The smoke and dust were still swirling over the World Trade Center in September, 2001, when Bethany Putnam pulled her car up in front of Saint Paul’s Chapel on Broadway, just a few feet from the wreckage. Both towers had fallen, but remarkably, Saint Paul’s Episcopal Chapel, just a matter of feet from Ground Zero, was unharmed.
It had been decided to turn the chapel into a hospitality center for the hundreds of responders who were sifting through the debris, looking for signs of life among the mess that had been the two majestic towers on the New York City skyline. Bethany went right to work organizing the chapel, structuring the work of the many volunteers who rushed there to be of help. Within hours the chapel had transformed from simply an emergency food source into a respite where fire fighters, police officers, agents from all the alphabet agencies of the government, military personnel and volunteers from all over the country could catch a restless sleep in the pews, eat a hot meal, find new boots to replace those torn to shreds by the debris, hear soothing music, be alone to avoid photographers and spectators, pray…and cry if they wanted to.
During the many weeks she ran the chapel 24/7 she and her faithful volunteers ministered to the needs of thousands of men and women who worked long, hard hours in the piles of rubble. They even handed out booties for the rescue dogs who were cutting their feet on the sharp rubble.
Bethany had organized an agency, Labor of Love, a few years earlier, and had brought busloads of volunteers to numerous states where tornadoes, fires, floods, and other disasters created tragedies. But this call from the Rector of Trinity Church, Wall Street, was by far the greatest challenge to her tiny agency. There are men and women all around the country who remember her strength and creativity in being an oasis of love and assistance to the responders.
From all around the country, boxes arrived with boots, socks, shirts, gloves, and all the things necessary to support the responders. Bethany and her team organized restaurants all over New York City to cook and deliver hot, delicious meals to Saint Paul’s Chapel. The responders were awed to find such a great answer to prayers.
It has been 14 years since that terrible day when terrorists took aim on the American continent and thousands lost lives when airliners were captured and transformed into weapons. I am as proud of her today as I was in 2001. Thank you, Bethany, for your selfless work that helped this nation recover from this horrible day.