Bill Murray came all the way from Australia to help in the aftermath of the Pentagon attack.
Sallie Fox, a Kentuckian who has lived in Alexandria for 22 years, had only pitched in at her children’s schools before September 11.
Margaret Donnelly wanted to do something, too, so she just “walked in and volunteered” at the old Woodward & Lothrop warehouse near Interstate 395, where donated goods were collected and distributed to those affected by the terrorist attack.
They are among 6,172 volunteers who have worked side by side with 226 Salvation Army officers and employees because they wanted to do something. It was more than patriotism.
“What I’m doing is valuable, but it is important to me, too,” said Mr. Murray, 52, who retired after 20 years in the Australian air force and lives in Perth, Australia. “I really think there is a Lord telling me to do something. I’m here until my job is finished.”
Quite a job. The latest Salvation Army statistics show that more than 38,487 persons have been helped, 9,308 counseled, more than 583,000 meals served and more than 101,303 hours put in by volunteers.
Those lending a helping hand included Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church groups, lawyers, youth sports teams and teen-agers from group homes in Prince William County.
In addition, the Salvation Army has given $192,000 in “direct assistance” to Pentagon recovery efforts, and more than $1 million to “collateral victims,” like the families who lost work when Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was closed.
In Australia, Mr. Murray listened and watched the news as the rescue and relief efforts developed. Wanting to help, he e-mailed the Salvation Army in Washington.
“Could you use me if I come?” he asked. The answer was yes, and he was on his way.
“The generosity of the American people is absolutely fantastic,” said Mr. Murray, who is staying in quarters and eating meals supplied by the Salvation Army. His visa expires Dec. 29.
The donations that have come in include homemade cookies decorated with an American flag and “Thank You” written in frosting.
Among other assistance streaming into the warehouse: clothing, boots, toothbrushes and toothpaste, perishable and nonperishable food, granola bars, bottled water, shovels, ponchos, razors, mouthwash, underwear, towels, baby wipes, diapers, long-legged underwear welcomed by Puerto Rican reservists unaccustomed to cold weather, deodorant, dog food, T-shirts emblazoned with “God Bless America” and about 25,000 pairs of gloves.
Many supplies came in huge tractor-trailer trucks. Under Mr. Murray’s direction, the goods were separated and organized so rescue workers could easily find them.
“He knew what to do,” Bernie Drake, public relations officer for the Salvation Army, said of Mr. Murray.
It all began about 10 a.m. September 11. Maj. Todd Smith, commander of the Salvation Army for the Washington metropolitan area, was in his office on Pennsylvania Avenue, heard about the crash, saw the smoke rising, and called the offices in Fairfax and Montgomery counties and its Harbor Light program on New York Avenue NE.
Within 45 minutes, vans with kitchens and food supplies were at the Pentagon. Three days later, Salvation Army teams were serving 500 meals an hour.
Harbor Light’s crew of volunteers included men and women whom the Salvation Army is helping to overcome substance abuse. None of those volunteers suffered setbacks during the long hours they worked the next 10 days at the Pentagon, Harbor Light officials said.
The Salvation Army can use the 100,000-square-foot Woodies warehouse until Nov. 15 but will have to leave after then.
Four or five big cardboard boxes filled with empty, paper lunch bags and sheets of paper will have to be moved. They are mostly messages and bits of art scribbled in pencil and crayon from children.
“Dear Rescue workers. Thank you. Amy,” states one note.
“If your not proud to be in America, your free to leave,” reads another.
“Something needs to be done with those letters. They need to be saved,” said Lt. Col. David Mikles, 69, called out of retirement in Asheville, N.C. “They should not be destroyed. It tells us something about the heart of America, that they are so willing to give.”
Col. Mikles knows about disasters. Born in Tulsa, Okla., he decided in high school, when he “really felt the call of God,” to join the Salvation Army. During his career, the Salvation Army sent him to help victims of earthquakes in 1986 in Mexico City, and in 1976 in Guatemala, where 25,000 were killed.
“I’ve served in disasters, but this is different,” Col. Mikles said.
In recent weeks, the Salvation Army set up two mobile kitchens and provided meals at D.C. General Hospital to U.S. Postal Service employees being tested and treated for possible anthrax exposure.
The warehouse was closed for four days, but Mrs. Fox quickly returned when it reopened.
“I didn’t want to sit at home and do nothing. I’ve met so many wonderful people. America has united,” she said.
“We’ve pretty much put our life on hold,” said Mrs. Fox, 54. “[During the break I realized] I’d lost touch with the outside world.”