Heart of America Bus Tour

On Thanksgiving Day after 9/11, Chef Tom French embarked upon a journey across the country to ask the question – “How do we bring the heart of what we love to the challenge of eliminating terrorism in our world?” Joined by some other wonderful souls, they visited community centers, firehouses, schools and homeless shelters. Along the way this band of spirit warriors created community feasts and expressive arts events. I felt the call of this journey and flew to Washington DC and New York City to join the Bus Tour the week before Christmas.

It is difficult to find words to express the magic of this time. It felt like weeks of living packed into one. We had the deep honor of being welcomed into the hearts of the firemen at midtown firestation – Engine 24, Ladder 1. We prepared a dinner for 350 undocumented immigrants whose families were affected by the events of 9/11 (see photos below), including collecting hundreds of toys and art supplies for their children in a 24 hour period. We of course visited Ground Zero, as well as the Cathedral of St Divine, which had a major fire the day we arrived in NYC.

Washington DC…
Touch Drawing and Stone Soup for All

Stone Soup Drawings by Deborah Koff-Chapin

Chef Tom created a pot of ‘Stone Soup’ right in downtown Washington DC, during their Farmers market. It was made from food donated by the vendors. I set up my drawing board right there next to the soup pot and brought through the spirit of lovingly shared food in images. It was also fun to let people give Touch Drawing a try right there on the street.


Then to New York…
Dinner for Undocumented Immigrants

We held a dinner at the Union Hall in New York City for undocumented immigrants who were affected by the World Trade Center disaster.

Ground Zero

Sister Monk
Concert at the Open Center

Dinner and Touch Drawing
Portraits of New York City Firemen

In joining the heart of America Bus Tour, I experienced one of the most magical journeys of my life. Chef Tom French, the visionary behind the tour, (and chef for the Touch Drawing Gathering!) lovingly prepared meals as occasions for heartfelt community sharing. A couple of nights, we made dinner for the firemen of the 31st street station, who had lost six men in the Trade Center. We felt so incredibly blessed to be welcomed into the hearth and hearts of these men who have been through what we can barely imagine.

Late one the evening, I brought out my drawing board and created Touch Drawing portraits of several of the men. I don’t usually ‘sketch from life’ in Touch Drawing, but this was a wonderful way to interact with them. Some of the portraits went home with the men, but below are the ones I kept. I also did a couple of Touch Drawings of Father Mychal Judge from a large photo hanging in the station. He was the Chaplain of the New York City Fire department who was killed by falling debris while offering last rites. The men at this station felt his loss particularly strongly, because they were practically his family. His Franciscan priory was right across the street. I sensed such a love and deep respect for the spirit of this man. There was even a quietly acknowledged sense that his presence still abided with them in the station.

The Portraits

Touch Drawings of the firemen of the 31st Street
Midtown Fire Station, New York City

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