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‘We are one Utah’: Gov. Spencer Cox urges unity during service event in remembrance of 9/11

The governor and other volunteers assembled meal kits for Granite School District kids in need.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox and First Lady Abby Cox participate in a service project at the Granite Education Foundation Donation & Distribution Center as part of the national "9/11 Day of Service” campaign on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Service is one of the first lady’s four focus areas under the Show Up initiative, to honor the memory of the heroes of Sept. 11, 2001.

West Valley City • Nate Reynolds worked swiftly, stuffing a cup of oatmeal into a clear plastic bag, before handing it to his daughter, Kate, who filled it with an apple sauce packet before passing it down the line.

The Taylorsville father and daughter were two of about 60 people who spent time in a bustling warehouse on a drizzly Saturday morning filling sacks of snacks and dinner kits for kids in the Granite School District whose families are struggling to afford food.

They were volunteering Saturday on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a way to come together to serve others in their community. Reynolds, like so many Americans, has a vivid memory of that day two decades ago. He remembers exactly how he felt.

But he knows Kate wasn’t even born yet. He felt bringing the 12-year-old girl along to help fill these bags with food for other kids would be a good experience for her, too.

“Even though our country lost a lot that day,” he said, “it’s a great way to remember our country and to help and support each other.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kate Reynolds, 12, and her dad Nate help assemble food bags as they participate in a service project at the Granite Education Foundation Donation & Distribution Center as part of the national "9/11 Day of Service” campaign on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Later that morning, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox joined the assembly line, tossing pudding cups inside, then handing the bag off to Reynolds. He was quick. The governor’s strategy?

”Don’t mess this up,” he said.

Cox and his wife, Abby, volunteered Saturday as part of an effort across Utah — and the nation — to focus on service as Americans remember and commemorate the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Abby Cox told the crowd Saturday that after those events on Sept. 11, 2001, the nation came together and shared a collective grief and trauma. But that togetherness, she said, has waned since.

“We want to get back to that part of it,” she said. “Our country needs healing, just like it did back then. Our country needs connection and empathy. And that’s what we’re about. When we serve, we forget about ourselves, and we look at others.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox and First Lady Abby Cox participate in a service project at the Granite Education Foundation Donation & Distribution Center as part of the national "9/11 Day of Service” campaign on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Service is one of the first lady’s four focus areas under the Show Up initiative, to honor the memory of the heroes of Sept. 11, 2001.

The governor called for unity as he recalled his feelings 20 years ago after 9/11, and how he donated blood with his friends then, because they didn’t know what else to do. There was a spirit of service then, he said, and it didn’t matter what political party people belonged to or what their religion was.

“It shouldn’t matter now and unfortunately it does,” he said. “But our hope is that today, if we take a few minutes to think of those who lost their lives on those airplanes, in those buildings, especially those first responders who went in to save lives, and the soldiers who lost their lives protecting us, that we will recommit ourselves to being better.”

The governor said that Utah leads the nation in volunteerism and charitable giving, but said the state should also lead in “empathy” and “kindness.”

“We have to stop treating each other like others,” he said, “and start treating each other like us. We are one America. We are one Utah.”

Kim Oborn works for the Granite Education Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the school district. She said Saturday that with the boost of volunteers, they hoped to stack up 7,000 weekend kits, 5,000 dinner kits and 3,600 snack kits — which go to the schools and are available for kids if they are hungry during the day or are staying after school and need a snack.

Oborn said there are 63,000 kids who attend class in the Granite School District — which includes schools in cities like West Valley City, Millcreek, Taylorsville and South Salt Lake — and just over half of them qualify for free or reduced lunch. A lot of them, she said, don’t always know from where their next meal is coming.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gabriel Hansen, 12, loads assembled food bags in a box as he participates in a service project at the Granite Education Foundation Donation & Distribution Center as part of the national "9/11 Day of Service” campaign on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Principals expressed concern about six years ago about kids coming to school hungry, Oborn said, so the foundation started making meal kits to feed not just kids but also their parents and families.

She said that Saturday’s volunteer event means a stockpile of meal kits will be ready whenever families need them.

“If we can provide their food,” she said, “then they can spend their limited dollars on their rent, on their utilities and keeping them in their homes — which is going to save a lot of stress and a lot of continual problems.”

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