Good Samaritans offer solace for fellow New Yorkers

From the terror comes humanity.

Thousands of New Yorkers line up to give blood. A Presbyterian church hands out cups of cold water to parched walkers stranded in the city. Medical students volunteer their services at hospitals. The largest Jewish temple in New York asks a Christian minister and a Muslim holy man to participate in Rosh Hashana, part of the Jewish High Holidays, to show that religions can't be divided.

These are some of the ways New Yorkers are pulling together in the face of one of the worst tragedies in the nation's history. The Big Apple is taking on the mantle of good Samaritan. Scores of tales are coming out about strangers helping strangers, restaurants handing out food, and grocery stores passing out flashlights. It is a message that goodness can prevail.

"These things bring out the best," says Maj. Gary Miller of the Salvation Army.

What is happening in New York is taking place around the nation. In Wichita, Kan., church groups are helping to house stranded airline passengers. Students at the University of Texas in Austin held a candlelight vigil. In Tampa, Fla., more than 750 people lined up at a mobile blood bank. And members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol building to sing "God Bless America."

The nation has a history of pulling together in adversity. From the Oklahoma City bombing and natural disasters like hurricane Andrew to the attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years ago, Americans have responded by reaching out to their neighbors - donating goods and money, volunteering their time, and offering their prayers.

Open doors for prayer

As in other times of grief, the religious community is responding with prayer vigils, counseling, and open sanctuary for those trying to understand what has happened. The Rev. Arthur Caliandro of Marble Collegiate Church, from which the twin towers of the World Trade Center had been visible, left the doors to his sanctuary open all day on Tuesday. Throughout the day, he says, 30 to 40 people were praying.

Later that evening, he participated in an interfaith conference call to unite the religious community. "The message to the world is that we stand together," he says. Mr. Caliandro is the Christian minister participating in Temple Emmanuel's Rosh Hashana observances.

Some of the religious leaders steeled themselves for the bad news that was expected as the rubble is uncovered at the World Trade Center site. One of those leaders is Niles Goldstein, a young rabbi, who is the Jewish chaplain for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. He does not plan any fancy theology, he says, of his counseling efforts. "First, I'll offer a presence, then I'll let them vent, and third, some prayers or words to try to make sense of what happened."

In Seattle, a service at an inner-city parish drew people of all faiths. As people ascended the steps of the terrace to place their lit candles on the ground, a mournful bagpipe played. Soon, hundreds of candles flickered, and Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Christians cried and hugged one another for support.

The archbishop of Seattle, the Most Rev. Alexander Brunett, told the participants, "People of God, tonight we have been reminded that God has many names. God's people are everywhere. They are all of humanity."

As in any tragedy, scores of stories tell of people helping other people. Sharon Kreitzer, a social worker at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in upper Manhattan, tells of a young man by the name of John from Detroit who had run from the twin towers in panic. A complete stranger, Floyd, helped get him to the hospital and then took him to his sister's house in Harlem. "What struck me was the intense connection. John did not want to leave Floyd. I am sure they will have a bond forever," says Ms. Kreitzer.

The need to help others drove many New Yorkers to hospitals to donate blood, clothing, and slippers. At St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center on the upper West Side of Manhattan, a crowd of people stood around the block, waiting to give blood. Volunteers were forced to take many names and numbers, however, since the facility couldn't accommodate the number of people wanting to donate.

But local officials say a pressing need still exists for blood donations - especially since rescue workers had pulled nine survivors out of the debris as of yesterday morning, and they hoped to find more.

"It's the only thing I could think of doing," says Donald Lash, a Manhattan attorney, as he waited in line to give blood. "People are appalled by the magnitude of this, but it doesn't seem like it has stopped people from functioning and helping each other."

Outside of Saint Vincents Hospital and Medical Center in lower Manhattan, two women have offered their apartment to anyone who needs to shower or make phone calls. "We just want to do whatever we can to help out. We don't know what else to do," says one.

A donation room at the hospital, meanwhile, quickly begins to fill up. Two Poland Spring water trucks pull up, and six men begin unloading five-gallon water bottles.

The water jugs join bags of clothing that are already piled as high as the ceiling. "They say they need shoes and sunglasses," says one woman. "I'm going to walk home and get some - I have eight pairs of sandals and three sunglasses I don't even wear."

Free McDonald's

In lower Manhattan, only blocks from the collapsed skyscrapers, area businesses are opening their doors to weary rescue workers. A local grocery store, Pathmark, gives out flashlights, dust masks, and cases of bottled water to exhausted rescue crews. A McDonald's stays open to provide free food.

Says one New York police officer, "They just came out and started offering it to us.... Boy, I'd really like to thank them for that. It just helps to know people's concern and support."

Liz Marlantes in Boston, Silja J.A. Talvi in Seattle, and Marjorie Coeyman, Elizabeth Armstrong, and Harry Bruinius in New York contributed to this report.

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