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Leaders hope welcome baskets will help heal community scars


By Jamie Wiggan

On the back of a particularly brutal spring, community leaders in Stowe and McKees Rocks began meeting together this summer to discuss ways to tackle the growing violence crisis.

The solutions, they said, need to be multifaceted and committed to the long haul.

Cindy Haines, executive director for Focus on Renewal (FOR), nonetheless came away with an idea she hoped could gain more immediate traction: handing out “welcome baskets” to spread kindness and hope among new arrivals to the community.

“Instead of addressing violence head-on, we’re trying to give people something positive when they come into the community,” Haines said.“The idea was, what if we spoke of ‘welcome to Sto-Rox’ in a positive way.”

To execute the plan, Haines formed a committee of leaders and volunteers called “Welcome to Sto-Rox,” which is now preparing to distribute the first of 40 welcome baskets.

Each one is filled primarily with $85 of kitchen wares and other practical goods.

Seasoning shakers from Mancini’s Italian Bakery and bread from 5 Generations Bakers will pad bundles, alongside donations from other local businesses including several subscription packages for Gazette 2.0.

“I think people would not have experienced this level of giving before,” Haines said.

“So to me it’s about kindness, it’s about warmth, it’s about connection.”

The baskets will include small directories listing local businesses, services and worship centers to help new residents get connected with the amenities and resources available here.

Haines said all new arrivals in the community will be eligible to receive a basket.

The committee is working with representatives from the school district, the Sto-Rox Health Council, the county housing department, local churches and private real estate brokers to identify program candidates.

Haines acknowledged some may get missed out in the process, but is confident the plan represents the best use of the $3,900 funding seeded by a regional Rotary International grant applied for by the McKees Rocks Area Rotary Club and by Focus on Renewal.

“This will go until supplies end,” she said.

Jordan Allen, Sto-Rox High School site coordinator for Communities in Schools, said small steps such as the welcome basket initiative form an important part of the long-term work of addressing gun violence.

Allen is one of several members of the committee.

“This is the foundational work of curbing the violence – you have to first lay the foundation and engage the community,” he said. “It aligns very much with what the stop the violence initiative is about.”

Allen also said staying committed to an uplifting and generous approach puts community leaders in a better position to have a real impact on those involved or on the fringes of gun violence.

“When you begin to treat the disease [of violence] with love and care and not with drugs and criminality, you can win the hearts of the people in the community,” he said.

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