LOWELL -- In her 14 years at The Wish Project, Donna Hunnewell has never received mail from a prisoner.
Last week, Hunnewell, the executive director of the charity, was handed 23 envelopes stamped: "This correspondence is forwarded from a Massachusetts Correctional Institution."
"I was intrigued before I even opened the envelope," Hunnewell said. "Even the mail lady said, 'I've never seen you get this much.' "
The stack of envelopes was from the Bridgewater Correctional Complex, a state prison, and contained $188 in 23 separate donations for the victims of last month's Branch Street fire.
Each prisoner wrote a letter explaining the reason for their donation.
The donations are part of an effort by Community Reach Out Project (C.
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"The family, whom I knew, was killed tragically in their home and I find it important to be able to reach out and help all their loves ones, and other involved," wrote the founder of C.R.O.P. "For me, helping out is the best way for me to grieve in the healthy way."
The founder wrote that he will continue C.R.O.P. after he is released. He hopes to encourage others to do good in their lives.
The donations ranged from $3 to $25 from the founder. Most contributed $5 and $10 bills.
"For these guys five bucks is a lot," Hunnewell said.
For many of the donors, this was a chance for them to redeem themselves. They wrote that being a part of C.R.O.P. was part of making a change in their lives.
"It is important for me to reach out, because while incarcerated, I have been able to grow and do more productive things in my life," wrote another inmate. "This has started to become important for me on my current life journey."
Jeanne D'Arc Credit Union, which holds the Branch Street Fire Victims Relief Fund, said it has collected $186,000 in donations to date. They will disburse the money based on need.
"You hear all the bad stories," Hunnewell said. "It's good to hear a positive one."
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