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CENTRAL MASSACHUSETTS RESPONDS TO AMERICA'S TRAGEDY

The scenes emanating from New York City, the Pentagon and the hillside of Pennsylvania on Sept. 11 were horrific. The utter destruction, the loss of lives, the disruption in lifestyle caused to so many families will remain frozen in our minds.

The response of so many Americans who were quick to come together with donations of food, money, clothing, equipment, blood, and pure volunteerism also made a lasting impression.

Here in Central Massachusetts, countless numbers of people stepped forward on Thursday, Sept. 13th, during a public demonstration of support. Inspired by radio stations WSRS 96.1 FM, and its sister station, WTAG 580 AM, area citizens were invited to Worcester's Elm Park from 7 am to 3 pm to drop off donations of bottled water, protein bars, snack foods, and other non-perishable items. The Worcester County Food Bank was asked to coordinate the collection effort.

The response was immense.

As the day ended it was estimated 100,000 pounds of water, other beverage, food and even work gloves, socks and other donated items had been delivered through a variety of sources. Local corporations like Norton Co., National Grid/Massachusetts Electric, schools and civic organizations, and dozens of individuals delivered cases of product to Elm Park. The shear volume made it impossible for the Food Bank alone to handle.

Worcester Airport Limousine Service delivered donated food and water on behalf of local civic organizations.

Soon, trucks began arriving from such sources as Coca-Cola, Teamsters Local 170, Clark Mailing Service, Worcester Envelope, Consolidated Freight, and the City of Worcester. They were quickly filled to capacity and driven to the Food Bank's warehouse in Shrewsbury to be unloaded (a process that continued for several days).

Additional boxes were needed to store and separate food donations. Rand-Whitney Industries Corp. in Worcester, and Lancaster Packaging in Hudson, assisted by donating hundreds of heavy duty boxes.

There were the volunteers, dozens of men, women and students who felt compelled "to do something."

A mother of young children passed by the food drive at about 9 a.m. after walking her children to school. "I have time to give until I return to get my children this afternoon. What can I do to help?" she wanted to know. It was a refrain heard from so many people.

A young boy on his way to school, accompanied by his mom, stopped to offer his week's supply of snack foods. "He said the relief workers in New York can use it more than he can," the mother told Food Bank staff.

Dozens of students from John DiPietro's class at Worcester State College arrived, one wave after another, to accept food from motorists and other passersby and load it into boxes and then onto trucks.

Officers from the Worcester Police Department kept the flow of dozens of vehicles waiting around the perimeter of the park orderly until drivers were able to unload their donations.

And then there were the truckers. More than one driver of a large rig arrived -unsolicited- urging that their truck be filled with food and water. "I'll take this into Manhattan for you right now," several insisted.

Donors like the employees of Allegro Microsystems in Worcester, along with countless other friends and neighbors, contributed in excess of $50,000 in cash to the American Red Cross disaster relief effort. Officials from the Central Massachusetts chapter of the Red Cross were asking well-intentioned friends who wished to donate blood to "please call in a few weeks to schedule an appointment. Blood will be needed for a long time."

It quickly became apparent that donations from across the U.S. were effectively creating another problem for officials in New York - where to put all the food and water and other items until they could be dispersed and consumed?

Recognizing this dilemma, the Worcester County Food Bank immediately reminded donors late last week that not all food may be shipped to New York City. America's Second Harvest - the national affiliation of food banks - as well as New York officials have asked that donations be set aside (if possible) for the present. A New York Times article reported by the weekend 100 tractor-trailers were lined up in Manhattan waiting to unload deliveries and the Salvation Army and other disaster-response agencies were themselves desperately trying to access space to stockpile donations.

The Worcester County Food Bank has since registered with the New York State Emergency Management data bank and will warehouse its donations in Central Massachusetts until at least some of the product can be accepted in Manhattan.

Locally, donors have been reminded that no product currently inventoried at the Worcester County Food Bank will go to waste. Whatever cannot be accepted in New York or the nation's capital will be used to assist shelters, food pantries, neighborhood centers and other human service programs in Central Massachusetts.

If you would like to know what you can do in the weeks ahead to help hungry people who are assisted by programs in Worcester County, contact the Food Bank's office of Resource Development at 508-842-3663.

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