Tom Green doesn’t often talk about the time he spent at Ground Zero in 2001, but he made an exception for the crew of volunteers who gathered at the Boys and Girls Club for the 9-11 Day of Service Friday.
The Columbus native, who is now facility manager at Palmer Home for Children, was part of a disaster relief team with the Southern Baptist Convention that traveled to Manhattan in December 2001 at the request of the New York Port Authority. Its mission: to help clean apartments within five blocks of where the World Trade Center had collapsed on Sept. 11.
Green’s team cleaned five apartments in nine days, he said. The ashes in the downtown Manhattan apartments lay two inches thick in some places, and it covered everything. The grit in the air was thick, and no one knew how toxic it was. His team members wore hazmat suits and respirators, and used special vacuums to clean. They started on the ceilings and worked their way down to the floors, wiping flat surfaces with Clorox wipes after they finished vacuuming.
Green remembers one of the apartment dwellers was a young artist who had recently moved to New York from Atlanta. Of the three people who had commissioned her to create art, two had died in the attacks, he said. She had lost all her possessions and her source of income in a city where she didn’t know many people.
By the time Green went back to Mississippi, she had a stove, a refrigerator, door locks and Christmas lights his team had bought for her.
“Guys, when you don’t have anything, that’s a lot,” Green said.
For many of the people the team helped, Green explained, the cleaning was the least of the impact.
“It was about being there listening and encouraging,” he said.
As Green talked, Shana Thomas found herself with tears in her eyes. After all, she only settled in Columbus because she lost her New Orleans home after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She had just finished school and lost everything she owned.
Doctors at Saum Chiropractic Clinic in Columbus gave her a job and helped her get settled a new town. Now she owns the business.
“All these people who helped me are why I’m where (I am) today,” she said. “You don’t know who you’re going to touch along the way.”
That’s why she and six other clinic employees closed the clinic Friday morning and dished out meals at Loaves and Fishes. Though the clinic raises money for charities every year, Thomas said, this year staff members wanted to give their time too.
“If it wasn’t for these individuals in the community, obviously our business wouldn’t exist,” she said. “So it’s important to give back.”
The 9-11 Day of Service, held annually in Columbus on the Friday before Sept. 11, saw about 70 local volunteers bagging lunches and serving meals at Loaves and Fishes downtown and working with employees at Palmer Home and Habitat for Humanity.
Renee Sanders, Volunteer Center director at United Way, recruits businesses and other groups, like civic organizations and fraternities, to volunteer on national days of service — particularly the lesser-known days of service like Sept. 11.
“This is so we can commemorate the lives that were lost (on 911) while they were serving,” Sanders said. “There were so many victims who gave their lives to rescue people, to search those buildings, to serve the community. … We can’t go back to that day, so what can we do? We can commemorate their lives by serving.”
If businesses’ employees volunteer at nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and Loaves and Fishes, it helps the businesses, too, she said.
“They want to be visible in the community too,” Sanders said. ” … They’re saying, ‘We care.’ It’s important to them.”
In the case of Loaves and Fishes Friday, it was Amanda Lacklen, manager of the Princess Theater who organized a fundraiser among The Princess’ employees and bought all the food. Friday afternoon, she was there with the Saum employees serving meals.
“There are a lot of people who need help and I can see that just from my daily routines of working,” she said. “… I’ve had people come in and ask for free food, for water.”
The Princess raised $750 last week, she said, about $400 of which she spent on Friday’s meal, which she estimated would feed about 250 people. The rest of the money is going to the Loaves and Fishes fund, used to buy food that students from the Golden Triangle Early College High School bagged early Friday morning. Those bags of food will be given to people who request meals on days the soup kitchen is closed.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.