UVM Students Volunteer at Ground Zero

Images of the events of Sept. 11 will remain forever branded in the collective memory of many Americans. For 11 UVM students, however, it was not enough to witness history from behind the shield of a television screen. Annie Willis and Keegan Tierney, co-directors of Volunteers In Action, organized an Alternate Winter Break trip down to New York City to contribute to the relief effort at the World Trade Center. From Jan. 4-11, Erin Foley, Tessa Lorenze, Travis Beebee, Jolene Danian, Alexandra Crowley, Courtney Gremelsbacker, Brennan Mangan, Clare Dunnett and Laura Sforza joined the two leaders and worked in double shifts to cook hot meals and distribute food to police officers, firefighters and construction workers still working 24 hours a day to clear the remains at Ground Zero. Although Annie helped raise $22,000 last Fall for the victims, she wanted to know what else she could do. She felt that people wanted to help more directly, and this gave her the idea for the trip. Foley said she was driven to experience NYC physically because she felt far away and disconnected from what happened. “This is an America problem, America heartache.” The group worked with Ground Zero Food Services, an organization set up in the wake of the event, at Seaman’s Church, located a few blocks from the fenced-off pit that exists where the towers once stood. There, they made hamburgers, hotdogs, chili, pasta, scrambled eggs, bacon, French toast and sausages for any police officers or construction workers who would come in. “It didn’t really matter what I was doing,” Mangan said. “We were doing what had to be done. I was just glad to be involved in the process of reconstruction.” To Lorenze, who knew the city very well, it seemed unfamiliar. Streets were going the wrong way; everything had been rearranged in the financial district to accommodate the enormous relief effort. Of the pit where the World Trade Center once stood, all agreed it looked merely like a huge construction site, but they were stunned by the magnitude of it, how enormous it was, and how hard it was to put in perspective. “It’s one of those things that you have to see for yourself,” Erin said. However, they were not there to gawk at a big hole in the ground, Brennan said, and it was easy to put emotions aside, do the job and focus. Three members of the group spent five days cooking at Firehouse 1010, which looks out directly onto the ground where the towers stood. The walls were covered with flags and letters, but beneath a tattered and singed flag and the beaten and rusted firehouse sign that had hung outside that day, there was an uplifting atmosphere. The firefighters were greatly interested in the students and their reasons for coming. Without exception, all of the rescue workers showed incredible gratitude to the volunteers. “Firefighters and police thanked us a million times for coming down,” Lorenze said. “I was like, Are you joking? Thank you.” As they left the firehouse for the last time, one firefighter said: “I feel like I should give you something. Here, take my cell phone.” “The whole week was kind of a whirlwind,” Mangan said, “but it made me see how so little can do so much. You don’t need certification to help somebody. Kindness and time is all you need.”