Even people who lost everything are thankful.
This year Bill McCoy will
spend Thanksgiving hundreds of miles from his home in
Oregon, removing soggy drywall out of West Virginia
homes that were flooded in July and haven't been
McCoy, one of eight volunteers from Mennonite Disaster
Service (MDS), said the team chose long ago to work on
Thanksgiving "because the work's important enough to get
It's not easy work, either. There are few things that
feel heavier than soggy drywall. And, in many houses in
the Northfork, WV area where the volunteers are working,
coal dust from years of using coal-burning heaters has
collected between the drywall and frame. The volunteers
emerge blackened, dusty, and tired.
After putting in eight hours on Thanksgiving, the
volunteers will share a turkey dinner prepared by two
volunteer cooks that travel with them. They'll also
share a new realization of what it means to give thanks.
Many Northfork residents have a strong faith, said
McCoy. "Even people who lost everything are thankful
that the flood hit during the day and not at night, or
they wouldn't be here at all. It's remarkable they're
thankful because they lost everything. But they say 'at
least we have our lives.' "
That's not the case for everyone, mused Joann Hale, a
Church World Service disaster response facilitator who
spent weeks in New York City responding to needs in the
wake of Sept. 11.
Hale will spend Thanksgiving with her family in Grand
Island, NY. But it's not a day off, she said, because
when you work in the field of disaster response, "it's
never out of our minds."
On Thanksgiving and other holidays, Hale said, "you look
at the newspaper and you hope that rainstorm -- wherever
it is -- stops."
This year, she said, "you think how thankful you are
that your family is together. But there are so many
people in New York and Washington, DC who won't have
that same blessing. You keep thinking about them. It's
their first Thanksgiving they're spending without the
loved ones they lost Sept. 11."
Hale said if people want to give of themselves this
Thanksgiving, they should make sure their local food
pantry is well stocked. Many local charities and food
pantries have been running short of funding and
donations since people are focused on responding to
Sept. 11, Hale said.
"We had a group of well-meaning people recently who
wanted to send baked goods to ground zero," she said.
"But it's difficult to ship things like that and
difficult to gain access to ground zero right now. The
fires there are still burning. I asked them to give
their contribution to the local food pantry in honor of
those who perished and those still working on cleanup."
Many firefighters will spend Thanksgiving on the job not
only in New York City but also in states throughout the
tinder-dry south, which is facing a bad fire season.
In Kentucky, 40 blazes are still burning, but a little
much-needed rain has helped firefighters bring them
under control -- for the time being, said Gwen Holt,
spokesperson for the Kentucky Division of Forestry.
Kentucky firefighter Bill Curnette will be at work this
year on Thanksgiving. "I've been with the Division of
Forestry since 1987, and I think I've spent three
Thanksgivings at home," he said. Curnette and some 50 of
his fellow firefighters will eat a turkey dinner
together Wednesday evening before spending Thanksgiving
on the fire lines.
Bill Paxton -- who flew to Kentucky from his home near
Tallahassee, FL to help in the fire fighting effort --
is one of the lucky ones who will make it home for
Thanksgiving. "I told my wife I'd be home by 4 o'clock."
Paxton said that being part of the "Red Team" - a
specially trained incident command unit pulled from many
states to help fight fires or respond to other disasters
- often means getting called out on holidays he'd rather
spend with his wife and two sons, ages 12 and 13. "I had
reservations at Sea World and Bush Gardens but had to
cancel them when I got called to Kentucky."
But his sons are proud of him, added Paxton. "One wants
to be a firefighter and the other wants to be a
Firefighters will also work over Thanksgiving in
Tennessee, where wildfires have burned tens of thousands
of acres, said Robin Bible, spokesperson for the
Tennessee Department of Agriculture. "But it's one of
those cases where we'll try to get everybody off the
fire line early."
The holiday comes at a time when many firefighters in
Tennessee are remembering a lost comrade who died when
wildfires were at their worst last week. "It's on
everybody's mind. We think about his family. He had two
kids," said Bible.
Bible and his team are also thinking about others who
won't be home for Thanksgiving. "We think a lot about
the troops who were called to the war in Afghanistan. At
least we usually know when we're coming home. They
It's also a time when many people -- even those in the
midst of responding to disasters -- think about how
thankful they are to live in a free country, said Ellis
Wystra, a Church World Service disaster resource
facilitator based in Michigan. "Our thoughts go out to
the people who are putting their lives back together
from Sept. 11 or from any other disaster -- people in
West Virginia or Houston, Texas. On holidays, you're
always wondering, 'how are those people doing?' "
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