There are events we’ll remember just where we were when we heard about them.
While sitting in a first-grade classroom at Shawsheen School in Tewksbury, I heard the news about President John F. Kennedy’s death. I still remember the teacher’s grave look and red-rimmed eyes. My 6-year-old mind couldn’t quite comprehend the sadness of the adults around me.
It was quite different nearly four decades later, on Sept. 11, 2001. I was in a place that unknowingly would become a focal point in the days that would follow — St. Francis Church in Dracut. A volunteer project had taken me to St. Francis that day, beginning with 9 a.m. Mass. As we gathered peacefully inside the church, we had no idea of the horrific events that began just before the start of Mass and that continued to enfold in our country.
Returning to the parish office around 9:30 a.m, we forged ahead on our work — until someone called with the news of the attacks. We gathered around the television in the pastor’s office, in shock and disbelief. We had no idea how close it would hit to home.
That morning, my oldest daughter had taken a bus from Dracut to Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, along with her friends, Laura and Caroline Ogonowski. I knew their father was a pilot.
As we watched the footage, I asked: “Isn’t John Ogonowski a pilot with American Airlines?” But I never truly believed there would be a connection from this national tragedy to our little town of Dracut or our parish.
A short time later we learned that, indeed, one of our parish members, Capt. John Ogonowski, was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 11. The Rev. Brian R. Kiely, then pastor, visited with the Ogonowski family and later scheduled a Mass for that evening for anyone in Dracut — no matter their faith.
The unity of that evening resonates as we approach the 10th anniversary. As a parish, we searched for a way to bring the town together once again to honor John and all the victims, including Brian Kinney, who grew up in Dracut and was on the second plane to hit the towers, and Army Spc. Matthew Boule, a Dracut native and St. Francis member who was killed in the war in Iraq, a direct result of 9/11.
We think the best way is to use Sept. 11, 2011 as an opportunity to highlight the best in humanity, just the days that followed the 9/11 attacks.
As a farmer, John was driven to help immigrant farmers and others who needed a hand. Providing food was a big part of his life. September is a time when food inventories at local food pantries are typically low. September 11 is increasingly becoming a day of service, a movement suggested by the families of the victims.
For all these reasons, we’ve chosen to honor those we have lost by sponsoring the Dracut Remembers Town-wide Food Drive on Sunday, Sept. 11, to benefit the Dracut Food Pantry and the Ste. Marguerite D’Youville Food Pantry. Depending on how much we collect, we will also forward a portion of the donations to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank.
St. Francis representatives will be at the stands of Brox Farm, Shaw Farm and Saja Farm from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.to collect nonperishables. Dave Dumaresq (Brox), Warren Shaw (Shaw) and Caroline Zuk (Saja) were all friends of John and part of his farming circle.
Food will also be collected at St. Francis Church at 115 Wheeler Road. The church is built on 15 acres of former farmland that was once owned by relatives of John.
St. Francis’ reps will also collect food at the main Dracut fire station, in honor of fire safety’s role in saving lives on 9/11, and also at Owen & Ollie’s restaurant, which has been one of the Dracut Food Pantry’s invaluable supporters.
We hope that everyone in Dracut takes a few minutes that day to help a local family in need, especially in this difficult economic climate. Having served on the board of the Dracut Food Pantry, I can assure you of the need out there.
For more information, email Debbie Hovanasian at firstname.lastname@example.org.