A gentler atmosphere for volunteers at Sandy cleanup

Michael Canzano of Rutherford helped build one of a dozen lifeguard stands. About 39,000 people are still displaced, said the New Jersey Relief Fund.
Michael Canzano of Rutherford helped build one of a dozen lifeguard stands. About 39,000 people are still displaced, said the New Jersey Relief Fund. (JULIA TERRUSO / Staff)
Posted: October 28, 2013

With the whisper of waves behind them and a gentle breeze coming off the water, thousands of volunteers along the Jersey Shore dug dunes, painted lifeguard stands, and cleared debris - repairing the damage a far fiercer ocean wrought nearly a year ago.

Sandy Service Day, a two-day volunteer event organized by the New Jersey Relief Fund and Jersey Cares, brought more than 2,000 people to 80 projects from Surf City to Jersey City on Saturday.

The second day of service is set for Tuesday, the actual anniversary of the storm, the most damaging natural disaster in the state's history. Gov. Christie and Mary Pat Christie, who chairs the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund, will make stops at projects in Ocean and Monmouth Counties that day.

One year later, about 39,000 people remain displaced and an estimated 100,000 homes need to be elevated, according to the New Jersey Relief Fund.

'The back burner'

At Island Beach State Park in Seaside Park on Saturday, about 150 volunteers from around the state cleared walking trials, rebuilt dunes, and constructed and painted lifeguard stands.

Other volunteers went to hard-hit elementary schools, parks, and community centers. Some did home repairs, meal service, and mural painting.

"A lot of stuff got put on the back burner because people were concentrating on opening for the season," said Cam Henderson, executive director of the relief fund.

"It's an opportunity to recognize the day," Henderson said, "and an opportunity to see how far we've come but also let folks know there's still more to do."

The fund has secured $25 million in grants to date, and provided Jersey Cares with the $200,000 grant to buy the shovels, tools, and related supplies for the volunteer day.

Jersey Cares has served 15,593 meals and gutted 2,841 homes since the storm. More than 11,000 volunteers are registered with the organization.

Island Beach State Park's 659 acres suffered substantial damage, the brunt of it to dunes, buildings, and facilities. Park manager Ray Bukowski made a commitment to open partially on Memorial Day and fully by July 4. The park not only met the deadline, he said, but welcomed more visitors and brought in more revenue this summer than in 2012.

"We're a good indication of the health of the state that we were able to provide recreation to people, to some people to get away from the stresses of their own restoration," he said.

Bukowski, who lives in Brick, recalls driving over the Route 37 bridge after the storm to see the condition of the park. He navigated around boats and massive piles of sand, downed power lines, and abandoned cars. He said that he knew the park would have to wait, and that the town and its homeowners were first priority.

"It was gut-wrenching," he said, looking out at the ocean Saturday.

Saturday's volunteer crew at Island Beach State Park was one of the largest of the volunteer day, and included a group of Bank of America employees and students from New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Labor of love

Alicia Faruolo, 29, and her sister Anne Marie, 22, both of Lyndhurst, decided to drive down after learning about the service day on the Internet.

"We grew up coming down here as kids. We were so upset, first the storm and then the fire," Alicia Faruolo said, referring to the blaze last month that destroyed nearly the entire Seaside Park boardwalk.

Faruolo said she rented a house in Seaside Park last summer for the same reason she drove 90 miles to spend her afternoon painting lifeguard stands.

"I love the Shore," she said.

856-779-3876 juliaterruso jterruso@phillynews.com

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