Because of an 8-year-old St. Jacob girl, police and firefighters in 58 departments carry 1-inch beaded crosses.
“Some of them put their crosses s in their (shirt) pockets,” said Arianna Nichols. “One fire department is keeping the cross in their helmets so it can protect them from head to toe.”
The cross project began after the petite blond with shoulder-length hair received beads as a gift for her end-of-August birthday party.
“The kids have had beads for a couple years,” said Laura Nichols, a stay-at-home mother of three. “They made hearts, turtles, dogs, cats. I was looking for an idea for her birthday. I found a bible school bucket of Perler beads. I thought, ‘This girl loves Jesus. This is an awesome bucket of beads.’”
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And Arianna came up with an awesome idea.
“I just saw a picture of the little mini crosses,” said the third-grader at St. John Neumann School in Maryville. “I thought, ‘That’s perfect.’ I think I should do that. I just like doing art. I didn’t know right away what I’d do with them, but I had this idea of giving them out to the neighborhood.
“Sometimes I say, ‘I have something for you. I made little crosses. Do you want one?’ Most say, ‘Sure.’ I can only think of one person who said no. I am really happy and proud of myself.”
“I walk with her,” said Laura. “I figure it’s part of my job to make it happen. You want to encourage that kind of behavior.”
“She would hand them out at a restaurant or give to people walking down the street,” said dad Todd, a pharmacy manager. “She takes them to church (Mother of Perpetual Help in Maryville) and puts them in a basket in the adoration chapel.”
“I gave them to my whole class and teacher and one to the principal,” said Arianna.
“She attached it to a magnet,” said Laura.
“I think it was a sparkly one,” said Arianna. “I think it was a blue one.”
2,844 crosses Arianna sent to emergency personnel in 16 states
17-20 minutes it takes Arianna to make a tray of 42 crosses
The crosses made their way to police and firefighters after the little cross-maker gave one to a stranger.
“The woman made a comment that her husband is a police officer,” said Laura. “Arianna said, ‘Let me give you another so it can protect him. Can I give you more so it can protect all the officers there?’ Her husband sent back pictures of it on his shirt.”
Laura posted the photos on Facebook. A Monroe County police officer requested some for his department. Laura also contacted a friend, Lisa Pathenos, of O'Fallon, whose boyfriend, Kyle Bade, is a Shiloh police sergeant.
“I put an email out to other officers,” said Bade. “If you want a cross, here they are. It seemed to go across pretty well.”
He keeps his black and gold cross in his uniform shirt pocket.
“It’s one of those things with the job. We deal with a lot of the worst. It’s nice to see the other side and deal with the best of the best. ... It makes you feel good.”
He had connections with other officers.
“From there, it just took off,” said Laura, who keeps a log. “They have been very well-received. ... There’s this whole separation of church and state. I am shocked how many people are willing to take crosses when they hear she wants to protect them.
“My rule is we have to make contact with someone at the station, get the address, name and how many they want.”
Sometimes I say, ‘I have something for you. I made little crosses. Do you want one?’ Most say, ‘Sure.’ I can only think of one person who said no. I am really happy and proud of myself.
Arianna Nichols on giving away crosses
She has sent 2,844 crosses in zippered plastic bags inside bubble mailers to emergency personnel in 16 states. Locally, they’ve gone to Madison and Monroe County police departments and to Shiloh, Lebanon, Cahokia, New Baden, Maryville, Glen Carbon, St. Jacob, Troy, Brooklyn, and more. That doesn’t include crosses given out at school and church, to strangers or wait staff at restaurants.
Monday afternoon, Arianna sat at the dining room table that doubles as her work station, sorting and choosing colors for her tiny six-bead creations. Younger sister Aubrey, 2, twirled in and out of the room in princess costumes. Older sister Alyssa, 12, got ready for gymnastics. After Arianna filled a gridded pegboard of crosses (“I do seven in a row and six down”), Laura molded the plastic beads together by pressing them with an iron.
“We were just timing it today,” said Laura. “It takes 17 to 20 minutes to make one tray of 42 crosses. She makes three or four trays a day.”
Arianna encloses this note in each package: “Hello, my name is Arianna. I am 8 years old. I make crosses to spread God’s word. God’s word is peace, kindness, love, joy, patience, hope and faith. I am also Catholic and religious and loving and caring. I am a very happy girl. I hope my crosses inspire people to pray and love Jesus. I also hope my crosses protect you. Love, Arianna.”
In return, the Nicholses like receiving photos to see that the crosses have reached their intended destinations.
Some departments have asked to meet her. Three officers were on hand when the Nichols family visited Shiloh.
“They gave me a badge, a patch,” said Arianna.
The St. Louis Downtown Airport Fire Department, based in Cahokia, was another treat.
“I had a free tour,” said Arianna. “I got to do two things I really enjoyed. I got to slide down the fire pole. The other thing I did, I got into the fire truck and got a ride. We went to the field where there were tall grasses and they turned on the water. I got to move (the hose) around. The pressure from the water made the plants go down.”
She likes the challenge of coming up with just the right cross colors. Blue and black represent fallen officers.
“One department lost two this year,” said Laura, “heart attack and suicide. It’s very sad.”
Arianna’s enthusiasm for the beaded cross project doesn’t surprise her mom.
“She’s always been religious. We are Catholic. We go to church every weekend. We pray before we eat. She comes home after school, does a little bit, has a dinner break and sometime does more.”
Arianna starts homework in the car to have more time to make crosses.
“I am really focused and go really fast,” she said. “I like making new patterns. I like the baby blue color and clear yellow, shiny yellow, and shiny orange. Sometimes I do sunsets with sunset colors. Two of shiny yellow, two shiny pink and two crimson or orange.”
How does she know when she’s made enough for the day?
“I start to slow down and get tired. I sit back for a while. Mom says, ‘OK, bedtime.’ I say, ‘Just one more.’”
- Family: Parents Todd and Laura, and two sisters Alyssa, 12, and Aubrey, 2
- Where she lives: St. Jacob
- School: Third-grader at St. John Neumann in Maryville
- Favorite subjects: “I like English. And religion. I have lots of favorites. I like them all.”
- At recess: “I like to jump rope, play a game of kickball, go wild and have fun.”
- Being the middle child: “I get to experience what it’s like to be a bigger sister and a little sister. It’s pretty cool.”
- Favorite place to eat out: “Golden Corral. There’s a big candy bar and a chocolate fountain.”
- Activity: Gymnastics
- When not making crosses: “I like to relax and play Minecraft on my iPad.”
- Halloween costume: “I don’t know yet. Last year, I was a damaged doll. It looked cool and scary.”