Hundreds of Triangle-area workers spent Thursday morning in an RTP warehouse, trading office desks for a cap, plastic gloves and a cardboard bin of dry food to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11.
The Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina hosted its third annual “Sort-A-Rama,” with volunteers from BASF, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Cisco and Food Lion leading 10 other corporations in bagging up pasta, beans or rice. In about two hours, teams sorted 176,000 meals worth of raw ingredients into family-size portions to be sent to 34 surrounding counties.
Crouching over a half-empty bin of whole wheat pasta, Clara Cottrell was taking part in “Sort-A-Rama” for the first time.
“Nine-eleven should be a day of doing, not just a day of being hurt,” said Cottrell, a BASF attorney from Chapel Hill.
“Sort-A-Rama” was one of several initiatives across the Triangle that marked the National Day of Service and Remembrance of 9/11, a day of commemoration proclaimed by President Barack Obama in 2009. This year, many hands-on projects in the Triangle served in conjunction with Hunger Action Month, a nationwide campaign organized by Feeding America’s food banks.
Gov. Pat McCrory scooped a ceremonial cup of dry food before 1,000 volunteers and Food Bank staff bustled between bins, filling the warehouse along with booming pop music.
Blue Cross employee Sandy Alford of Raleigh has volunteered the past three years, watching the sorting day grow from 400 to 1,000 volunteers. Alford says that her dad, raised in inner-city Boston, would often come home hungry after school only to face bare shelves.
“I come here for Dad,” Alford said, with watery eyes. “It’s a very emotional. It teaches you humility and gratitude.”
Other Triangle organizations also participated in the national day of service.
Thursday night, United Way of the Greater Triangle hosted its third annual “CEO Sleepover” in downtown Durham. More than 50 CEOs from around the Triangle participated in semiformal roundtable discussions on childhood hunger until the early morning hours.
As conversation dwindles, they attempted to sleep for a few hours outside with merely a sleeping bag and piece of cardboard. Two years ago, it rained. A train roars by several times each night about 30 feet away.
The discussion is part of a competition that challenges businesses, schools and non-profits to tackle childhood hunger. One in four children in North Carolina face hunger, according to No Kid Hungry North Carolina. United Way CEO Mack Koonce believes that the Triangle’s talents in innovation, research and collaboration especially cater to tackling issues like hunger in a unique and social way.
Kevin Trapani, CEO and President of The Redwoods Group, participated for his third time, returning for the conversations and fellowship.
“It’s a transformational experience in a profoundly new way each year,” Trapani said. “It informs and inspires me in the possibility for solutions.”
A very important day
In Raleigh, volunteer coordination center Activate Good partnered with the Downtown Raleigh Alliance and the city to coordinate about 2,000 people with about 60 service projects on Thursday.
During the evening, the non-profit hosted a commemoration event at Red Hat Amphitheater, where Mayor Nancy McFarlane spoke and volunteers contributed to eight more service projects, such as writing letters to troops and sewing blankets for the city’s homeless.
More than 100 people participated in one of Activate Good’s newest projects, an ABC book creation center at the Contemporary Art Museum in downtown Raleigh.
Four girls from the International Cultural Leadership Project at N.C. State University sat around a table at the museum, decorating pages for the books, which will be donated to Motheread, a literacy nonprofit. They chose to volunteer as way to understand American culture.
“September 11 is a very important day for the U.S., so it is important to be part of the culture,” said international business student Caroline Blauvac. She grew up in Lyon, France, and remembers her parents refusing to let her turn on the TV on Sept. 11, 2001. She was 12.
“I thought it was the third world war,” she said.
Activate Good Executive Director Amber Smith said her organization aims to foster a volunteer culture and hopes that their efforts during the National Day of Service and Remembrance will inspire longer-term volunteerism.
“Everyone remembers what they were doing on Sept. 11 and how they felt,” Smith said. “I felt angry, helpless and upset. This deals with emotions in ways that are soothing.”