Volunteers used word of mouth and social media to pull together grass-roots relief stations and fundraisers across South Jersey this weekend.
While large organizations such as the Red Cross provided support, many of the events were organized by volunteers who have no experience in disaster relief.
The parking lot at the Sovereign Avenue School in Atlantic City became an impromptu relief station, providing food, blankets and clothing from a wide range of organizations.
As dinnertime approached Sunday night, residents waited in line for blankets. Donated clothing was draped over the playground fence and over the railing of the school’s ramp. Three Red Cross trucks pulled into the lot and began to distribute food. Men sat on the school steps eating sandwiches. Medina Peyton, the school’s principal, swept leaves and trash from the parking lot into a dustpan. She said the effort started small on Friday.
“It started with teachers contacting me to find out what we could do,” she said. “A couple of them just went door to door trying to find out what people need. We contacted students’ families to find out what they need.”
Peyton said the school is well-located for a community relief effort.
“I think with the parking lot the way it is, people see us,” she said. “There was a woman from Virginia who was driving by and dropped off her stuff here. People are just seeing that we’re here and they just pull up. It’s spreading by word of mouth.”
As teachers provided clothing and food, residents began to gather. The Red Cross, which was contacted by the teachers, brought lunch and dinner in trucks. The Atlantic City Rescue Mission dropped off food and clothing. Local church members went door to door asking residents what they needed.
Linda Mattner, a reading recovery teacher at the school, has never organized a relief effort, but she was one of the first to respond at Sovereign Avenue.
“We went over to the Convention Center and we tried to explain to them that our parents have no way of getting over there,” she said. “It’s two miles, and it’s getting over the expressway.”
A steady stream of residents visited the Ventnor Educational Community Complex on Sunday for a free meal, an effort the school organized for people affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Tables were piled with post-storm necessities such as cleaning supplies, canned food, clothes, blankets, sheets, pillows, coloring books and crayons.
Staff and teachers arrived at 10:30 a.m. to begin setting up and opened doors at 11 a.m. Barely two hours later, all the cleaning and hygiene products were gone, and many were grabbing all they could of the remaining items.
“It’s really been hard,” said Cathy Hartley, a resident of Ventnor Heights. “My house had 52 inches of rain, up to my waist.”
The event was first set up through staff, then spread through Facebook, said Jennifer Holstrom, a guidance counselor at the school.
Students and their families ate warm meals, some of which were cooked by staff and teachers.
A warm meal will also be provided today, Holstrom said, because school will not be in session.
School is set to open Nov. 12, curriculum coach Alison Ricciotti said.
“It really is the generosity of people like them that helps,” Hartley said. “Living with someone else is not the same as living at home. You always feel like you are stepping on eggshells.”
Hartley said she is staying with friends but is seeking a place to rent that isn’t too expensive.
“We are here to help you; you can’t do it alone,” Ricciotti told Hartley.
A group of residents in Somers Point collected about four pickup trucks’ worth of clothing, food, water and hygiene products, said Kara Vietro, of Somers Point. They drove the goods to churches in Ocean City, Northfield and Egg Harbor Township. The group also raised $1,000 in cash and checks for the American Red Cross.
The Absecon Lighthouse was open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, and adults and children could climb for $7 and $5, respectively, with proceeds to benefit Sandy relief.
Local charity efforts are growing on social media sites such as Facebook.
On Long Beach Island, members of the Restore the Shore Facebook group organized a Sandwich and Smiles drive Sunday to distribute about 500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to residents, emergency personnel and cleanup crews. Some of the sandwiches were also taken to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, said Adina Defelice, of Absecon, one of about 25 people who helped in the effort.
A Rebuild the Jersey Shore Facebook page was started by 23-year-old Joe Driscoll, who owns a business in Toms River and who wanted to raise awareness of the dire situation along the shore.
By the end of the first day, Wednesday, Driscoll had 40,000 members and thousands of emails, he said.
Sorting through emails, calling emergency management officials and getting responses from all along the Jersey Shore from north to south, the page linked hundreds of people together to create a unified effort throughout the state.
“We are going all over, not just in South Jersey,” Driscoll said Saturday. He received messages from people who want to coordinate efforts and provide necessary items and donations to help their neighbors.
In addition, he was alerted of areas that were hit hard but were outside emergency zones, he said.
The group is working on a website to help highlight and list efforts in the area.
“People have said they prefer donating through us rather than a large organization,” Driscoll said.
On the other hand, he has received messages from those unsure of where the donated items and money will go, since it is a new organization.
Driscoll said he understands the doubts but wants people to know he is determined and working hard to responsibly manage the new group, to the extent of forming a board of directors soon, he said.
“There is just so much going on,” Driscoll said.
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