AURORA, Colo. — While most Coloradans are putting their holiday decorations like Christmas tree wreaths into storage, one organization is bringing people together to send out a different type of wreath across the country.
The 7/20 Memorial Foundation, which was created after the Aurora movie theater shooting on July 20, 2012, has started the "Paper Crane Project"— taking paper crane donations with thoughts, prayers and words of encouragement written on them. They then craft them into wreaths that get sent out to communities impacted by similar tragedies.
"It's very cathartic to fold a paper crane and write a message on it. You know, I think it's healing for the person who folds the crane as well as the people who receive it," Heather Dearman, the CEO of the 7/20 Memorial Foundation, said.
On Nov. 21, the foundation sent a completed wreath to the Philadelphia Kingsessing neighborhood after the mass shooting on July 3, 2023 killed five people during a Fourth of July celebration. One wreath went to the Jacksonville, Florida Dollar General store where a masked white man fatally shot three Black people on Aug. 26, 2023. And another was sent to Morgan State University in Baltimore where five students were shot on Oct. 3, 2023.
The foundation has almost finished a wreath for Lewiston, Maine where a man shot and killed 18 people and injured 13 others at a bowling alley on Oct. 25, 2023, Dearman confirmed Tuesday.
The foundation is now working on a wreath for the University of Las Vegas where a gunman killed three faculty members and injured a fourth on Dec. 6, 2023, Dearman said Tuesday.
There are also plans to send five completed wreaths to Coloradans impacted by the Israel-Hamas War, including Shalom Park, Ohr Avner Community Center, Temple Emanuel Denver and JCC Denver.
"I have several of them back here for things that have happened over the past several months... and we haven't sent them out yet. But it's because we were taking our time collecting the notes of love and support. And once these communities receive their wreath, it may have been a few months since their tragedy happened, but it reminds them that they haven't been forgotten too," Dearman said.
The foundation used to send banners with words of encouragement to communities affected by gun violence. But after around 100 community members from O'Fallon, Missouri sent 1,000 paper cranes to Aurora following the 2012 movie theater shooting, the foundation emulated the idea.
If you're interested in the mission, you can make cranes at home and mail them to the 7/20 Memorial Foundation or drop them off at the Aurora History Museum.