‘People couldn’t do enough for one another’: Local Red Cross volunteer helped hundreds after 9/11 attacks

Remembering 9/11

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Saturday marks the 20th anniversary since the tragic 9/11 attacks in New York City. It’s a day Americans will never forget, and a day that has changed our country forever. 

Many Western New Yorkers assisted in the aftermath of the attacks, including Margaret McGee-Smith, who goes by Peggy. 

Peggy works as Disaster Mental Health volunteer with the American Red Cross Western New York region, and on September 11th of 2001, she wasted no time driving to NYC to help. 

“I rented a car and I think I got the last car in the city of Buffalo because, of course, planes were stopping at that point,” she said. 

Once arriving in Manhattan, Peggy said she went to the Red Cross chapter there and saw thousands of people there, ready to volunteer. 

“We were not at all prepared for this kind of disaster. It’s quite different now, but at that time we were acting as if it were a normal disaster,” Peggy said. “We were just opening our shelter, bringing people in.”

After a couple days working at that shelter, Peggy went to an armory to assist families searching for their loved ones. She remembers people coming in with photos of family members or friends.

“A young girl who came in and she had a picture of her brother, and she was in tears and she said I want to hang his picture, and I have no place to hang out. That’s how many pictures were already up in this building,” Peggy said. 

“And I said, ‘Okay, we’re going to find a place, we’ll find a place to hang that.’ The only bear space I could find was in a stairwell, sort of down a little low, but it was empty. And I said, ‘let’s put him here.’ And I just remember, we pasted, you know, taped his picture up, and she sat on the stairs and she kept stroking that picture. It was so moving.”

For three weeks, Peggy used her mental health background to support victims and their families. She said she would work 12 to 14 hours a day, often times speaking to people for hours.

“I think that our ability to listen at the time when people needed to talk was very important,” she said. “They may be the first person I speak to after this, so that can have a great impact on how they recover.”

During her time assisting families, Peggy recalls Actress Elizabeth Taylor and Hillary Clinton coming to hear families stories. 

Although faced with an unimaginable tragedy, Peggy says the city really came together. 

“People couldn’t do enough for each other,” she said. “When we would leave there at night, cab drivers would come up to the front door and as we walked out, would take us to our hotels or wherever we’re staying without charge. We had restaurants that brought food in fact, the people who came in you know, looking for the lost relatives.”

To honor the lives lost on 9/11, there are a number of local events taking place in Monroe County this weekend. For a full list, click here.

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