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4 Ways You Can Help Others on 9/11

There is no shortage of volunteer opportunities for National Day of Service

spinner image AARP Meal Pack Challenge 2017 Summer of service to seniors in Memphis., Tn
AARP Foundation will wrap up its 2017 Summer of Service to Seniors with a two-day Meal Pack Challenge event on Sunday, Sept. 10 in DC.
Brandon Dill

It took seven years of effort, but David Paine and Jay Winuk managed to turn a day of tragedy and evil into one of hope and compassion.

Paine, who watched the horrors of 9/11 from afar, and Winuk, whose volunteer-firefighter brother was killed, teamed up in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and set out to change the tone of the day.

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The public relations pros set up a nonprofit and began to lobby tirelessly. In 2009, they convinced Congress and President Obama to officially designate September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Today it’s the largest annual celebration of charity in the nation, with some 30 million Americans taking part in some fashion or another.

Anyone itching to get involved will find no shortage of opportunities. Here are four places to start looking. To find other ways you can give back in your community, go to the nonprofit 9/11 Day or AARP's Create the Good and input your zip code.

Disaster Relief

Hurricanes and other natural disasters can inspire a sense of impotence in aspiring do-gooders. Outside the cone of destruction, we stand by helplessly as social and other media bombard us with pictures of the destruction and the gut-wrenching stories of those affected.

Because it’s easy to move and infinitely versatile, money is always the best short-term way to help following a natural disaster. As time wears on, however, there are other ways to get involved. Groups like the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster recommend connecting with local churches to help assemble disaster kits with personal hygiene supplies or clean-up buckets that can be distributed in the region affected. Such work can be needed for months after the initial disaster, the group says.

To lay the groundwork for more hands-on work during future disasters, you can register for courses with organizations such as the American Red Cross. Search-and-rescue volunteers, shelter workers, mental health professionals and others like them are always needed but must be trained before they can be deployed to danger zones.

Many other organizations are coordinating relief efforts specifically for Hurricane Harvey survivors.

Animal Relief

When it comes to charity, it’s often easy to forget animals. Dog- and cat-lovers will find local animal shelters have an insatiable need for eager hands — doing everything from helping socialize skittish animals to designing and managing websites to actually building shelters. Groups like the ASPCA and PAWS are good places to get started.

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If helping more exotic fauna is more appealing, organizations like International Volunteer HQ can connect adventurous altruists with opportunities to work with elephants in Sri Lanka, sea turtles in Costa Rica or abandoned cats and dogs in Peru, Mexico and Guatemala.

Food Relief

It is said that some 5 percent of Americans, or about 15 million people, go hungry every year. Thousands of churches and private charities are quietly at work across the country helping to change that with food banks and distribution centers, and about half of them depend entirely on volunteers.

The work involved is not just cooking, but everything from assembling and packing meals to delivering the goods and cleaning up when all is said and done. As an added bonus, often children as young as 12 can get involved as well. Feeding America is a good online resource for connecting with food pantries and soup kitchens.

For those in the D.C. area, AARP Foundation will wrap up its 2017 Summer of Service to Seniors with a two-day Meal Pack Challenge event on Sunday, Sept. 10, and Monday, Sept. 11, at the National Mall – JFK Hockey Field. The Summer of Service to Seniors is a series of events in four cities that kicked off in Memphis, Tenn., in early June.

Earth Relief

Another cause worth remembering on the National Day of Service is the planet itself. Anyone who’s been on a beach after a busy Labor Day weekend knows there’s always plenty of work to be done undoing some of mankind’s grubbier habits. International Coastal Cleanup Day is a week later than 9/11 (on Sept. 16 this year), but nothing is stopping anyone from jumping in early.

People far from a shoreline or those looking for other ways to make the Earth a better place can turn to to help connect with eco-friendly organizations. Tree-planting in urban San Francisco, seasonal work at national parks and removing trash from local rivers (a job left entirely to community volunteers since there is no federal agency tasked with such work) are all options available to green-minded volunteers.

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