Every year, as the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks approached, Cindy McGinty had a hard time figuring out where she should be. Her husband Mike died in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and the Foxboro resident wasn’t sure how to spend the day.
One year, she and her sons went to a memorial ceremony in Boston. The next, they went to a memorial ceremony in New York. Another year, they left town completely. But she ultimately learned that the most meaningful way she could spend the day was doing service for others.
“Commemorations are great for some people, but I need to move on that day and be doing something for someone else,” she said. “I wanted to remember what 9/11 was in the minutes right after it happened. I wanted to have that feeling because it was a positive.”
That’s why McGinty is grateful she’s been able to work with David Paine and Jay Winuk, co-founders of the nonprofit 9/11 Day, which organizes volunteer efforts for the national day of service on September 11. In 2009, U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama joined together to pass legislation that formally designated September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is the only other day of service officially established under federal law.
“It’s the largest annual day of charity in the country,” said Winuk, whose brother Glen died in the attacks. “As a family member, we never wanted the day to become a holiday like Memorial day and other days that started with real serious purpose but the message got lost and it turned into a three-day weekend. On this day we can all come together and focus on common humanity instead of things that typically separate us.”
Nearly 30 million Americans of all ages participated in 9/11 Day last year, and the founders are hopeful the number will increase this year, which is the 15th anniversary of the attacks.
Here are five ways you can participate in 9/11 Day in the Boston area:
Two years ago, the American Red Cross partnered with 9/11 Day to hold its September 11 blood drive in conjunction with the nonprofit. The event has always been meant to empower people to heal and do something out of the goodness of their hearts, but the partnership only emphasizes that intention, said Donna M. Morrissey, director of communications for the American Red Cross Northeast Division.
“We have taken what was a tragic day and have joined together with other members of the community to pay it forward and help others in need,” she said. “During the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we had 2,000 people donate. We hope there will be thousands this year, too.”
The blood drive will take place from 7:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. at Fenway Park.
After Mike’s death, McGinty established the McGinty Scholarship to recognize local high school graduates who, like her late husband, are committed to serving the community. To raise money for the scholarships, which are awarded in June, she helps organize “Family Fun Day” in Foxboro on the Foxboro Common. For a $5 per person entry fee, attendees will be able to jump in inflatable bounce houses, get their faces painted and decorate cookies, among other activities.
“Mike wouldn’t want us to be sad forever,” McGinty said. “He would want us to carry on his name and legacy. He would want us to be strong and pay forward all the good things that were done for us, which is why we started the scholarship.”
There will also be a collection drive to benefit Mass Military Heroes Fund Overseas Care Packages to Soldiers. McGinty said they will accept donations of single-serve microwaveable meals, such as instant pasta, mac & cheese, stews, soups, and Ramen noodles, but do not want canned goods.
Assemble care packages
The Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund hosts an annual service event on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston to assemble care packages for active duty service members and veterans. From noon until 2:30 p.m., volunteers can help by writing letters of support to troops overseas, as well as put together packages for local veterans as well as service men and women abroad. If you can’t attend in person, you can sponsor a care package by donating to the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund.
Donate to your favorite charity
You can donate to MyGoodDeed, which is the group behind 9/11 Day, but Winuk said the group supports donations to any person’s favorite charitable organization.
“This is not the type of thing where we ask everyone to do the same thing or donate to the same organization,” he said. “If you want to donate to a breast cancer awareness organization or donate in advance to a December coat drive, that’s a positive way to engage with the anniversary this year.”
Do a good deed
The whole point of 9/11 Day is for people to volunteer in a way that feels comfortable to them. Winuk said that means it can be as simple as taking out the trash or donating old clothing.
“We as Americans own the day,” he said.