The Lowcountry's Day of Caring grew from horrific coincidence. As volunteers set out on the first full-scale effort in 2001, a plane slammed into the World Trade Center, then another one. The date was Sept. 11.

"It was total disbelief of what was going on. People were walking around stunned," said Raymond Greenberg, Medical University of South Carolina president, who led the volunteer effort that year. There was a sense of futility -- how small a difference they could make compared to what was happening in the world.

Despite the numbness, 700 people went to work serving hot meals, tutoring students, building playgrounds. People jumped in to replace volunteers who were called to military duty. One volunteer said he had a choice -- he could stay home glued to the television or he could go out and do something good for somebody.

"It gave a different symbolic importance to what each of us could do to give back to the community. The local story has become more important," Greenberg said today. "It's one thing to write a check. It's another thing to spend your day cleaning something or building something or planting a garden."

The Trident United Way's Day of Caring takes place Tuesday, a community wide effort by organized groups of volunteers to help -- hands-on -- non-profit agencies and people in need.

More than 6,000 people will put a hand in on 300 projects across the Lowcountry, part of a massive effort that extends through the 1,300 local United Way organizations across the nation. The number of Charleston-area volunteers is considered one of the largest turn-outs in the country.

The effort started as an extension of the non-profit's corporate partnership giving program, but has taken on a life of its own. Businesses now organize their own volunteer projects, according to a United Way news release.

"That's the ultimate goal of Day of Caring and we're thrilled that it's starting to come to fruition," said Chris Kerrigan, Trident United Way president.

The day is now held in honor of victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Reach Bo Petersen at 843-937-5744 or bpetersen@postandcourier.com.