Driver helps out at Ground Zero

| 11/7/2001

Sept. 11 began like any other day for Frank Marquez. The Los Angeles resident turned on his television early that day to see what was going on in the world. What he saw unfold a continent away stunned him. He felt like he had to act.

Marquez, a 44-year-old driver for Consolidated Freightways, was granted a leave of absence to make the journey to the East Coast to help in anyway he could. He's been in lower Manhattan ever since. He volunteers about 18 to 20 hours each day to work at a food tent three blocks from the still-smoking remnants of the World Trade Center.

Fearful that he would not be allowed to bring his truck anywhere near the city, Frank planned to board a train but was concerned rail service might be halted, as air travel had been earlier in the day. He decided to try hitchhiking. "I wanted to give it 20 minutes just to see if I could hitch a ride," Frank says. "Within that time I was off."

During his six-day trek across America, Frank received rides from 12 motorists, including a fellow trucker, who drove him from Flagstaff, AZ, to the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. "As I crossed the country, my resolve to help was filled with anger and fury," he says.

Frank arrived in New York City not knowing whom he needed to talk with and just went around asking how and where he could help. Six to eight hours later he was pitching in at the food tent and has been there every day since.

Frank is among about 70 other volunteers that help prepare and distribute food at Ground Zero Food Services in lower Manhattan - one of a handful of sites near the trade center wreckage where workers can get free meals prepared by volunteers with donated food. Frank handles logistics at the site, such as unloading trucks and organizing deliveries.

The site started with nothing, but Frank says through the tireless work of the volunteers it is now the biggest site supplying a total of nine other sites in the area. Since the site opened, it has served more than 20,000 meals to more than 1,500 National Guardsmen, firefighters, police and other emergency personnel. "They are the heroes," he says. "They have an enormous job to do."

Frank has been to Ground Zero many times. He can only described it as "ghastly."

"In the short time I've been here it's changed me as a person," says Frank. "I didn't realize how selfish I was until I got here. Everyday I get a feeling of usefulness to help my fellow Americans any way I can, even if it's peeling potatoes and washing dishes."
--Keith Goble, staff writer