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Thank you to N.Y. relief crews returns joy to mom & 3 kids

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A father, mother and three small children. They add up to a family of five, but in the world’s eyes the Richas aren’t large enough or rich enough or famous enough to make a difference. Yet, faced with the greatest tragedy of this generation — Sept. 11 — this family felt it needed to do something, anything, to help, no matter how little.

So Karen Richa — the mother and a bus driver from Attleboro, Mass. — loaded up her kids the Friday following the attack and headed to Wal-Mart. They bought what they could afford — bottled water, first aid supplies, anything that might aid the relief effort. In each aisle, the kids asked gleefully, “Mom, how about this?” Lastly, they bought a thank-you card, and they took it all to the American Red Cross donation site.

Three dollars left. They had just enough to buy and share the “number two” value meal at McDonalds. They had sacrificed. It was the least they could do, they thought.

Brad Hughes — a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who helped with disaster relief in Manhattan — didn’t know the Richas’ story when he first found their card. He just saw the signatures and a heart-felt word of appreciation. But, several weeks and a few providential occurrences later, Hughes now knows the value of a simple, encouraging “thank you.”

Hughes unearthed the card while he and the other Southern Seminary volunteers were digging through piles of toilet paper, paper towels and other donated items at a Red Cross warehouse in September. The monotonous labor and 12-hour shifts were proving arduous and thankless.

But the bright blue lettering of the Richas’ card grabbed Hughes’ attention. So did the message inside. It read, “God bless all who help,” with four “signatures” from Karen Richa, Amanda, 9, Joshua, 8, and Kaylee, 2.

“We had been up all night, and we had been working most of the day,” said Hughes, a master of divinity student from Blakely, Ga. “We were just exhausted. … That [card] was an absolutely incredible encouragement to everybody who was there. You work and work and work and [then] you get something like that, and you realize that people are praying for you and that people care.”

Hughes felt he needed to say thank you to the Richas.

“When we got back, I was just so thankful for that card and for the encouragement that I wanted to write a letter to those kids,” Hughes said.

But he didn’t know where to send it — the Richas’ letter did not list an address or last name. Just a city.

Hughes had another idea. He sent a thank-you letter to the editor to the Attleboro Sun Chronicle.

He wrote in part: “I am not sure if they [the Richas] will see this. They may never know how they encouraged us. I just wanted to make an effort to thank them from the bottom of my heart for their card.”

They did see it.

In a lengthy letter that she sent to Hughes, Karen Richa described the scene.

“It was Oct. 11, exactly one month after [the tragedy]. I’m waiting for the kids to get off the bus. She [the bus driver] arrives and Amanda and Joshua come yelling off the bus, ‘Mom! Mom! We’re in the paper!'”

Hughes was surprised to receive a response. “It’s unbelievable the turn of events,” he said. “I honestly didn’t think I’d ever get anything back from them.”

Richa told Hughes the story of how they had collected items, how the kids had excitedly joined in the effort, how the children had learned about sacrifice and how Hughes’ letter to the editor had blessed them.

She wrote, “It was a sign from God just confirming to me — ‘Yes, Karen, you were right. Big and small, it makes all the difference.’ And for my kids I know it meant so much to them. They were so excited. I said, ‘See, kids, you cheered someone up.’ They were ecstatic! So I had to write [you].”

While the Richa kids learned about encouragement, so did Hughes.

“I think the most important thing that it’s taught me is to go through with things that you think can encourage people,” he said. “It probably took me a total of eight to 10 minutes to write that letter to the editor. … I’m so bad about intending to do something and never doing it. I think if we just take the time to encourage people and to just say thank you, you never know what kind of profound impact that will have on people.”

But the cycle of blessing continues.

Hughes shared the story at First Baptist Church, Henryville, Ind., where he serves as interim music minister. That Sunday, the worship theme was servanthood.

During the service, the church caught the vision. The pastor took up a love offering and raised $250 to send to the Richas as a “thank you” for their sacrifice.

“I thought that was amazing that it’s going so far that a small church in Indiana that the Richas have never heard of is doing what they can to help out with a family that made a sacrifice,” Hughes said.

For Hughes, the providential sequence of events just shows that anyone — even an average family of five from an average town — can make a difference for Christ.

As Karen Richa wrote, “Brad, I wanted my kids to know that everyone in this world can make a difference. If you don’t have money, then maybe you have time. … I knew at the time that [the children] probably didn’t fully understand that they can make a difference. But I knew that I taught them a valuable lesson that day — one they’ll remember their entire life.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: THANKS MULTIPLIES and CARD OF CARING.

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  • Bryan Cribb