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Undeterred by the coronavirus, 9/11 community cleanup carries on in East Baltimore

Volunteers from Amazon remove concrete with demolition hammers during a recent workday with The 6th Branch at a vacant lot in the city's Broadway East neighborhood.
Volunteers from Amazon remove concrete with demolition hammers during a recent workday with The 6th Branch at a vacant lot in the city's Broadway East neighborhood. (Courtesy of Scott Goldman)

For months, Scott Goldman and his colleagues at The 6th Branch, a Baltimore-based community service group, figured they wouldn’t be able to hold their annual cleanup day on 9/11.

The event, Together We Serve, traditionally draws hundreds of volunteers from Baltimore corporations like T. Rowe Price Group to clear vacant lots in East Baltimore and help establish community gardens and green spaces.

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But as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed across the region and the country, organizers at The 6th Branch, a group led by military veterans, worried the event wouldn’t take place this September — for the first time since 2011.

“It still meant something to us to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, with some kind of service and I think we were trying to be creative with something virtual or something like that, but I did not expect to do anything,” said Goldman, the group’s executive director.

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Then the organization’s corporate partners chimed in and suggested holding several service days with small groups of volunteers to maintain social distancing.

This week, several small groups of Amazon employees have worked to clear vacant lots along North Montford Avenue in the city’s Broadway East neighborhood, removing trash, debris and even old slabs of concrete to pave the way for plantings.

Volunteers from Amazon push a large tree stump to the street to be disposed of during a recent work day with The 6th Branch at a vacant lot in the city's Broadway East neighborhood.
Volunteers from Amazon push a large tree stump to the street to be disposed of during a recent work day with The 6th Branch at a vacant lot in the city's Broadway East neighborhood. (Courtesy of Scott Goldman)

And on Friday, the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks — and into next week — small groups from companies like T. Rowe Price, McCormick & Co. and Starbucks will work there and at a site in nearby Johnston Square.

At that site, which is along Hillman Street near East Hoffman Street, volunteers will be preparing garden beds and planting vegetables and flowers, Goldman said.

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Regina Hammond, a longtime Johnston Square resident and president of the Rebuild Johnston Square Neighborhood Organization, said her group hopes to distribute food from the garden to the community, and perhaps start a business selling freshly cut flowers, with the goal of employing local youth.

“That’s our vision, and tomorrow is the first step,” Hammond said.

The 6th Branch has been working on the lot for roughly a year, Hammond said.

“You’ll see 6th Branch members out there in 90-degree weather making sure that grass is cut, which wasn’t always the case. You could ride by Hoffman Street once upon a time, and the grasses would be up to your shoulders," she said.

The lots The 6th Branch works on are either vacant or abandoned, Goldman said, and the group accesses them through the city’s “Adopt a Lot” program or through the city’s nuisance abatement process.

During the pandemic, Goldman said, the demand for the group’s services, such as their fresh produce distribution in the city’s Oliver neighborhood and its cleanup efforts, has only grown with the proliferation of food insecurity and the difficulties associated with trash pickup during the pandemic. So, lately, volunteers from The 6th Branch have been going out to their community garden and other sites individually and in small groups, Goldman said.

This year’s 9/11 event is rather different, Goldman said, but one thing remains the same.

“Every year, Under Armour sponsors a T-shirt,” Goldman said, "and it’s fun to see people show up in their shirts from five years ago. People keep coming back.”

Goldman, who served in the Army, remembered watching the events of 9/11 unfold on the first day of his sophomore year in college, sitting in a dorm room with some 20 other students.

“I’m sure I would not have ended up joining the Army years later, if not for that,” he said. “Each year I think of 9/11 as the day we turn what was obviously one of our darkest days into a day of service.”

Regional events commemorating the anniversary of 9/11

Anne Arundel County

At 10 a.m., Anne Arundel County Fire Chief Trisha Wolford, Interim Police Chief William Lowry and County Executive Steuart Pittman will lay a wreath on the 9/11 memorial at 8495 Veterans Highway in Millersville. The event will be livestreamed on the police department’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Fire communications will announce an All Call at 10 a.m. to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the attacks at the fire station on 8501 Veterans Highway in Millersville. The organization encourages fire personnel to gather at the station flagpole to observe a moment of silence.

Heroes of Severna Park will have an official name dedication for the 19th anniversary of Sept. 11 at 11 a.m. at the Severna Park American Legion post, 832 Manhattan Beach Road in Severna Park.

Baltimore County

McAvoy’s Sports Bar & Grill in Parkville is holding its 10th annual Spirits in the Night 9/11 Candlelight Vigil at 7 p.m. Friday.

There will be a commemorative flag wave at the Essex Park and Ride from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., hosted by the Chesapeake Alliance of Baltimore County Republicans and Tim Fazenbaker for Congress.

Carroll County

The Hampstead American Legion Auxiliary Unit 200 will host a free luminary display to honor those who lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday.

The #WalkAwayMaryland group, with help from members of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, will also honor those who lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001, holding a Day of Remembrance rally Friday at Baker-Simpson-Bowlus Pop Up Park in Mount Airy. The event will coincide with the mayor’s weekly broadcast of the national anthem at the Mount Airy Town Hall at noon.

Carroll County representatives will gather at the Carroll County Public Safety Training Center 9/11 Memorial at 9 a.m. to commemorate the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The memorial service will be small with a limited number of participants due to the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Those interested in the event are strongly encouraged to refrain from attending and instead watch the recording on the county’s Facebook page or YouTube channel, or on Comcast Channel 24.

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Harford County

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Harford County residents are invited to gather for a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. Friday— the time the first plane struck the World Trade Center in New York — followed by a brief ceremony outside the county government administrative building at 220 S. Main St. in Bel Air.

The Bel Air office of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty will be setting up a pop-up lunch and dinner counter on Friday at Shamrock Park for first responders (lunch from noon to 2 p.m. and dinner from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.).

From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday afternoon, former state Del. Pat McDonough has organized a flag-waving tribute on Route 152 overpass over Interstate 95. Volunteer firefighters and community organizations will be on hand. Parking is available for attendees at the Park and Ride on Mountain Road.

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