In New York’s Darkest Moment, Compassion Soon Followed

Four Salvation Army volunteers—three women and a man—pose for a photo together at the Salvation Army tent near Ground Zero in December 2001.
Photograph of Salvation Army volunteers, (left to right) Karen Hanton, Mike, Debora Jackson, and Sheryl Arluck at the Salvation Army tent near Ground Zero, December 2001. Gift of Debora Jackson

Yellow hard hat belonging to Debora Jackson, Salvation Army volunteer Gift of Debora Jackson

In the wake of the destruction and loss of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, many New Yorkers felt an overwhelming need to help rebuild their city. Debora Jackson was one of these selfless and compassionate New Yorkers. A few weeks after the attacks, Jackson became a volunteer and a site supervisor with the Salvation Army at Ground Zero. She knew her fellow New Yorkers were answering the call to volunteer and wanted to join the effort.

“We weren’t there for any other reason than we were New Yorkers, we had to do something,” said Jackson in an oral history collected by the 9/11 Memorial Museum. “It was like somebody said ‘This is my police department, my fire department. If we’re not there for them, who is going to be there for them?’ Of course, the whole country was there for us, but I think this gave average New Yorkers like me a chance to do something.”

Red Salvation Army lanyard, currently on display at the 9/11 Memorial Museum Courtesy of Debora JacksonWhile working for the Salvation Army, Jackson learned the true importance of her volunteer work was not simply gathering supplies or serving hot meals, but offering comfort to the rescue and recovery workers toiling away on the smoking pile.

In the Salvation Army tent, Jackson would assist construction workers, iron workers, and police officers seeking a short respite before returning to work. Although the tent was bare in its construction, the volunteers did their best to make it warm and welcoming by placing white tablecloths and flowers on tables, setting up cots, and keeping television programming running.

Jackson’s volunteer experience with the Salvation Army was both cathartic and humbling. During the months of hard work at Ground Zero, the rescue, recovery, and relief workers formed a tightknit community that was supportive of each other.

“When you’re standing among a group of people who are really heroic and extraordinary…and they’re welcoming you and including you, it’s an amazing feeling,” Jackson recalled.

Remembering her time at Ground Zero, Jackson stressed the importance of the hope and goodness that came out of one of the darkest times in our nation’s history.

“For all of the grief and all the sadness, and all of the horror that actually brought us to that place…we were able to build so much good and to have hope and confidence in our abilities to recover from something like that,” said Jackson. “This wasn’t going to knock us down and knock us out. That in really bad times, we will always pull together. Out of all that grief and anger, so much compassion came.”

A special ceremony to honor the sacrifices and selfless contributions of all rescue and recovery workers and their families will be held in Foundation Hall on Tuesday, May 30, the 15th anniversary of the end of the rescue and recovery operations.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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