On May 24, Trey Ganem, a custom coffin maker and owner of SoulShine Industries in Edna, Texas, heard the news of the tragic Uvalde school shooting which claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. Later that day, he got a request that would give him the opportunity to shine a little light in a community thrust headlong into darkness.
Ganem told CNN he was asked by the Texas Funeral Directors Association to make custom caskets for victims of the massacre. That night, he posted on his business Facebook page that he’d accepted the offer and would be on his way to Uvalde to meet with grieving family members before providing his services at no charge.
“Please pray for Uvalde!” Ganem wrote. “I’m on my way to help families in this tragic time. I was asked to help with the caskets and talk with families. This is something no family should ever have to deal with. My love and emotions are already there.”
After arriving in Uvalde — which is more than 200 miles east of where he’s based — Ganem sat down with the grieving families to learn about their loved one’s favorite things, hobbies and personalities. He wanted each casket he’d design to showcase the light in the life of each victim.
On May 27, he shared a sobering image of the plain caskets in white boxes lined up in his workshop before the artistic process had started.
The artist had to special order the small coffins from Georgia, which required a fast turnaround, so Ganem, his 25-year-old son and the rest of his team could start working on the designs. He said some of the designs were as whimsical as the vivid dreams of a young child.
“I asked [a mother] if she wanted a unicorn horn coming out of the llama and she started laughing, you know,” Ganem told NBC Bay Area. “And this is something I was trying to explain to [my team] when the parents are doing something very special for their loved one, and when they get excited, you can take a little bit of their pain and suffering away — this is what it’s about. It’s not just about painting a casket, it’s about helping those families to start their healing process.”
Images of the beautiful artwork he and his team created for the Uvalde victims have popped up on social media, earning widespread praise for SoulShine Industries for serving the community during such a difficult time. John-Carlos Estrada, a TV journalist for CBS Austin, shared a few of the photos provided by Ganem of his team’s work, which included scenes of cartoon dinosaurs in a chase and Superman’s emblem.
Meet the TX man who’s making customized caskets for each of the 19 young victims and two teachers from the school shooting in #Uvalde. Trey Ganem visited with the families last week so each casket is personalized to include each child's interests.
📷: SoulShine Industries pic.twitter.com/eeoOZHcrfF
— John-Carlos Estrada (@Mr_JCE) May 31, 2022
Ganem has told a number of news networks that his team has been working around the clock to make sure the victims can be laid to rest in an appropriate manner and time. He’s also said he couldn’t get this particular job done without the help of his crew, other businesses and the support of the community, both in Texas and beyond.
“Thank you to everyone who has stepped up to help us and to help the families of Uvalde,” Ganem wrote on the SoulShine Industries Facebook page. “We will be tagging and posting a proper thank you to all who have helped soon. Thank you all from the crew here at SoulShine Industries! Continue to pray for the families and all involved.”
You can see more of Ganem’s work, including some of the caskets he’s designed for the Uvalde victims, on his company’s Instagram page.