For Thomas Howard, the date of Sept. 11, 2001, is an especially complicated one. It was the day terrorists carried out coordinated attacks on U.S. soil, but it was also the day he was born — at 4:14 a.m. in Chicago.
“It was this happy event and I was calling friends. I had a baby and they were not happy,” recalled Michelle Howard, 52, Thomas’s mother. “Not because of the birth of my child but because of what was happening in the country.”
Thomas Howard, 18, learned to accept his connection with one of the most infamous days in American history and aspires to do good each year on the anniversary. On Wednesday, he was one of more than 4,000 volunteers at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan that packed 1.1 million meals for people in need as part of 9/11 Day.
“They told me how sad the day was and how we should show respect to others for what they do for us,” Thomas said of his parents.
Sept. 11 was designated a national day of service and remembrance in 2009. Throughout the day, volunteers aboard the Intrepid worked in shifts to seal and pack instant oatmeal and other nonperishable goods at the fourth annual event. Some 100,000 of the packages will be sent to victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.
Many of the participants said the day always evokes strong emotions.
“It was pretty surreal. I remember it like it was yesterday, and it’s something I connect with my parents on every single year as we reflect back on what happened,” said Nick Meluso, 24, who was volunteering as part of a 100-member team from JetBlue. “It’s a day of giving back and showing that we serve. It’s important and I feel very humbled to be here today."
Actor Kevin Bacon and the cast of the Broadway musical "Come From Away" also lent a helping hand in the meal pack, and organizers hope the tradition will continue.
“We felt like this side of 9/11 should also be told to future generations,” said Jay Winuk, co-founder of 9/11 Day. “They need to learn how people responded to the attacks and we need more of that in this country."
Howard aims to continue the spirit of goodwill into his adult life, as he plans to pursue a career as a child therapist.
“I feel like it’s kind of my mission because I was born on a sad day, I’m hoping to show there can be happiness on a bad day,” Howard said.