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'Together' poem strikes chord

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | September 19, 2001

"If each person used their skill in this time of need, the healing may come easier."

—Matt Olson

The night after the

terrorist attacks, Huntington Beach, CA-based freelance

writer Matt Olson responded by writing a poem entitled


The poem is about how awful events sometimes bring

people together: "...the same two women who disliked

each other the day before/stop and say hello," Olson


As thousands of people searched for ways to help, some

of them inundating the New York and Washington, D.C.

disaster sites with unwanted donations of clothing or

food, Olson responded to the nation's largest disaster

in history by writing a poem.

"I wrote the poem instead of doing other things because

the lines at the blood banks were over 10 hours and I am

a writer," he said. "That is what I do, so that is what

I did. If each person used their skill in this time of

need, the healing may come easier."

Writing -- of the non-news sort -- could give people an

outlet for grief, fear, and anger, Olson said -- an

outlet "other than violence against each other or


Many churches and denominational groups have written

special hymns, liturgies, and prayers to help people

focus on healing after the tragedy.

Another way to respond in a personal way is to become a

caring neighbor, advised Neighbors 4 Neighbors, a Miami-

Dade County community advocacy organization that started

a campaign called "Hope 4 America."

"People who want to volunteer are asked to create images

of hope and patriotism," said spokesperson Lynne


Among many other activities, the group has been

encouraging people to ask local storefronts if they can

paint a patriotic mural on an exterior wall or window.

Or people can paint their mailbox red, white, and blue,

or choose from a list of activities that "send a message

that Americans are standing together for America. That

our spirit is strong and we will not allow evil actions

to take that away."

With emotions running high, organizations have been

advised to suggest outlets for constructive activities

people can do to express their grief and anger. People's

desire to help is so strong, they sometimes become

disappointed -- even angry -- when told their presence

at the disaster site or their material donations aren't

needed at this time.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other

response agencies continued to ask the nation to stop

sending volunteers and donated goods to New York City

and Washington D.C. where recovery efforts became

overwhelmed by what FEMA termed an "outpouring of


Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) was among many

organizations that followed FEMA's advice and asked

supporters not to travel to the disaster sites to

volunteer. "Despite a widespread desire to do something

hands-on, MDS is not sending volunteers in response to

the horrific attack," said spokesperson Ted Houser.

But Houser said it was important to offer people other

ways to respond because "we understand the

disappointment felt by those who were hoping to serve."

MDS instead encouraged people to make a financial

donation to its Restoring Hope Fund. And MDS also urged

people to simply reach out to their neighbor. "MDS is

also asking churches to reach out to those within their

communities who might become the object of hasty,

fearful, and scapegoating anger, and if needed to offer

support and protection," said Houser.

Leaders from Catholic Charities leaders echoed Houser's

advice to reach out to your neighbor and respond in a

personal way. "With a crisis like this, it is likely

families are going to face any number of needs," said Ed

Orzechowski, executive director of Catholic Charities of

the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. "They could range

from something as simple as transportation to visit an

injured loved one to -- sadly -- burial needs."

Like MDS and many other faith-based groups, Catholic

Charities is also collecting financial donations.

Local churches can channel people's energies into

preparing their church to respond to any potential local

disaster. After the twin towers collapsed, Washington

Square United Methodist Church in Greenwich Village

opened its doors and telephone lines to crying, shaken


"Then the walking wounded began appearing -- folks who

had walked out of the 'ground zero' area," said the Rev.

Jacquelyn Moore. "Their injuries were not major, but

many were in shock. We set up water and some food, broke

out cots from our homeless shelter so some could lie

down. We set up a TV in the corner of the sanctuary so

folks could get information.

"We didn't stop to count, but think that 150 to 200

folks came through. The staff and some community members

of Washington Square Church were here and worked and

cried with folks."

At Park Avenue Church on the Upper East Side, the Rev.

William Shillady and the Rev. Bryan Hooper stood outside

in ministerial robes, inviting those walking by to pray.

"People would stop in their tracks and say, 'Yes, that's

what I need to do,'" Shillady said.

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