Across the nation, and even around the world…we are all revisiting the scenes of 9/11 on this 10th anniversary. Arriving within a half-hour of the first plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, The Salvation Army was one of the first relief organizations to arrive on the scene at “Ground Zero” and provided extensive support for relief workers and volunteers. Practical assistance as well as spiritual and emotional care continued throughout the months-long clean-up process. Because The Salvation Army already provides these services and more, 365 days a year throughout the country, it had a ready and willing pool of social workers and counselors available to assist with the needs of the community in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Nearly 40,000 volunteers served at Ground Zero during the duration of The Salvation Army’s response, coming from all over the United States. The Indiana Division sent a few of its own, including Jo Ann Remender, Director of Planned Giving. The journey to Ground Zero took Jo Ann to a role outside her area of expertise. In fact, Jo Ann credits God for giving her the strength, words, and wherewithal to do the task that was assigned her. She volunteered to serve, in whatever capacity was needed. She had no idea what she would be doing once she arrived in New York. She certainly did not bargain for what lay ahead of her.
Jo Ann stood with the new team, fresh and reporting for duty in January of 2002. Much to her surprise and shock, she was given the job of chaplain, in addition to overseeing food preparations. Immediately upon checking into her hotel, Jo Ann dropped her bags and cried out to God to equip her for the unknown. She was assigned to the midnight shift – 10pm to 10am and within her first hour at the morgue, a call came over the radio that a firefighter was “coming home.” Jo Ann remembers, “You never wanted it to become just a process. We would often go down to where all the victims photos were, so that we could see their faces and be reminded that they were real people.” Once a week, volunteers would hold a memorial service to remember those lost. It was an important and critical step for those working tirelessly for months on end to find closure to the status of their comrades.
One facet of caring for the emotionally and physically drained rescue workers during the recovery phase of 9/11 involved “the little things.” Workers would casually share about something that they would like to have – a certain candy or type of coffee. Jo Ann made a point of finding that item the next time she shopped for supplies and then enjoyed the delight it brought when she presented it to the person who had mentioned it. Those little things made a visible difference for the workers and represents the depth of caring shown through what The Salvation Army calls “the ministry of presence.” Many times it was all they could do but to just touch a hand or listen without a word. “I don’t know how you can fully explain the support and how critical that is for those dealing with such loss,” says Remender.
The role of chaplain, organizing and holding memorials, comforting relief workers and family of victims is emotionally taxing. Team members serving after 9/11 often relied on each other for support through the tough moments. “God always put somebody there with us for support,” says Jo Ann.
The Salvation Army served relief workers at the scene for nine months until operations at Ground Zero officially concluded in May, 2002. This relief effort, called “Operation Compassion Under Fire” gave The Salvation Army full control of the feeding operation at Ground Zero. We served 3.2 million meals during those months.
Following the attacks on the World Trade Center, The Salvation Army set up a tent city outside of the Pentagon in Washington, DC called “Camp Unity”, serving meals to volunteers and first responders for several weeks during clean-up.
Meals and relief services were also offered at the crash site of United Airlines Flight #93 in Pennsylvania.
Please join us in remembrance of lives lost and those forever changed by the events that happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Visit our national blog for photos, stories, interviews and videos relating to The Salvation Army’s response and ministry in NY, D.C. and PA. May God bless the memory of the fallen heroes, their families and the lives of those still serving!