If you happened to be in the area of 20th and Eoff streets in Center Wheeling recently, you may have spotted something heartwarming through the falling snow showers. Attached to the fencing of the bridge spanning the creek below were cozy hats, scarves, jackets, and blankets with encouraging notes attached. “Free to Anyone.” “God Bless You.” “Be Brave.” “Stay Warm.”

The display is an outreach project undertaken by the residential clients of Crittenton Services.

According to Kaitlynne Rader, Crittenton’s director of marketing, “The idea of giving out free winter items was started by the residents and staff at Crittenton last year, and they now hope to make it an annual activity to remind the community that even if you have very little, you still have something to give.” The warm clothing was donated to Crittenton by the staff and their families and friends. The items were then delivered and hung by the caring residents and staff, with the hashtag #staywarmwhg written in chalk beneath the donations.

An online search of that hashtag reveals that some photos of the display were shared by Project HOPE, Wheeling’s street medicine team that provides health care for the local homeless population. “I went to see the Blessing Fence for myself as a pick-me-up … it makes my heart smile!” said Crystal Bauer, RN, director of Project HOPE. “How inspiring of these young ladies to do this!”

“We wanted to help the community and advocate awareness,” said Rachael Valentine, Crittenton activities director. “Our girls got emotional; they loved the experience.” Rachael shared that the residents were touched to see that only a few minutes after they’d finished covering the fence with blankets and clothing, people arrived and began selecting hats and blankets for their personal use.

I work in the area of the Blessing Fence and pass by it frequently. By the end of the first day, I noticed that most of the items were gone. I was struck by the fact that so many pieces of clothing had been distributed in such a short period of time. I thought what a shame it was that the supply of scarves and gloves wasn’t large enough to maintain the Blessing Fence until spring because there is such an overwhelming need for such blessings.

Imagine my surprise and delight the following morning when I drove by and noticed that the fence was no longer bare — the stock of coats and shirts had mysteriously been replenished overnight by an anonymous donor unrelated to Crittenton.

The Blessing Fence has since been refilled by anonymous citizens.

It just goes to show you how a single act of kindness, much like a pebble pitched into a pond, can create endless ripples of positive impact. The compassion shown by the team from Crittenton is spreading and growing into a kindness revolution. If each of us could be inspired to spread the love in this way instead of building walls and creating barriers, the world would be a much warmer place this winter and in every season.

If you’d like to add to the Blessing Fence, stop by and hang up your own items or call Rachael Valentine at Crittenton Services at 304-242-7525

Ellen Brafford McCroskey works in the Lawyer Development Department at Orrick’s GOC in downtown Wheeling, where she has been employed for seven years. A lifelong Wheeling resident, she is a graduate of Wheeling Park High School and Wheeling Jesuit University with a bachelor’s degree in human resources management. Her hobbies include writing, photography and crocheting. Her pet causes are educating others on the need for solutions to the opioid crisis and the need for equality for all people. Ellen resides in Warwood with her husband Doug, who is the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their extended family includes four adult children and their significant others; a number of biological and “adopted” grandkids; their dads; numerous in-laws and outlaws; and several rescued pets.



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