Volunteer at St. Paul's Chapel

The following is what I wrote after our experience working at St. Paul's Chapel:

Thursday and Friday, January 24 and 25, Pastor John and I volunteered at St. Paul's Chapel, a respite center next to "Ground Zero." During our shifts, from 3-11 P.M., he served as chaplain, and I as mental health consultant. There was no formal structure; we simply walked around, talking to all the workers who came into the chapel: policemen, firefighters, construction workers, OSHA representatives, and maintenance crews. All needed a rest. They were also hungry, and copious amounts of snacks and delicious hot food were available. Also, there were first aid supplies and clothing available. It had rained on Thursday  and dry socks and shirts were appreciated.

Most were eager to talk. Some had been working "in the hole" the entire time since 9/11. All were experiencing rather intense emotional reactions to what was going on and all referred to the "hallowed ground" upon which they were working.

Many had been working 12 to 16 hour shifts; one policewoman had just completed her third straight tour of duty. Another policeman was emotionally spent, having been at the site since the disaster, and said he had spent his birthday there....and that this very day was his 20th anniversary on the force. Three other police officers talked about their experiences at the landfill at Fresh Kills in Staten Island, raking throught the rubble, a job done meticulously by hand, not having any idea what they might find....

A firefighter was trying to be unemotional when he reported that they had hit a "hot spot"....the bodies of 8 firefighters had been recovered Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. There were civilians, as well, but not as clearly identifiable, and the numbers were therefore difficult to ascertain.

A very young OSHA rep from a small town in Alabama was overcome with the knowlege of the discovery. Nothing in his training or experience heretofore had prepared him for what he was witnessing.

Perhaps the most poignant and sad was the construction worker pointed out to me by a co-worker. He was curled up in a fetal position on a cot, totally inaccessible to any human touch, clutching a stuffed animal, and, according to the co-worker, a photo of his sister. She had been a hostess at Windows on the World.  Her body has not been found.  Her brother, a back hoe operator, keeps looking for her.  As I passed by as closely as I could get to the cot, I saw that he was quietly sobbing.

The misery and trauma are far from over. Perhaps it has reached another phase. The shock has passed, but the fatigue and depression are intesifying. All these workers need our prayers to give them strength and courage to carry out the tasks that remain.

Story Campaign: 
Stories of September 11
This story is part of a Volunteerism and Community Support collection.