On calm, quiet Saturday in October, 11 innocent people were murdered at Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The vibrant Jewish community, both locally in Squirrel Hill and throughout the world, and the entire city of Pittsburgh struggled to grasp how this senseless tragedy could have happened. That grief and pain though quickly turned into inspiring action. Almost immediately, thousands of dollars were raised for the victims’ families. Volunteers overflowed at a Shabbat dinner the following week. Messages of #StrongerThanHate poured out across the world.
The Office of Child Development is located roughly 1 mile away from the Tree of Life Synagogue. Like so many in the area, we wanted to help. Our director, Dr. Shannon Wanless, was on the phone hours after the shooting, talking with other educators to see how we could use our expertise as an office to help our neighbors. Five days later, our book drive officially began.
With the help of colleagues in the early childhood community and our own experts, we compiled a list that aimed to help children process their emotions and embrace diversity. Within days, hundreds of books began pouring into our offices.
The book drive was prompted by the Tree of Life tragedy and we focused on making sure children in Squirrel Hill had access to these resources, but we wanted to be certain that the books reached all neighborhoods affected by gun violence. Understanding that gun violence disproportionately affects communities of color, we gathered a list of neighboring early childhood centers and schools and began distributing 3,000 books.
With the help of eager students, staff, and faculty volunteers from Pitt, we reached thousands of children thanks to the generosity of so many different people. Here are a small sampling of the kind notes we received from the community:
Mr. Rogers always had a way of helping us cope. May this Daniel Tiger book continue his legacy.
I know how healing books can be and I’m glad to have a concrete way to help.
Thank you for organizing this concrete way to help children in these dark days.
Hi Pitt, you are loved!
I love Pittsburgh, and I love the idea for this book drive. Thank you for putting it together. I hope the kids enjoy and learn from these books. :)
What a wonderful idea, thank you Pitt!
Hope you find comfort in this book.
We hope that this small token of assistance will help on the road to recovery. Our thoughts are with you.
Keep fighting the good fight.
This is such an incredible idea. Thanks for all you do!
Blessings from Toronto to the children of one of my favorite cities!
Sending love and hopes for healing.
Love is stronger.
Sending love and empathy from Jacksonville, Florida.
Hatred can’t weaken a city of steel!
In the wake of this tragedy, it is important that kids learn how to overcome.
Thank you, Pitt, for inviting participation in this meaningful effort to show solidarity with Pittsburgh.