THE PAST SIX months have been an exhausting but gratifying whirlwind for Annapolis resident Connie Merrick. She went to New York to help with relief efforts in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, traveling almost 20 times between December and the ceremony marking the end of the cleanup May 30.
Like many others, Merrick says she and her husband, Tom, felt called to help with cleanup efforts. And, like others, they had personal connections: Tom Merrick is from Staten Island and his brother survived the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
On Thanksgiving, the Merricks heard about a way to help with relief efforts from a family friend in Connecticut. They jumped at the opportunity. They made 10 trips together. Other times, Connie Merrick went with her daughter or with colleagues and members of area churches, including her own, St. Margaret's Episcopal, for which she organized group relief trips. Sometimes she drove alone to New York for 12-hour shifts at historic St. Paul's Chapel or eight-hour "tours of duty" at a Salvation Army tent.
"I wanted as many people as possible to see this humanity. There were no divisions, just love, hope and togetherness. It brought out the best in everyone," says Merrick. "I'd take people from different churches, and they would go back and organize groups for tours of duty."
And the network grew.
The Merricks and dozens, if not hundreds, of others from the area joined thousands of volunteers from around the nation in giving aid and comfort to rescue and recovery workers. When they weren't in New York, they were organizing people, getting donations and making items for the recovery effort.
The Merricks never went empty-handed. They brought tokens made by first-graders at the school where Connie Merrick is a sign language interpreter; more than 4,000 red, white, and blue crosses made by Lauren Ward of Millersville; flowers donated by Cape St. Claire and Severna Park florists; and hundreds of loaves of bread from Great Harvest Bread Company in Annapolis.
Connie Merrick says volunteers offered coffee, hugs, prayers, inspirational materials, valentines on Valentine's Day, chocolates at Easter and more. At the chapel, volunteers greeted people who traveled to New York to pay their respects. Other volunteers made beds, cooked more than 3,000 meals a day for 260 days and prayed with recovery workers.
Among Merrick's favorite jobs was waking up the workers before next shift with a little cheer, giving them one of the thousands of tokens sent from people around the world.
The Rev. Nancy White of Edgewater, deacon at St. James' Parish in Lothian, organized three different groups of 12 to 14 volunteers from St. James', Christ and All Hallows churches and from the community. The trips would fill up within 24 hours.
"It gave us a sense that there was something we could do," says White.
White says walking into St. Paul's Chapel "took your breath away. Every inch of the church was covered with letters, mementos, photos and banners. You see and begin to understand the outpouring of love from around the world."
The Annapolis Area Christian School community also became very involved in the relief efforts. The school nurse, Sharon Stevens, who knows Connie Merrick, learned that the Salvation Army needed sweat shirts for the workers. She collected the clothing and, with a group of people including Edgewater resident Carol McGreer and her eighth-grade daughter Tiffany, delivered them to Ground Zero.
It was there that the group also learned that Bibles were needed. Thirteen-year-old Tiffany rose to the occasion by spearheading a fund-raising campaign, called "From the Heart," to buy Bibles for those at Ground Zero. In two weeks she, her younger sister Kiersten and some schoolmates raised nearly $2,000 --enough money for 1,100 Bibles. Each was inscribed with a donor's name and a brief message from the donor. The McGreers drove 1,000 Bibles up to the Salvation Army on Palm Sunday weekend and later shipped another 100 to St. Paul's.
About two weeks ago, the McGreers received a thank-you letter from a relief worker, letting them know how much their efforts were valued.
Volunteers received words of thanks and gratitude from the workers at Ground Zero every day for what the volunteers felt were the smallest of things. White recounted the experience in a recent sermon.
"The workers continually thanked us" she said. "Time after time, we heard, `Thank you for all you have done.' And each time, we would think, `For what?' What is filling a cup with coffee or dishing out oatmeal in comparison to the sad work these dedicated men and women have faced for the past 260 days?"