Zach Meyer was more than 750 miles from home when he heard about the destructive hurricane aiming directly for South Jersey.
At 19 years old and away from Egg Harbor Township for the first time, he decided he couldn’t sit back and watch the destruction on television.
“I felt like I was pretty useless up here not being able to help or do anything, really. I didn’t want to let that happen,” said Meyer, a freshman at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Mich. “I just wanted to be there to help.”
He consulted with other students about what they could do. Meyer, who played baseball for Egg Harbor Township High School, also consulted his coaches at Cornerstone, a Christian university focused on service, who suggested the students organize a cleanup effort.
Within days, Meyer had nine students willing to help. None were from New Jersey, and only one other student, from Lancaster, Pa., had any familiarity with the state before they hopped in two cars and drove for 13 hours to Egg Harbor Township. The group stayed from Friday to Sunday, traveling to affected areas and offering help.
“Most of these kids are from the Michigan or Illinois area. You’re talking about kids who don’t even know what the ocean looks like. They’re the ones who came down to help,” said Jeff Meyer, Zach’s father. “The way it all came together is pretty amazing.”
That was just the beginning of the help flowing from Michigan to New Jersey. Before the students left Michigan, they gathered donations from several local vendors. D&W Fresh Market sent food, water and toiletries for victims, J&H Oil Co. gave the students a $500 gas card for their trip, and other companies provided money so the students could buy food and supplies for cleanup, Jeff Meyer said.
Active in his church, Shore Fellowship in Egg Harbor Township, Zach Meyer turned to the church for direction on how to provide help. He also joined forces with two of his friends from home, Chris Buckley and Josh Treat, both students at Egg Harbor Township High School.
Shore Fellowship has been active in providing help. The Atlantic City Rescue Mission, heeding the evacuation orders issued for the resort, sent hundreds of its clients to the church, which has continued to stage collections and is operating a food pantry from its site.
Sonya Pacera, an assistant volunteer coordinator for Shore Fellowship, said the church plans to organize more cleanup efforts in the coming days by sending teams of volunteers to affected areas.
Meyer’s group got a head start, first spending time doing some of the easier cleanup around Mays Landing, then heading to Brigantine, which saw some of the most substantial damage in Atlantic County. From there, the group headed north to Manahawkin in Ocean County, where Meyer’s aunt lives.
At each location, the students removed debris from streets, helped rip out damaged floors and talked to residents dealing with the damage.
“Everybody needed help. I was really surprised by how much water had flooded the area. I knew there was going to be damage, but I didn’t know it would be like that,” Meyer said.
Meyer said the students didn’t hesitate at all to give up a weekend to help with the relief efforts. However, they had to leave Sunday night to make it back in time for their Monday morning classes. The students packed up Sunday and drove through the night in shifts to get back to Grand Rapids by 3:30 a.m. Monday. That left a short window for Meyer to make it to his classes that started at 8 a.m.
Devon Town, another Cornerstone student who went on the trip, said she didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to help.
“At Cornerstone, we’re being taught how to engage in the world around us, and that doesn’t mean we should wait until we graduate,” Town said in a news release from the school.
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