SCI’s 9/11 Relief Efforts

Sep 9, 2011

by Johnathan Thayer, Associate Archivist

On the morning of September 11, 2001, having observed first-hand the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers from just 850 yards away, SCI made the quick decision to transform the offices of the Institute’s former headquarters at 241 Water Street into an emergency relief station for rescue workers. Over the next 12 days, SCI staff, working with a dedicated team of volunteers, prepared and distributed approximately 16,000 meals and countless truckloads of donated supplies, as the Institute suspended its normal day-to-day operations to aid Ground Zero workers on a 24-hour cycle.

With ten years since that day, SCI’s archives team recently finished processing 1.75 linear feet of records related to the Institute’s 9/11 relief efforts. The decision to dedicate all of SCI’s resources towards the relief effort is remembered in the records of the archives:

“[Former SCI Executive Director] Father [Peter] Larom called a staff meeting in the Chapel. Captain Richard Beadon suggested opening a relief canteen for rescue workers in the 2nd Floor Seafarers’ Club. The staff unanimously voted to begin. With [Board of Trustees] Chairman George D. Benjamin’s immediate concurrence, SCI put the full resources of the building, its people and finances to this Relief Effort.

Some staff members began to set up the Seafarers’ Club to give away food and drink on hand. Until the collapse of WTC-7 in the early evening, SCI still had electricity, phone service, working toilets, and Internet service. Flyers announcing the available food and respite with directions were created and copied. A brigade of SCI staff members fanned out through the streets that were ankle deep in white ash and debris to the rescue command centers.

Within minutes, the first wave of rescue workers came in. They washed the dust and grime from their hands and sat down—some for the first time that day. They described losing fellow firefighters and police officers. They spoke of carnage and found listening ears. Many prayed …

The Institute’s staff mirrored the resourcefulness and sense of purpose so common among mariners during times of distress. Knowing that only those on-site could make a difference they found the courage to take the opportunity to serve.

By dinner the day after the attack and without electricity, the Institute was feeding 600 weary firefighters, police officers, military and relief workers with the only hot meals in the area. By Thursday morning, SCI trucks and volunteers were bringing hot meals and cold drinks to Ground Zero. This Relief Effort continued around the clock for the next 12 days as SCI played a key role in creating three relief centers, including that at St. Paul’s Chapel, and keeping them supplied.”

—Quoted from SCI’s 2001 Annual Report

A press release issued from the front lines describes the physical transformation of SCI’s former headquarters on Water Street, which at the time hosted the Institute’s Maritime Education Department, a maritime art gallery and the Seafarers’ Club dining area:

“SCI today would be almost unrecognizable to someone familiar with it. Hundreds of cartons of fresh water, boxes of flashlights, plastic bags filled with sweatshirts and other articles of clothing line the street. The warehouse next door is packed with still more supplies. Walk through the front door, and you’ll be staring at a makeshift pharmacy. Packages of chapstick, Preparation-H, Visine, toothpaste and other supplies are spread out for workers to pick and choose, as they need. One flight up is where meals are being served and cooked on the balcony in the back. SCI got its electricity back only on Monday, and has been operating with light from generators supplied by Consolidated Edison. The dining area is being kept quiet, in part because also on the second floor is a makeshift sleeping area. Relief counselors are on hand, and have found plenty to do.”

—Quoted from an SCI press release issued soon after the attacks

SCI’s archives contain correspondence, printed material, photographs, and ephemera related to the Institute’s 9/11 relief efforts, as well as dozens of thank-you letters from relief workers and schoolchildren from elementary schools around the country.