Three strangers feed masses at WTC ruins

Monday, October 22, 2001

NEW YORK -- They made their way to Manhattan to volunteer -- the chef from Key West, Fla., the trucker from Los Angeles, the charity director from Providence, R.I.

Strangers until they met near the rubble, the three now make up a tight-knit team in several green and blue tents dubbed Ground Zero Food Services.

Each day, they join to help feed 1,500 National Guardsmen, firefighters, police and other emergency workers who spend their days sifting through the still-smoking remnants of the World Trade Center.

As many as 70 other volunteers help prepare and distribute the food at the South Street Seaport -- one of a handful of sites near the trade center wreckage where workers can get free meals prepared by volunteers with donated food. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross also operate meal sites for workers, as do a few restaurants.

Tony Hall, 49, director of food services for the Providence Boys and Girls Club, arrived two days after two hijacked planes toppled the trade center's towers. A firefighter friend told him emergency workers needed help with meals so he loaded up two vans and headed to New York.

"We're Americans," Hall said. "We can volunteer and do our part by trying to fill in the gaps where people don't get taken care of."

Enlisting other volunteers, Hall set up an initial meal site behind the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Ron Riviezzo, a chef from Key West, Fla., introduced himself the next day.

"The attacks made me very scared and I just wanted to help," said Riviezzo, 48, who was vacationing in New Hampshire on Sept. 11. "I'm a certified chef. I can cook, train others and I know the rules on sanitation," he told Hall.

Hall turned the kitchen over to him on the spot.

Frank Marquez arrived on Sept. 17 after hitchhiking from California. The 44-year-old had taken a leave of absence from his truck-driving job to come to New York.

"As I crossed the country over those six days, my resolve to help was filled with anger and fury," Marquez said. He asked where he might volunteer and was directed to Hall's operation, where he handles logistics such as unloading trucks and deliveries.

Riviezzo starts in the tent kitchen at 5 a.m. each day, beating 60 dozen eggs, frying 40 pounds of sausage and 10 pounds of bacon. French toast, bagels and muffins are also on the menu.

New York Police Sgt. Bruce Vogel, 43, who works in the neighboring command center, is a frequent diner at Ground Zero Food Services. He praised the baked ziti.

"But the food is secondary," Vogel said. "It's the volunteers -- the friendliness and compassion. It makes the cops and firemen who stop by feel so good."

Hall said the one-time strangers' teamwork has been vital: "One person can't run a business. From the beginning, Frank had good organizational skills, Ron knew how to cook ... It goes all the way down the line. That's what it takes."

Hall, Marquez and Riviezzo plan to return to their jobs when they're no longer needed here.

"Life will never be the same," Hall said. "I was a drug addict and an alcoholic for many years and wondered why God had spared me. I know the answer now."

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