After someone splashed paint across 17-year-old Madeline Forrest’s Girl Scout Gold Award project, her community rallied to restore it within hours.
By Matt Skoufalos | November 23, 2023
Two weeks ago, Tim Gregory of Collingswood Public Works spent his afternoon painting a rainbow crosswalk at the corner of Haddon and Woodlawn Avenues with his coworker, Matt Geigel.
On Thanksgiving morning, Gregory woke up to see photos of his work on social media — with white paint splattered all over it.
His first reaction was to call his boss, and ask permission to come in on his day off to repaint it.
“I saw that it was done, and said, ‘I can come out there and redo it,’” Gregory said.
By midday, the work was nearly done; with a couple touch-ups, it will be fully restored.
“Whoever did it, it’ll be back up and clean for tomorrow’s events,” Gregory said. “You can’t make it last.”
Collingswood Commissioner Morgan Robinson said she was “deeply dismayed” to learn that the crosswalk had been vandalized.
But almost as soon as the incident had been reported, the immediate community response to address it, holiday or not, was wholly comforting.
“The public outpouring of ‘Let’s do this right now on Thanksgiving,’ we get to turn it into a beautiful community moment,” Robinson said. “That’s better than any message the destruction sent.”
The crosswalk, which is painted in colored blocks used on the Progress Pride flag, was organized by Collingswood high-schooler Madeline Forrest as her Girl Scout Gold Award community project.
Forrest, 17, got the idea while painting colored curb islands with Robinson as part of an August 2021 pedestrian safety demonstration project.
She pitched the borough government, raised $900 from local businesses and the Collingswood Pride Committee for paint, and got the job approved by Collingswood Public Works.
“I was beyond excited,” Forrest said.
On Thanksgiving morning, however, friends sent her a picture that her Collingswood neighbor, Megan Fleck, had captured. It showed white paint splashed all over the crosswalk, with tire tracks trailing off in a smear down Woodlawn Avenue behind it.
“It’s not an accident,” Forrest said. “I can’t believe there are people in our community that are so hateful. I can’t believe it’s only 14 days.”
But for all the revulsion the vandalism inspired, it also sparked the town into action. Robinson said that borough officials were in communication all morning with concerned neighbors who offered to help power-wash the crosswalk and repaint it.
For Forrest, whose project was intended to remind LGBTQ youth that they’re in a safe community, the neighborhood response demonstrated the solidarity she’d hoped it would inspire.
“I think it shows that people are paying attention,” she said; “that people care.”
Collingswood Director of Business Development Lindsey Ferguson credited Forrest not only for her message of inclusivity, but also for including a maintenance schedule that contemplated refreshing the crosswalk paint as needed.
“She did her homework, and that was all in the plan, Ferguson said. “There was enough for an initial repaint already.”
The borough had already been planning a ribbon-cutting to introduce the crosswalk in two weeks, Ferguson said.
“Our town slogan is, ‘It’s where you want to be,’” Ferguson said. “It should be where everybody wants to be. This is a visible show of support that we welcome all kinds in Collingswood.”
If the crosswalk is vandalized again, “we’ll just meet it and keep going,” she said.
The incident doesn’t appear to be an isolated one, according to Andrew and Tara Faupel of Kenkojuku Karate. When a Pride flag was stolen from the front of the dojo last week, an anonymously donated replacement arrived within days of its mention online.
Andrew Faupel said the crosswalk vandalism is “super unusual.
“You don’t expect that in town,” he said. “It’s a shame people ruined it, but glad to see everyone come out.
“That’s what you want to see.”
At the very least, Collingswood Police Chief Kevin Carey said, the paint spill is a bias incident; the results of the investigation will determine whether it meets the definition of a bias crime.
“Collingswood is a diverse community, and one where hate has no home,” the chief said. “Today’s unfortunate incident is being investigated by our detectives, and we will be doing everything in our power to determine those responsible.”
Despite his disgust with the incident itself, “our commitment to protecting our residents from all acts of hate and bias is unwavering,” Carey said.
“The silver lining in it all is that this has shown everyone what an amazing community we have,” he said.
“A small army of residents offered to volunteer time on their Thanksgiving to help stomp out this hateful act, and show that we are better and stronger than any attempt at spreading hate and victimizing any marginalized community.
“We are one here in Colls, and days like today highlight that fact,” Carey said.
Please support NJ Pen with a subscription. Get e-mails, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.