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Ginny Kremer

Ginny Kremer, a Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross volunteer caseworker and supervisor, was deployed to New York City on September 19th, 2001. Initially, she was at the Red Cross offices in Brooklyn, NY before being deployed to a shelter at Ground Zero. There, her job was to help individuals and families in the surrounding area who were displaced by the disaster. Her shelter provided food, clothing and financial assistance for people who were unable to get into their apartments. This is typical Red Cross casework but Ginny is careful to say that most 9/11 casework also involved emotional support. She tells the story of one gentleman who got past police barriers, eager to retrieve something in his apartment, found an airplane seat that had blown in through one of the windows and was traumatized.

During her time spent at Ground Zero, she ate breakfast with other volunteers (Red Cross, firemen, and police officers) on a boat in the harbor maintained by the City of New York and the American Red Cross. She tells how all volunteers ate every morning in complete silence out of respect for the enormity of the loss despite a difficult time of trauma, uncertainty and bomb threats. One morning during the silence, a man stood up on a chair and began to sing, “Proud to be an American”. It was Lee Greenwood. He was among several celebrities who visited the boat to help lift the spirits of those who spent their days at Ground Zero.

After four days, Ginny was sent uptown to the shelter at Pier 94 to work with the families of the deceased. There, she supervised a team of 32 volunteers who were providing comprehensive support for those who had lost loved ones in the attack. Red Cross casework usually involves a 15 minute interaction with a client to assess needs and find resources.  Ginny reports that meetings with the families lasted much longer. First, there was the necessary acceptance that the loved one had passed, often without the benefit of physical remains. Then, there was the preparation of the death certificate and the provision of services such as food, shelter, financial assistance and funeral planning. But the meetings with the families never ended there; they often went on for hours as families shared memories, photographs, and worked through their grief and horror.

Ginny Kremer (right) with SEPA volunteers Drew Alexander and Liz White. Liz also worked in New York as a Red Cross volunteer following the 9/11 attacks.

Ginny still talks about her team with enormous pride. She says the Red Cross was careful to provide support to caseworkers. Team members looked out for one another, were honest when they needed a break and generous about giving others a few hours off. The Red Cross was careful to provide mental health support to volunteers and vet technicians brought in dogs for animal therapy. Ginny swears by a good long cuddle with a loving golden retriever.  She says she met many wonderful volunteers from all over the country, but the people who stick in her head are the families. She became close to several of the families from the Pennsylvania area and has since returned to New York to attend memorial services with them.

She says thousands of Red Cross volunteers were deployed all over New York City in the weeks after 9/11 and the organization was stretched thin. She herself spent three weeks in the City and then came home for two weeks before returning again to relieve the burden on others.  She remembers being exhausted but also honored to help.  She remembers hundreds of Red Cross shelters where ordinary New Yorkers could get free coffee and donuts. She remembers hearing bagpipes every day, all over the city, as New York began to honor its dead.  As a long time Red Cross volunteer, she is proud to have been of service.
-Ginny Kremer
is a longtime volunteer with the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
This blog is written by Sarah Peterson, another volunteer who spoke with Ginny about her experience volunteering at Ground Zero in the days, weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks.

I was deployed, after working for the Red Cross for barely a year, to the World Trade Center operation around the middle of October to work in Logistics.  The SEPA chapter sent so many volunteers and employees I can’t recall, plus its entire crew of Americorps members who had just started their term with us.  Meanwhile at our own chapter office, we had dozens of volunteers working every day running phone banks because the New York chapter was overwhelmed with call volume.

It was my first time travelling for a large national operation, and from the first day it was an absolute blur of activity.  There was no down time to relax and get comfortable, with my bag still on my shoulder I was whisked to a conference room in the Brooklyn HQ for an orientation, then brought to the logistics area and assigned my task:  Transportation.

The Red Cross had well over five hundred vehicles assigned to a dozen or more locations on the job from rentals to chapter vehicles to personal vehicles.  My job was to track every one of them, where they were and their maintenance status and rental contracts and who had the keys and where they were parked and how many new, mysterious scratches there were today.  I was there for three weeks and by the beginning of November there were still vehicles showing up every day that had been there since the beginning without our knowledge.  It was an amazing lesson in the inherent chaos of disaster work.

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Some of the chaos happened because when the towers fell, volunteers began driving from just about anywhere within driving distance to NYC.  They didn’t wait until they were called, they didn’t fill out deployment paperwork.  They just hopped in their chapter ERVs (Emergncy Response Vehicle, big red truck) and other chapter response vehicles (SUVs, vans) or even their own cars.  The Red Cross also rented vehicles like passenger vans, delivery trucks and sedans for transporting supplies, shuttling workers to and from Ground Zero or to attend meetings with local officials.

Manhattan rush hour traffic is a nightmare in the best of circumstances, now imagine dozens of city blocks restricted, emergency vehicles parked in creative places and an influx of tourists like never before.  The number of minor collisions alone was enough to keep me at my desk for hours every day, add to that lost keys, lost contracts and even lost vehicles!  The days flew by, the supervisor who trained me left the scene three days after I got there which made me the “expert”, but by the end of my three week term I wished I could have signed on for another three weeks.

On a personal level, it was one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences I’ve ever had.  The work was constant and challenging with only general guidelines on how to solve such unpredictable problems that arose, which encouraged and necessitated creativity and initiative.  Fortunately we found ourselves well-staffed so some of my expected 12-hour days were more like 9 hours which gave me a chance to explore Manhattan for the first time.  I could go on and on, so many stories and experiences, it definitely changed the way I saw the work of the American Red Cross.

– Sean McGarry
is still with the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania as a Disaster Services Specialist

On September 11, 2001 I was attending a client casework class at the SEPA chapter headquarters. The manager of preparedness came down to the class and informed me that an accident had occurred at the World Trade Center. Upon arriving on the bridge (SEPA Chapter’s emergency communications center) I saw the building that had been hit by an airplane. I told everyone that this was an attack not an accident. I based this upon the fact that the building had been hit once prior by terrorist as a symbol of American capitalism and decadence.  Probably no later than a half an hour the other building was attacked by the jet airliner.

As a retired soldier, the attack upon the Pentagon was extremely poignant to me due to the fact I had worked in the building during my military career. This attack for me confirmed totally that this was a coordinated effort against our country.

All the phone lines in the chapter began ringing as soon as these events occurred. Many individuals from Bucks County worked in the facilities and many family members were trying to make contact.  Additionally, all phone lines were overwhelmed and out of service in the New York area of operations.

At that time, I was a DAT (Disaster Action Team) leader. The director of emergency services, assistant director of emergency services and Chapter leadership wanted to be prepared for anything here at headquarters, so I was directed to begin the process of preparing the building from a possible follow-up attack. We took the vehicles present at the chapter and created a ring around the building to stop the possibilities of a vehicle type of attack. The entrance of the driveway was blocked and a guard was present manning the entrance into the parking lot.

The most important thing that came out of this for me was the fact that everybody wanted to provide some type of service at this time to the Red Cross and country. Every agency or organization offered some type of assistance to the SEPA chapter. Every American had been touched by this event and the best that we could do arose from us on this day.

– Terry Johnson
is still an employee at the American Red Cross of SEPA
he’s now the Manager of Disaster Services

I was home that day watching morning TV news and I saw the whole thing.  I didn’t travel up to the site until probably the first week of November because I waited until the Client Casework Supervisor Course was given .  Finally I arrived in New York and after going to chapter headquarters just over the bridge in Brooklyn, I received an assignment very close to the Trade Center remains.  Chicken hearted as I was then, I chose not to see the site when offered the opportunity.  We worked in the basement of a union hall along with the mass care team.  It was my first deployment as a client casework supervisor so I did not really get to work with many clients, just the problems and the paperwork and approvals.   One man asked for help with securing safety equipment since he was working on “the pile.”   Most of what I did was in support of caseworkers who are called “Service Associates.” The weather was cold in NYC.  One day while outside seeking a lunch spot, I looked up and saw stuff falling from the sky. “Look”, I said, “it’s snowing.”  Someone near who heard my comment said, “That’s not snow; it’s ash from the trade center.”  After a week and a half, our service center was moved up to the telephone company site on Canal Street.  Our clients were people who lived or worked below Canal Street.  Their lives and incomes were also interrupted. I stayed on the job until the day before Thanksgiving.  Thankfully, I went home to my family gathering and no one was missing.
– Carol Barnett
is a long-time SEPA Chapter volunteer who served as a Client Casework Supervisor in Manhattan following the events of 9/11/01

I’m a Jersey girl, grew up in Jersey City with a view of New York City from the park down the street from my family’s home.  Family and friends either helped build, worked at or were part of the rescue and clean-up at the World Trade Center.  I even attended the very first gala in the beautiful Windows of the World.

I was busy packing for my move to Philadelphia from New Hampshire which would take place on September 14th, Friday, but first there was Tuesday. There were lots of phone calls and sadness that Tuesday.  I still was making my move on Friday and I remember the car ride was fast until we reached the Tappan Zee Bridge, then it seemed like time stopped.  Down the Hudson was a dark cloud of smoke just laying over New York.  The scene was chilling and to this day the memory is crystal clear with all the emotions I felt that day.

I remember asking God what can I do.

After getting settled in Philadelphia, I visited  family and friends of those lost or injured.  I then went to a temp work agency seeking employment.  The agent said they had a temporary assignment at the American Red Cross helping with processing after 9/11.  I looked up and said “I got the message” and when I reported for the assignment I told everyone that would listen that I was not leaving at the end of the assignment.

During the days following 9/11, I did more than I could imagine at SEPA Chapter. So much more than answering phones and recording data.  I spent some early mornings collecting money in front of City Hall and I remember the cabbies stopping and donating their tips from the night before.  I went to lunch rooms in office buildings in the counties surrounding Philadelphia to leave materials and collect not only donations but names of new volunteers, (everyone wanted to help in some way). While walking to and from SEPA Chapter wearing Red Cross gear, I remember people in their cars would beep their horns and yell thank you or want to give you a donation. Just seeing my coat was enough.

Now, eleven years later, family and friends are still recovering from the mental and physical scars of that Tuesday.  Me, I’m still at the Red Cross.

-Cathy Castrovilly
is a full time executive assistant to the Chief Development Officer at the American Red Cross of Southeastern PA. She never did leave after her temp position ended.