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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Bagging oatmeal for families in need isn’t how a typical 18-year-old spends his birthday, but then again, Thomas Howard isn’t your typical teenager.
“I am born on a very sad, tragic day, so I try to make this day special by helping other people,” Howard said.
The teen was born on Sept. 11, 2001 – only a few hours before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. His parents say the delivery came with complications.
“He had stopped breathing, the exact time the second plane hit, so there is something about him that is special,” Michelle Howard, the teen’s mother said.
“We truly feel, the spirit and souls of those lives came through him and brought him back, so we have a special tie to all of this,” his dad Claude Howard added.
Which is why the Connecticut family always finds themselves giving back on this day. They joined in with more than 4,000 others at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in Manhattan on Wednesday to pack more than one million meals for people in need.
“We all came here to help out and just give hope and encouragement,” Derese Bitto of Harlem said.
“Being in New York and seeing how the community comes together today, is really special,” Hannah Barieca added.
Celebrities were also seen chipping in.
“The spirit of service is the best way to remember,” actor Kevin Bacon said.
It’s all part of 9/11 Day – a now federally-recognized day of service.
“We felt like this side of 9/11 should also be told to future generations, how people came together and focused on our common humanity and put aside our differences to help rebuild New York and get this country back on its feet,” 9/11 Day co-founder Jay Winuk explained.
Eight cities in total are participating, with others around the country helping in any way they could. One 9/11 widow from Canada even brought the project to her country.
“We are all on the same path, we have to define this day and not let the hate and horror shine through,” Maureen Basnicki said.
That’s a thought Thomas hopes everyone can one day learn.
“I was the beginning of new hope basically, by bringing happiness and life and that even on a bad day, there can be happiness brought into this world,” Thomas Howard said.
As many as 15 million Americans are expected to participate in some sort of charitable donation or act of kindness, in honor of the 9/11 victims.