Bright Side to a Black Night

New Yorkers usually don’t talk to strangers. They certainly don’t lend cell phones to passersby. But during Aug. 14-15, the blackout of 2003, New Yorkers were not behaving typically.

For Rozanne Landers, planned gifts officer at Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), Aug. 15 was a most unusual day.

Living on Manhattan’s upper East Side, Rozanne decided to walk to her office in the Catholic Center. Finding the building closed, she proceeded to Park Avenue. At St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, she joined others sitting on the steps. “I wanted to call my family and let them know I was all right,” she said.

A man approached and told Rozanne he was visiting from California. “He asked to borrow my cell phone to make some calls. He mentioned that he was staying at the Waldorf,” she added.

He made his calls and returned the phone. “I must thank you,” he said. “I’m with a foundation in California and I’d like to make a contribution to your favorite charity.”

“That would be Catholic Near East. We support the churches of the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe,” she answered and gave him her office address and phone number.

“Fine,” he said. “I’ll be in touch.”

As CNEWA staffers exchanged blackout stories on Monday morning, it was hard to beat Rozanne’s. Some doubting Thomases said they would believe it when they saw the check. Later that day, the man called and said the check was in the mail.

He identified himself as David, and requested anonymity. He was making the gift, he said, in memory of The White Rose, an organization dedicated to Catholic German students killed by the Nazis.

David admitted he had never heard of CNEWA, but checked CNEWA’s Web site, He was impressed with the mission of the association and assured Rozanne his support would continue.

“I truly believe God brought David and me together on the steps of St. Bart’s,” Rozanne said.

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