American couple on sweet trip to N.L., handing out chocolate thank-yous for helping on 9/11

Bob Freese and Peg Schaefer are vacationing in Newfoundland and Labrador, but it's not just a holiday for the couple from Rochester, N.Y. — it's more of a pilgrimage.

Bob Freese, Peg Schaefer say seeing Come From Away on Broadway gave them inspiration to travel to N.L.

Bob Freese, left, and Peg Schaefer, right, with Diane Davis, one of the real people characterized in Come From Away. (Diane Davis/Facebook)

Bob Freese and Peg Schaefer are vacationing in Newfoundland and Labrador, but it's not just a holiday for the couple from Rochester, N.Y. — it's more of a pilgrimage.

Freese and Schaefer went with friends to see the Broadway musical Come From Away, a story about human kindness shown to travellers stranded in Newfoundland and Labrador following the Sept. 11 attacks, and it stuck with them.

"We were so taken with the story and with the whole thing, we said, 'We need to go to Newfoundland and meet these people,'" said Freese.

But the couple decided they couldn't come empty-handed.

So they got special wrappers made for chocolate bars to hand out, and asked all their friends who were also touched by the story of the thousands of passengers who found comfort while stranded in central Newfoundland following 9/11, to help out.

We need to help the rest of the world be like you.- Bob Freese

"We had a big party and we told friends to bring candy bars, we'll put the wrappers on and you can sign them, and they brought 600 candy bars to this party," Freese said.

"We were blown away with their generosity, so we've been travelling around, handing out these candy bars and taking pictures, posting them on Facebook and bringing smiles to people all over Newfoundland."

Each of the wrappers is signed by an American who wanted to say thanks, with the printed note stating: "Thank you for hosting the world on 9/11. We love your love, spirit and graciousness. You lift us up. With kind thankfulness, the people of upstate New York."

A close look at the message printed on the chocolate bar wrappers. (Submitted)

Schaefer said since getting off the ferry in Port aux Basques on Aug. 20, their interactions while travelling around the island have been moving.

"It's been overwhelming. People are just so excited to get that candy bar — it's almost like we're giving them a hundred dollars," she said. "They just, they can't believe it. They're very humble people."

Even better than the musical

Driving across in their RV, Freese and Schaefer have been taking in the sights, hiking trails and coastline — from Gros Morne, to L'Anse aux Meadows, to Twillingate and Fogo Island.

The real thing hasn't disappointed, Schaefer said.

"I think these people are even better, and even nicer, than in the play," she said.

"I mean, the play — don't get me wrong — they're amazing people, but to experience it ourselves is just, it's just overwhelming for us."

The couple has been taken out in a boat by locals they've met, invited to shed parties, breakfasts, dinners and all kinds of other events.

"We spent the night in Ship Cove and met two ladies. They were having their evening walk. We gave them both candy bars, and a few minutes later the lady's husband showed up with his car and said, 'My wife said you were looking for moose,'" Freese said.

Freese and Schaefer have been enjoying not just the people, but the scenic spots during their travels across Newfoundland and Labrador. (Submitted)

"So he took us for a half-hour ride up and down the road there, looking for moose," he added.

"We just had a great time. And yes, he got a candy bar too. People that we know just don't do that and we should. It's just a fun and warm and generous thing to do."

The couple are still traversing the island, covering ground in their camper and handing out dozens of chocolate bars along the way.

But they're really looking forward to heading to the towns featured in Come From Away — Gander and Appleton, for example — on the anniversary of 9/11, to take part in remembrance ceremonies, where they plan to give out the bulk of their bars.

In the meantime, Freese said he and Schaefer are feeling at home in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it's a trip they won't soon forget.

"The people of Newfoundland, you guys are the real thing — you're the real deal. You are just so gracious and loving and caring and helpful. We need to help the rest of the world be like you," Freese said.

"Thank you to all the people of Newfoundland for just the way you are, because the way you are is the way all of us should be."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show