CHICAGO - This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the darkest chapter in recent American history — the September 11 attacks.
While many of us take time that day to remember those we lost and how it changed all of our lives, some of us stop and do something else.
"We had a great crew that day. It was a beautiful day," said Michael Grill.
In September 2019, Grill spent the day helping in Englewood — helping the community group "Growing Home" get ready to plant its next crop of food. The organization provides residents with access to healthy food and jobs.
"Everybody just left feeling good about being able to help out a little bit," Grill said.
He and a few of his co-workers from the Chicago law firm Holland and Knight volunteered their time as part of 9/11 Day. It’s a national day of service to remember those affected by the September 11 attacks by giving back to your community. They lost a colleague from their New York office in the terror attacks.
"We still were recognizing the fact that people were really going out of their way to chip in … to do good deeds not only for our family but for everybody in New York and around the country," said Jay Winuk.
Winuk is one of the co-founders of the nonprofit 9/11 Day. He lost his brother Glenn, who was an attorney and a volunteer firefighter, in the attack.
"He helped evacuate his law offices, which were located just a few blocks from the World Trade Center … and raced into the south tower … to save lives and he lost his life," Winuk said.
Winuk’s family waited for months until his brothers remains were found. In that time, he and a friend got the idea to start a ritual where people would do good deeds every year on the anniversary of 9/11.
"We felt if it was just left to the history books to teach about the attacks, but not about how good people of the nation, of the world came together, then we have lost an opportunity," Winuk said.
Two decades after first launching the program, he says participation from the public continues to grow, especially from those who were just babies in 2001 or were not even born yet.
"We’re talking about kids in elementary school all the way through kids in college," Winuk said. "They are cleaning up parks and beaches. Pitching in at fire stations and doing things in support of first responders."
"I’ve certainly had my family come to events cleaning up outside fire houses or in the neighborhood," Grill added.
Grill and his co-workers are no exception. They and their families have helped out a various volunteer events for 9/11 Day over the years, including a meal pack event at Navy Pier. It benefits the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
They plan to be there again this year, too.
Even though the 9/11 Day organization has been encouraging good deeds for the last 20 years, their work is far from over
"Coming out of pandemic, there is no shortage of people in need," Winuk said.
The meal pack event 9/11 Day has planned for this coming Saturday is part of a nationwide event with similar events taking place in several other cities across the US.
To find out how to volunteer, go to 911day.org.