By Roz Hamlett, Portfolio Editor
Fran Safina is a finder of lost loves, of the material kind, at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). She handles and recovers items that don’t have much meaning or intrinsic value to anyone other than the owner. But, as most everyone knows, the loss of a coveted sentimental treasure, well, that can be a tear-jerker.
“I’m known by only one name, (like Cher,)” said Fran, who has maintained the lost and found office for almost nine years at JFK’s Building 14. That’s enough time to have seen and heard it all – both the agony and the ecstasy of travelers who are separated and then reunited with beloved possessions.
“It’s always an adventure in lost and found,” she said recently. “You don’t know what you’re going to receive and who lost it. But it’s so rewarding to connect a patron with their lost property.”
Fran’s got lots of stories. Like the time Fran the sleuth tracked down luggage full of cherished old photographs from a wedding invitation that was also inside. She contacted the wedding venue, which helped locate the owner of the luggage, a mother who had flown to California to work on the family photo albums while attending her dying father, who passed a few weeks later. “She was so overwhelmed with emotion at recovering the photographs that she could hardly speak to me,” said Fran.
An Orthodox couple, newlyweds from Brooklyn, had returned to JFK following their wedding in Israel. A very distraught husband left a phone message that he’d lost his wedding hat at the airport. Fran received a round box with a hat inside a few days later. “He came running to my office to retrieve it. His wife came along, too, and she was in tears.”
Fran’s recoveries have run the gamut, from the usual spate of phones, canes, walkers and crutches, to immigration papers, green cards and passports and, recently, an official letter from the Vatican with the Pope’s seal and signed by a Vatican official. That was left at a security checkpoint.
While Fran may not have the Pope’s influence, at least to one New Jersey man she’s right up there with St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things and lost causes. The man had dropped off his wife at JFK for a flight to Russia during a recent Nor’easter. When weather cancelled her flight, he told her to check into a hotel. In the confusion, three pieces of luggage were left behind in Terminal 1.
“When he arrived to pick up his wife’s things, he told me that he had prayed to St. Anthony, although his friends had said praying wasn’t likely to do any good,” Fran said. “That man was so happy that St. Anthony had brought him to me that he vowed never to let his wife travel alone again.”
Since 2010, Fran also has supported a recycling program in which she sends unclaimed cell phones to the Cellular Recycler, an independent nonprofit. The organization makes out a check on behalf of the Port Authority that then is donated to programs that improve the quality of life for older New Yorkers and their families.
“I’m sold on the program because it’s a win-win for older people and the Port Authority. It doesn’t get better than that,” said Fran.
To report a loss at JFK, call 718-244-4225 for detailed instructions on how to proceed with a search.