Retired Illinois carpenter builds, delivers crosses for Alabama tornado victims

Crosses put up for Lee County storm victims

BEAUREGARD, AL (WSFA) - A simple expression of love in the face of ultimate grief, carefully constructed and driven for nearly 1,000 miles to comfort perfect strangers.

“I do this because this is exactly what Jesus would do if he were alive today,” stated Greg Zanis with Crosses for Losses. “But instead of a donkey, I have a truck.”

Zanis is a first responder in his own right, creating makeshift memorials from coast to coast as a ministry to the brokenhearted.

“I did Columbine High School 20 years ago, Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon, I made Stars of David for the victims of the Pittsburg Synagogue shooting, I made 88 for Campfire, California,” Zanis remembered.

As the news broke of the deadly Lee County storm, Zanis wrapped up his wife’s birthday celebration and headed into his workshop where he labored for more than 30 hours straight.

“I take every cross and I kiss it after I put the name on it, and I sit there and think about a family,” Zanis explained as he fought back emotion.

For Zanis it’s an outreach cloaked in compassion and covered in prayer. He assembled a group of chaplains to help set up the memorial who surrounded his truck to bless the effort. Then handed down specific instructions.

“Don’t carry this over your shoulder,” he stated. “This is a representation of someone’s family member. Hold the cross facing forward anyway you want to carry it.”

Zanius has done it this way for more than 26,000 lives lost in natural and man-made disasters.

“We don’t know why this happened,” Zanis admitted. “We can’t do anything about the people who have passed away. We don’t want to see their families devastated. This is part of their healing process.”

Serving as a light at the heart of ground zero at every major tragedy does take its toll.

“I’m really just a big liar - I try to look strong while I’m in these towns even though I know I’m just headed for a bruising,” he admitted.

Crosses for Losses was born out of Zanis’ own tragedy.

“I started in 1996, my wife’s dad was the guy who taught me how to be a carpenter for 25 years,” he explained. “He was murdered, I found him pushed down at the bottom of the stairs laying in a pool of blood. I have always gone to church, but I realized all the houses and restaurants I’ve built they don’t mean anything at all.”

Zanis retired 18 years later and began building crosses full time. In 2018 he set a record constructing 5,000 crosses. No amount of physical and emotional wear and tear compares to the thought of missing the opportunity to minister to grieving families.

“Just say I didn’t come, there’s no focal point,” Zanis said. “It gives them a sense of pride. I will talk with the victims and while they are very emotional, before they leave they will smile. They understand we are going to remember them. We are living in a world of hurt of pain, there’s no better way to bring anyone together than that.”

As Zanis packs up from this disaster to wait for the next call, he drives away knowing he left others better than he found them.

“Our hope is people will start loving each other more in America,” said Zanis.

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