by Major Gloria Stepke
During my service in New York City, I encountered many people whose lives had been upended by the tragedy. I was assigned to work in social services on Pier 94, where The Salvation Army and other agencies were set up to offer assistance.
I met business owners who had lost their stores or offices because they were located in buildings close to the World Trade Center. One had spent his savings to continue paying his employees for as long as possible and now needed assistance himself. Another could no longer tailor or create clothing because the dust had settled into her sewing machines, ruining them. Yet another, traumatized by the experience of being underground on the subway when the attack happened, could not bring herself to ride the trains to work or to take her son to his weekly therapy and doctor’s appointments and needed help with cab fare. Every story was heart-wrenching, but it was in an apartment on the West End that I encountered the two people whose story left the deepest impression.
The apartment belonged to an elderly Jewish couple who had called our social service station and asked if someone would come visit them. Not knowing their need or even if we were supposed to do home visits, a social worker and I took a cab in the cold and snow to the address and found ourselves outside a large building in a nice area of the city.
We were welcomed into the home by a gentleman who introduced us to his ailing wife. The couple told how they had worked hard to provide a good upbringing for their two children and were very proud of what they had accomplished. In their old age, however, their only income was her pension checks, as he did not receive a retirement benefit, so for many years they had relied on their son to help with the cost of their rent.
The day of the attack, their son was in the towers. In poor health himself, he died attempting to get out of the building after his legs gave out and he could no longer fight the panicked crowds flooding the stairwell. We stayed with the couple for a few hours and arranged to provide rent assistance for them. Before leaving, I asked if I could share scripture and prayer with them, and they gratefully
When asked why they had chosen to reach out to The Salvation Army their answer was simple. On a vacation overseas many years before, the couple had enjoyed the company of a woman who shared their tours. Her kindness and godly spirit had made such an impression on them that when they needed help, they sought it at the organization in which she was an officer— The Salvation Army.
Their story was a reminder to me that we never know what effect our actions have on others. I pray I will always be a witness and blessing.