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From tragedy, a spirit of generosity has emerged

Sister Johnice Rzadkiewicz didn’t expect what would come her way when she opened her cupboards last month to talk about diapers.

Neither did Denise Dion.

Their worlds were on separate paths. Sister Johnice has been working for 30 years at the Response to Love Center on the East Side to help those in poverty. Dion has been working to hold her family together since a devastating drunken-driving accident three years ago took her 7-month-old daughter, Baylee.

Diapers brought them together.

It started a month ago, when Sister Johnice answered a call to talk about how difficult it is for mothers who can’t afford diapers. The Response to Love Center had been operating a small baby ministry, but had to break diaper packs apart because of limited resources.

Her message resonated; she saw an overwhelming response. A boy from St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Orchard Park started a collection. Richard and Diane Gurbacki organized a diaper drive at St. Stephen on Grand Island. For everyone who came, Sister Johnice asked them to sit and talk. In came diapers. Out poured stories.

Eventually, word came that a woman who had lost her own baby was among those collecting. It was Denise Dion, whose daughter, Baylee, the one with the sweet smile and baby blue eyes, was killed when a 24-year-old woman who was drunk and on drugs hit their car.

Dion came across Sister Johnice’s story while searching for a new way to mark the Nov. 27 “angelversary” of her daughter’s death. A friend of a friend had started a diaper drive to help the Response to Love Center. For Dion, it felt right to remember her daughter by helping other babies. She had been on her way to buy diapers the morning of the accident. “I thought maybe Baylee would be smiling down if we gave everybody diapers,” Dion said.

The years since Baylee’s death have been unspeakably hard, but Dion is pulling ahead. In August, she married her longtime fiancé, Baylee’s father. They let glowing paper lanterns float into the sky in Baylee’s memory. Another child, a boy, is on the way.

They adopted a section of highway in Baylee’s name. Dion also is planning to speak about drunken driving and start a walk. “We’ve wanted to do more, but grief just gets a hold of you, and you can’t really do what you want to do,” Dion said. Collecting diapers has helped. “It’s kind of taken my mind off the sadness a little bit,” she said.

This week, she plans to take what she has collected to Sister Johnice. She’s looking forward to the meeting. So, too, is Sister Johnice.

“God saw we needed diapers,” Sister Johnice said. “But the hidden meaning and the spirituality of this experience was we found Denise. I really believe that God was using our center and all of the people to bring healing to her life.”

For someone who spent so little time on Earth, Baby Baylee has made a big impact. “It was almost like the Scripture says, ‘A little child will lead you,’ ” Sister Johnice said. “That’s what that baby did. She led us to remember the babies.”

All the talk about babies brought Sister Johnice back to another infant.

“That’s the joy of it,” she said, “helping these little babies, and knowing that on Christmas, the little infant Jesus is going to smile because of the generosity of the community.”

Is there a better week to be reminded of all that can come from giving?