Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hurricane Sandy Mission Trip - Day 1: The Cleanup Begins

OK, technically it is Day 2 of our trip, but our first day was 16 hours on a coach bus, so I’m not really counting that.
Anyway, we did get to sleep in a little later today due to the fact we rolled into camp at midnight and didn’t really get settled in until 1 a.m. Breakfast was served at 8 a.m., and we were able to make a sandwich and grab some fruit and a granola bar for lunch.
The rest of our morning was spent raking leaves at Pinelands Camp. Leaves, leaves everywhere. Even though it is in the woods, the woman in charge pointed out that it is a camp and they do try to keep the grounds clean.
The raking crew: After 2.5 hours of raking, the grounds at Pinelands Camp were nice and clear and ready for campers.

Apparently the camp was also affected by Hurricane Sandy last fall. The storm swept through the area and took out the camp’s generator within an hour.
The raking passed by pretty quickly, and with 47 people, our group made quick work of the area.
After lunch, we boarded our coach bus and traveled about 45 minutes to Little Egg Harbor, N.J. When Hurricane Sandy hit, the area was under between three and four feet of water. Based on some of the stuff that washed up, it is easy to believe.
Some of the items that washed up include: a boat, part of a roof, a dock, dozens of beer bottles, a coconut (yes, I actually found a coconut), a golf ball, cinder blocks, a large metal jug, styrofoam, part of a metal crate, probably for catching some kind of marine life, tons of wood and various other little. We spent about 2.5 hours picking up debris along a road. During that time we managed to clean both sides of the road about 7 feet out, for a half-mile. Not bad for a few hours work. We managed to fill dozens of trash bags with all the debris. If you stacked them all together, it would probably fill a space 6 feet long, 6 feet wide and 5 feet high, but that is just an estimate. 

Among the debris washed up by Hurricane Sandy was a roof, bottles, a coconut, and yes, even a boat. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock)

There was a man with a professional video camera, Kirk Jarvis, with us at the cleanup site as well. At first I thought he was a TV reporter, but it turns out he is actually putting together a documentary about the cleanup efforts that are going on. The project, titled Both Sides of Sandy, should be completed by the end of the summer. For more information, visit www.bothsidesofsandy.com.
After the cleanup we did get to witness some of the more profound devastation. We visited the city of Tuckerton, and I was humbled by the scene. According to our guide, 5,000 people were evacuated from their homes, and of those homes, 800 were condemned. The remaining houses have to be raised on wood poles 14 feet above the ground, which can cost the homeowner between $30,000 and $50,000. Apparently FEMA will reimburse the cost, but the homeowner has to pay up front. It really makes you grateful for what you have. Living in the Midwest, we do worry about blizzards and tornadoes, but the chances of a natural disaster wiping through our area and causing that kind of devastation is slim to none. No hurricanes or tsunamis, earthquakes or volcanoes. Negative temperatures in the winter seem a small price to pay for the relative security living in the Midwest grants us. 

Hurricane Sandy forced 5,000 Tuckerton, N.J. families out of their homes, and of those, 800 houses were declared condemned. The houses that are deemed still livable must be raised 14 feet above ground. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock)
I must admit, it does feel good to be a part of helping a community heal. Tomorrow it sounds like we will be returning to Little Egg Harbor to assist with more Hurricane Sandy cleanup, and on Thursday I have committed to go to the local Salvation Army. Apparently they need volunteers to help check people in, stack supplies and help the people that come select what items they need. 
According to a small group that went today, the Salvation Army is providing counseling to people affected by Hurricane Sandy, as well as supplies: toilet paper, toothpaste, food, diapers, cleaning supplies, water, whatever they need. The first time people come they can choose to participate in counseling, and at the end of the counseling they also receive a $50 gift card for each person in their family. So if there is a mother, father and two children, they would receive four $50 gift cards, for a total of $200.
The group of six that went today recounted some of the stories of people that received services. Apparently there was one more who lost everything, his house and possessions, and then sadly, his wife died shortly afterwards, leaving him all alone. Another woman was so relieved when she heard about the counseling being offered, she didn’t really care about the gift card, she was just at her wit’s end and needed someone to talk to.
Yet another person, a college student by the name of Christian, said he was grateful for Hurricane Sandy. Although his home was destroyed, he said his family came together to help rebuild, and it actually made them closer as a family. As horrible as Hurricane Sandy, it is nice to hear some of the good that came out of the tragedy.
Our day concluded with dinner back at the camp and a little group bonding and card game. Everything is going well, and I can’t wait to continue helping with the cleanup from Hurricane Sandy again tomorrow. To see photos from the day's events click here.
I’ll be posting a blog every night we are here through Friday, so stay tuned for the next part of this amazing journey... 

Today's debris cleanup crew, which consists of volunteers from a Christian high school in Ohio, and 10 of the 16 members of our Sun Prairie group.

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