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Shirts represent overdose victims

Donna Sailer, left, a deacon and board member at St. John United Church of Christ in Evans City, and the Rev. Jane Duffield, pastor, show four of the 74 crosses and white T-shirts that will be displayed at the church, one for each Butler County resident who died from a drug overdose in 2016.

EVANS CITY — Members of St. John United Church of Christ plan to display a stark reminder about the 74 Butler County residents who died from drug overdoses last year. The church members say their loved ones deserve empathy and support.

The Rev. Jane Duffield, pastor at St. John, said 74 crosses will be adorned with white T-shirts and placed on the hillside beside the church on East Main Street.

Each shirt will be lettered with a birth date and an “M” or “F” to signify gender. Each cross will represent a man or woman who lost the battle with addiction last year.

The display, which will be installed to resemble Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C., will go up on Monday and remain on display until a special service at 10 a.m. May 21.

The family members and friends of those commemorated in the “Memorial to the Lost” display, those currently or formerly struggling with addiction, caregivers or anyone touched by the epidemic of drug abuse in Butler County are welcome to attend, Duffield said.

“It is our desire to urge everyone to protect themselves from the very real, life-threatening danger of drug addiction and to offer support and comfort to all whose loved ones died in this tragic way,” Duffield said. “We want them to know they are not alone in their grief.”

The message of the display, which is titled “Memorial to the Lost,” is that all humans are created in God’s image and their lives matter. The display and the church service are meant as a nonjudgmental way to comfort those whose lives have been altered by addiction and their families and friends.

“We must show compassion and comfort the grieving and give hope to all those people who are lost,” Duffield said.

Brochures from the county Drug and Alcohol Program will be distributed at the May 21 church service. They contain a list of local resources for addicts and their families, a list of prescription drug takeback box locations, and services provided by the county program.

“We really commend their progressive outreach to the community on a very difficult and sensitive subject,” said Beth Ehrenfried-Neveux, supervisor of Butler County’s Drug and Alcohol Program.

She said St. John’s UCC has taken the lead in its area regarding drug addiction, as she has collaborated with the church’s leaders before in drug abuse education programs.

“We value them as a partner because it’s going to take all of us to have a positive impact on this problem,” Ehrenfried-Neveux said.

She said the more education on drug abuse that is shared with the community, the better.

“Every little piece helps,” Ehrenfried-Neveux said.

Donna Sailer, a deacon and board member at St. John, said one of the church’s Sunday School teachers plans to do a kids’ sermon on the subject at the May 21 service.

She looks forward to helping install the yard-high crosses and participating in the special church service.

“This is what God would want us to do, to help take care of our neighbors and those who are suffering,” Sailer said.

Duffield said two retired men in the congregation, Bert Enslen and Roland Herb, tore into the work of building the crosses as soon as they heard about the project. The crosses are already built, painted and stored at the church, and the two octogenarians plan to use an exacting method of measurement on Monday to set up the crosses.

“We’re living in the midst of a community where people are captive and oppressed by drug addiction,” Duffield said, “so as a community of faith, we have to do what we can.”

All who are now or have been touched by drug abuse are welcome to stop and view the crosses and attend the special service on May 21.

“We want to provide comfort to them however we can,” Duffield said.