Meal raises funds for 9/11 project

By Bob Jackson

Organizers say they still need to raise about $40,000 to complete the project.

YOUNGSTOWN — Spaghetti and meatballs might not sound like a typical all-American meal, but Sunday it was every bit as red, white and blue as mom’s apple pie.

The Mahoning Valley 9/11 Memorial Committee hosted a spaghetti dinner to help raise money toward a memorial the committee has sponsored and built to honor fallen heroes who died during terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

Pat Connolly of Austintown, committee chairman, said some $150,000 has been raised so far over the past 41‚Ñ2 years, but an additional $40,000 or so is needed to complete the project, which he said is about 85 percent finished. That’s why the committee raises funds at events such as Sunday’s dinner at St. Brendan’s Church on the West Side. It also sponsors golf outings, raffles, craft shows and other fundraisers.

“We’re out there trying,” Connolly said. “You have to be, because [money] isn’t going to come to you. You have to go get it.”

The memorial is on South Raccoon Road, across from Austintown Middle School. It includes a gazebo, a chapel, pagodas, lights and brick walkways.

Also at the memorial are a 1,000-pound chunk of concrete from the crash site at the Pentagon, dirt taken from the field where United Airlines Flight 93 landed near Shanksville, Pa., and a piece of an iron beam from the World Trade Center in New York City.

Connolly said the committee is trying to secure a larger piece of metal from the WTC, which will be welded together with the smaller, current piece to form a cross for the memorial.

Connolly, a retired General Motors employee, said he’s proud that he has kept his word to township trustees that no public funds would be needed to build or maintain the memorial. It’s all been done through private donations from individuals, organizations and businesses, and with money raised through events such as Sunday’s spaghetti dinner.

“We try to do what we can with what we have, but it’s hard,” said Sam Swoger of Austintown, who also serves on the memorial committee. “It’s hard because you have to compete with so many other groups and organizations that are all out there trying to raise money at the same time. Everybody wants a piece of the pie.”

And in today’s depressed economy, money is often hard to come by, he said. Still, Swoger and Connolly are moved by how receptive people are to supporting the project.

“I think having $150,000 raised so far tells you how receptive they’ve been,” Connolly said.

Connolly and Swoger said it’s sometimes difficult to keep the importance of the memorial — and what it stands for — fresh in people’s minds. The passage of time has caused the patriotic fervor that prevailed immediately after the attacks to fade.

“We just have to keep working at it,” Connolly said.

Lisa Oles, Austintown Township trustee, said the memorial has “become a nice focal point for the township,” drawing visitors from far and wide.

And because it’s so close to the middle school, it’s also a place where pupils can go to learn about the reality of terrorism and its impact on the world, she said.

Connolly said the committee is always looking for both donations and volunteers to help the project. He’ll keep driving until the last brick is laid there.

“I just feel like I have to do my part in some way to not let people forget what happened, what [the terrorists] did there,” he said.

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