Janet Ta was watching coverage of Hurricane Sandy at her friend Annie Bi's Galloway Township apartment when, upset by the devastation she was seeing, she decided to go home.
Bi, one of Ta's close friends and a sorority sister at Delta Zeta at Richard Stockton College, didn't think much of Ta's sudden departure at the time, she said.
"Janet is a very emotional person, and she reacts to her emotions," Bi said. "She came back the next day and was like, 'Oh, by the way, I have this website. Like it."
Ta had talked with her friend Brett Clendaniel, whom she had met at a kickball fundraiser for breast cancer about a month before, about making a Facebook page through which they could mobilize their friends to take action. The result was Operation #RestoreOurShore.
As soon as the group was formed, it started to spread.
"I created the Facebook page, and everybody kept sharing it and liking it and sharing it, and it just blew up into something overnight," Ta said. "Before we knew it, there were thousands of people liking our page, and it's only been a week."
What began as a homepage through which to organize a few modest cleanups became one of the largest grassroots relief efforts to come out of the aftermath of the disaster. The page is currently liked by more than 5,000 people, and has been mentioned on the social network by triple that many.
Most joined the group to pledge help, while others joined to request it. Clendaniel reached out to the New Jersey Department of Volunteerism, the Red Cross, the United Way and other organizations, offering to provide aid, making the group a meeting point for those on both sides of the relief effort.
"Everything just fell into place, so then we were able to say, 'OK, United Way needs 30 people in Northfield and 30 people in Wildwood on this day,'" Ta said. "We got people to let us know when they could come in and do it."
Realizing the enormity of their group, Ta and Clendaniel asked others for help. Bi joined in, wading through the mountain of messages and emails the group had been sent. Clendaniel, who lives in Millville, enlisted his mother, Marietta, in helping coordinate the group's efforts in Cumberland County. Bi's boyfriend, Ricky Ferguson, joined to help manage the Facebook page.
While Ta said she was initially hesitant to bring money into the equation, as more and more people asked to donate cash, she relented, and Mark Lolla came on to help oversee financial matters and begin the process of certifying the group as a nonprofit. M.J. Ogatis, another sorority sister, is the group's most recent addition, and has been building a roster of volunteers as the group's communications coordinator.
While the group is focused right now on leveraging its assets to assist in the efforts of others, once things begin to slow down, they will organize events and fundraisers of their own. Ta said she hopes the group becomes an institution.
"This is probably not the first time something like (Hurricane Sandy) could happen, and if we build that foundation, and build this into something bigger, this'll always be here in the event that something does happen," Ta said.
To many, the New Jersey Shore is a vacation spot, or a way to fill half an hour in front of a television. But to the thousands displaced or affected by Hurricane Sandy - and to the thousands of passionate men and women who, alongside Ta and Clendaniel, have pledged to help - the Jersey Shore is much, much more.
"We thought we were just going to clean up a beach, help with cleaning a home, but it's become so much more," Ta said. "This is something we hold close to our hearts. The Jersey Shore is our home.
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