Young fire survivor to share Christmas cheer in shelters

Safyre Terry
Safyre Terry, 8, wears a rhinestone tiara , one of the gifts she received Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, at a post office near her home in Rotterdam, N.Y. Safyre, who lost her father and three younger siblings and was burned over 75 percent of her body in a May 2013 house fire, has been receiving cards from across the country since her custodial aunt posted a her photo on Facebook with a message saying she’d like to get cards for a Christmas tree display stand. The post has been shared tens of thousands of times, and a crowd funding site has generated more than $177,000 for the family. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)

ROTTERDAM, N.Y. (AP) — 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. The nonprofit 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 in the Albany area 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 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 organized by police and motorcycle clubs in her honor.

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 15 miles west of Albany. 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.

“Even with all the volunteers, we haven’t even brushed the surface,” Dolder said.

Dolder acknowledges gifts in photos on the Facebook page, “Safyre Schenectady’s Super Survivor.” They include 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 U.S. state and many distant lands.

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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