received gifts including a yen-filled card from Japan, a stuffed koala and boomerang from Australia, anime toys from France, German newspaper clippings of Safyre's story, framed calligraphy from China, and countless cards, many handmade by children, from every US state and many distant lands.

The non-profit Baking Memories 4 Kids is sending Safyre to the Disney theme parks in Florida in March, and more than $400 000 has been donated through a crowdfunding website.

Over the holidays, Safyre and some of the volunteers who have been helping her since the devastating fire two years ago plan to visit shelters to distribute some of the gifts Safyre has received, as well as some new ones to children who are homeless or victims of domestic violence, said Liz Dolder, the girl's aunt. She said they'll also take gifts to Boston's Shriners Hospital, where Safyre receives ongoing treatment.

"We want other children to feel the joy that Safyre feels," said Dolder, sister of David Terry, who died shielding his oldest daughter from the flames and heat that killed her three younger siblings in 2013.

In a video posted on Tuesday on a Facebook page chronicling her long recovery from the fire that disfigured her face and took a hand and a foot, Safyre triumphantly lifts a cup with a 3D-printed prosthetic hand made for her by students at the University at Albany. Dolder asks, "Who can do it?" and Safyre shouts, "I can!"

It's a frequent call and response between Dolder and her niece, a spunky girl with a ponytail and glitter-spangled sneakers who shows no trace of self-consciousness about her scars and tracheal tube as she greets well-wishers at holiday events organised by police and motorcycle clubs in her honour.

Dolder, a stay-at-home mom who cares for Safyre, as well as her own 8-year-old twins, said more than a million cards and thousands of packages have arrived at the family's home on a rural road 24km west of Albany, the New York state capital. For the past week and a half, more than two dozen volunteers have been unloading cards and gifts from postal trucks and tractor-trailers, stacking them in a barn, and helping the family open them.

While she's thrilled with all the gifts, Safyre plans to give many away, Dolder said.

"She's a very big sharer," she said. "She's just very kind and generous and sweet."

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