NEWTOWN >> In the days leading up to the 20th anniversary of 9-11, 500 first responders from Bucks County will be receiving a heartfelt gift from the Candle Committee of Bucks County.
Since the middle of August, neighbors, friends and Girl Scouts have been gathering in a Newtown Township backyard to make candles for the area’s first responders.
The candlemaking project is the brainchild of longtime resident Skip Gittens, who has been making candles for years and wanted to do something special for the 20th anniversary and the local Bucks County first responders.
“They deserve a pat on the back for everything they do,” said Gittens, who has been making candles since 1988 and has organized past candlemaking sessions at his Newtown home for ceremonies at the 9-11 Garden of Reflection in Lower Makefield.
“The 20th anniversary of 9-11 is what lit the spark,” said Gittens. “And when I sent the first letter out about it, everyone was excited. So I figured let’s do it.”
Firefighters, police and EMS crews from Newtown, Middletown and Upper Makefield will be receiving the gift this week, which Gittens said comes straight from the heart from everyone involved in the project and is a symbolic gift to show the community’s appreciation.
From the young to the old, volunteers poured their hearts and souls into the project, making the candles the old-fashioned way over a series of weekends.
Candlemaking is not a quick and easy process, as a group of Girl Scouts from Queen of the Universe Church in Levittown found out.
Each wick - anchored by a split slot to keep them straight - has to be hand-dipped individually up to 24 times until they reach the proper thickness. For 1,000 candles, that equates to 24,000 candle dips. Saxww
After completing the final batch of aa, their troop leader, Beth Gutierrez, joined Skip in officially blessing the candles.
Gutierrez and the Troop joined the candlemaking project after hearing about it from a friend and then meeting Skip and taking a tour of the Garden of Reflection.
“This is a win, win, win all around for the girls,” said Gutierrez, of the candle making session. “Today they learned about candlemaking. They learned a little about 9-11. They are participating in community service. And they are out in the fresh air.
“We are so grateful for opportunities to give back to the community and to show the good the Girls Scouts do,” said Gutierrez. “We are thankful for Skip in guiding us through this and all the volunteers who worked so hard to make this possible. And we are very thankful to the men and women who gave their lives on 9-11 and give of themselves everyday to serve our communities.”
Girl Scout Ava Mucha, a ninth grader at Neshaminy High School, said she hopes the candles “bring peace and joy” to their recipients.
“It makes me feel really happy that I could do this for others. It also makes me feel good that I am part of something bigger,” said Mucha.
At an earlier session, Isabel De Oliveira brought her pin collection to the event as an inspiration for the workers. The pins represent many of the agencies that either responded to the World Trade Center on 9-11 or worked on the cleanup of the site, including the police and fire departments, Verizon, the Salvation Army, ConEdison, the US Coast Guard and many others. She had worked at the site gathering air samples for OSHA following the attacks and met many of the people who helped cleanup the site.
“This represents a lot of good people,” she said of the collection. “It’s a nice way to tell the kids about it because they weren’t there. And this is a nice way to teach this generation about it,” she said of the candlemaking. “It’s hard to believe it was 20 years ago.”
Her daughter, Annabelle, had the job of stamping the leather hearts, which was not an easy task.
“I have no idea how many, but I did a lot,” she said.
Also helping out was Newtown Girl Scout leader Melissa Longosky who brought her two daughters - Emma and Olivia - to the candlemaking session.
“I never realized how long it took to make candles,” she said. “There’s a lot more that goes into it than you think. But it is time well spent when you know they are going to our first responders.”
Each responder will receive a wrapped box containing two candles, which will be connected by a wick symbolizing the 20 years since the 9-11 attack on New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville.
Attached to each wick will be a leather heart stamped with the words, “Never Forget.”
A letter also will accompany the package explaining the symbolism of the gift and thanking the first responders for their “dedication and service to your communities.”
According to Gittens, the letter will also explain the symbolism of the gift - the two candles representing the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon and the crash site in Shanksville; the connected wicksrepresenting the country coming together as One Nation Under Godafter the events; the bottom of the candles representing the tears still being shed in memory of all the victims lost; and the leather hearts showing strength of all those who continue to serve in the armed forces, community law enforcement, fire and emergency first responders.