"Wristbands Keep Sept. 11 in Mind"
Albuquerque Journal - October 25, 2001

By Paul Logan
Journal Staff Writer

Mercy BandsLenya Heitzig sat staring at television coverage in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and asked, "What can I do, Lord?" Heitzig said the 6,000 victims who died in New York, at the Pentagon and in the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania proved "too much to wrap my brain around. But I knew that I could wrap my heart around one person, one victim and their family."

That's when Heitzig thought of making sterling silver bracelets engraved with the names of those killed in the attacks. The $20 bracelets are called Mercy BANDS, an acronym for "bearing another's name daily."

In only two weeks, her concept is on the wrists of 1,500 people, including her family members. Heitzig is married to Skip Heitzig, pastor of Calvary of Albuquerque. The first batch of bands sold out last weekend to parishioners at Calvary, considered the state's largest church with about 12,000 members. Another 4,000 bracelets will be finished this week, with plans to produce at least 60,000. Resembling Vietnam War bands, each bracelet has a victim's name. It symbolizes a living memorial because it is worn, said Heitzig, who runs a women's ministry at Calvary. Besides a daily reminder to pray for the victim's loved ones, she said the bands are "a symbol of hope in God's mercy to heal the nation's wounds."

This week, 100 bands will be shipped to Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., for him and his Senate colleagues. Each senator will receive a bracelet with the name of a victim from United Airlines Flight 93. Authorities believe that some passengers fought the terrorists on that plane, causing it to crash in a Pennsylvania field instead of somewhere in Washington D.C. The bands are a gift from a local businessman, who is underwriting the senators' bracelets, as well as any requested by victims' families. The Albuquerque-made bracelets will be sold, starting this week, at Christian bookstores and at Mati Jewelers. They are also available through a toll-free number (1-866-647-0762) and at the http://www.mercyband.org/ Web site.

Lenya Heitzig wears the name of Alfred Marchand, the Alamogordo flight attendant killed when United Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center. Skip Heitzig has Pete Ganci, chief of the New York Fire Department. Their son, Nathan, 15, has Michael Fiore, a New York firefighter. Calvary members helped create the nonprofit business, Mercy BANDS, which Lenya Heitzig called "amazing and miraculous" in itself. While at church, she met an employee from Kabana, an Albuquerque jewelry maker. Minutes later, another church member who works for a silver dealer came along and they talked about making bracelets in one of their garages. A day later, she called another member, who volunteered an engraving machine. And while Heitzig was at a gym, she met a manufacturing company owner. As she was talking to the owner about making 6,000 bracelets, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association called to say it wanted to help, suggesting she make at least 60,000 bands — 10 of each name. Graham's worldwide association will put bracelet ads on its radio, in its magazine and in its fliers. "Each step was there before I got there," Heitzig said. An artist volunteered to design a brochure and found a printer to produce the first several thousand for free. A brochure is sent out with each bracelet. Kabana, the manufacturer, has hired extra employees and is operating 24 hours a day, she said.

Calvary is providing office and warehouse space and a person in charge of the warehouse. Heitzig has hired an office manager and three operators besides her volunteer help. A bracelet costs about $14 to make, plus $1.50 for shipping, 50 cents for printing additional brochures and $1 to make a Web site order. The remaining $3 is a buffer in case of miscalculations, she said. Heitzig invested $1,000 in the project along with other donations. She said didn't want to establish another fund-raising project, but any money left over will be used for a victims' relief fund. "I wanted Americans to be able to feel connected and bearing this burden and not disenfranchised from this," Heitzig said.

©Copyright 2001 Albuquerque Journal