A few months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a small group of 9/11 family members and friends met to talk about how best to pay tribute to their lost loved ones. They decided that the terrorists shouldn't have the last word in forever defining how America remembers 9/11 each year.
Inspired instead by the way the country came together in the weeks following the attacks, the group launched the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, widely known today as 9/11 Day, with the goal of "taking back the day" and gradually transforming the anniversary of 9/11 from a day of tragedy into a day of doing good.
"The idea was simple," said David Paine, the president of 9/11 Day and one of its co-founders. "Ask all Americans to do one good deed on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in tribute to 9/11 victims, first responders, recovery workers, military, those injured and others impacted by 9/11 terrorist attacks."
Today, as the 18th anniversary of the attacks nears, that little idea has grown into the largest annual day of service in the nation, and an official "Day of Service" recognized under federal law. This September 11, tens of millions of Americans of all ages are expected to spend time volunteering, supporting charities and performing other good deeds.
"The terrorists cannot and will not define for us and generations to come how our nation remembers this mass murder, nor Americans' remarkable and compassionate response in the aftermath," said Jay S. Winuk, a 9/11 family member who co-founded 9/11 Day with Paine. Winuk lost his brother Glenn, an attorney and volunteer firefighter/EMT, who died in the line of duty in the collapse of the World Trade Center.
"Every person who does a good deed on 9/11 helps to take back the day from the terrorists and turn it into a day of doing good for people in need."
Nationwide, Americans of all ages will do a lot of good things on 9/11 this year. In tens of thousands of communities across the nation, just as examples, people will be donating winter coats, blood, eye glasses, and books; assembling care packages for military personnel; volunteering at animal shelters; cleaning up parks; repairing and cleaning temporary housing for veterans; baking cookies for local police and fire stations; cleaning debris from national cemeteries; and buying needed school supplies. In more than 50,000 classrooms, students will learn about the events of 9/11 by engaging in service-related activities, utilizing downloadable lesson plans available free of charge at 911day.org.
"The good deeds are as diverse as the people doing them," Paine said.
Even candidates running for political office are being asked to suspend their campaign-related activities for 9/11 in favor of non-partisan expressions of service, reflection and prayer.
"In the days and weeks immediately following the 9/11 attacks, we weren't Red States or Blue States. We were the United States, and we were all Americans," Paine said. "We hope those running for office will remember this remarkable moment of national unity and pledge out of respect for the 9/11 victims to observe the traditional moratorium on campaign-related activities for 9/11."
100,000 Meals for the Victims of Hurricane Dorian
In New York City, at 9/11 Day's largest signature project, more than 4,100 volunteers from throughout the NYC metro area will join together aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, to participate in the 4th Annual New York City Meal Pack for 9/11 Day. The NYC project is being organized by 9/11 Day and co-hosted in partnership with New York Cares, NYC Service, City Harvest, Westside Campaign Against Hunger, and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
Volunteers there will pack more than one million non-perishable meals to be donated and distributed to food insecure individuals in the NYC area by Feeding America-affiliate City Harvest and the West Side Campaign Against Hunger.
At least 100,000 meals are expected to also be donated to support the victims of Hurricane Dorian, in collaboration with the nonprofit Feeding Children Everywhere and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
In seven other cities across the country, 9/11 Day has organized similar volunteer service projects focused on hunger relief, including Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, St. Louis, Dallas and Phoenix, in collaboration with The Outreach Program, The Pack Shack, and Feeding Children Everywhere. These projects, including in NYC, will bring together more than 12,000 volunteers including employees from nearly 175 companies, faith-based groups, schools, municipalities and nonprofits; military veterans; first responders; and prominent sports teams. 9/11 Day organizers expect these volunteers to pack three million non-perishable meals for people. Paine said his group hopes to be in as many as 20 cities with large hunger relief projects by 2021, in time for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Joining the Dallas Meal Pack will be 11-year old Ruben Martinez, from El Paso, Texas, who received national attention for creating the #ElPasoChallenge, which urges people to do one good deed for each of the 22 individuals killed in the August 3, 2019 mass shooting in El Paso. Ruben will be traveling from El Paso to Dallas, along with his mother Rose, to participate in the 9/11 Day project there.
Many of the nation's largest employers are supporting 9/11 Day, by sending volunteers to its projects around the country and providing funding. Among the largest include Citi, American Express, Wells Fargo, Holland & Knight LLP, RBC/City National Bank, New York Stock Exchange, Reliance Steel and Aluminum, Stifel/KBW, Turner Construction, MUFG Union Bank, Borden Dairy, Motorola, Kroger/Fry's Food, Macy's, USAA, Farmers Insurance, and many others. Prominent professional sports teams are also participating, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United FC, Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and Arizona Coyotes.
National funding for the 9/11 Day Meal Packs across the country is also being provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that oversees national service programs including AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.