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In Disaster Recovery, Volunteer Efforts are Priceless

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Release date: 
November 7, 2013
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LINCROFT, N.J.  -- From mucking out homes to hanging drywall; from providing cleaning supplies to delivering food and financial assistance, volunteers and charitable organizations from around the nation have worked diligently to help residents of hard-hit New Jersey recover from Superstorm Sandy.

At the one-year anniversary of Sandy, many of the volunteers and sponsoring organizations who lent a hand in the critical first days after the disaster are still here and still helping.

As of the end of September 2013, some 173,544 volunteers had invested more than 1 million volunteer hours in the Sandy recovery effort. The value of their contributions now totals more than $30 million.

“In a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, the efforts of volunteers are critical to the recovery,” said Gracia Szczech, federal coordinating officer for FEMA in New Jersey. “Volunteers have made a substantial contribution to helping New Jerseyans respond and recover from the challenges they faced after Hurricane Sandy.”

While the volunteer efforts that extend across the state may appear unrelated, in reality, they are all part of a collaborative mission, participating in a massive team effort to assist survivors of Hurricane Sandy in their transition to long term recovery.

“I’ve witnessed how valuable volunteers have been,” said Lt. Joseph Geleta of the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management.  “It’s very important for the OEM to partner with the volunteer community.”

As the Volunteer Agency Liaison for Sandy Recovery, Geleta works in partnership with FEMA and a coalition of volunteer organizations who are members of the NJ Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster to coordinate a network of resources to assist survivors as they rebuild their lives.

“We have established Long Term Recovery Groups to help survivors,” Geleta said. “Our goal is to try to meet those unmet needs of survivors who have exhausted all of their disaster assistance dollars and who are still in need.”

The task is a big one.

Back in 1999, in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd, 70,000 people registered for FEMA disaster assistance. “At that time we established a Somerset County Long Term Recovery Group, and they were helping people for five years after the storm hit.”

In 2011, after Hurricane Irene, 90,000 New Jerseyans registered for disaster assistance. “We were still working on unmet needs from Irene when Sandy hit,” Geleta noted.

The number of people seeking help after Hurricane Sandy exceeded the numbers who registered after Floyd and Irene combined.

“More than 260,000 residents of New Jersey registered for disaster assistance,” Geleta said. “Clearly we expect this is going to be a very long recovery.”

During the year after Sandy, the NJVOAD coordinated and supported the volunteer efforts of more than 500 organizations.

These organizations ranged from internationally known agencies like the American Red Cross to smaller groups that regularly travel thousands of miles to assist their fellow Americans when disaster strikes.

Among those groups are the Southern Baptist Men, who applied emergency “blue roof” coverings on over 1,500 homes that had been so damaged by the hurricane that their interiors were exposed to the elements.

Other groups that provided volunteers, resources and skilled workers to Sandy survivors in New Jersey included Habitat for Humanity, Feed the Children, Lutheran Disaster Response, United Jewish Communities, the National Disaster Relief Office of the Roman Catholic Church and Mennonite Disaster Services, to name only a few.

Local churches, charities and nonprofits also worked around the clock to provide the help their neighbors needed to survive, recover and rebuild.

The Foodbank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties regularly provides more than 127,000 people with food and other services. The need for assistance increased substantially with the arrival of Sandy.

“In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy we provided over 1 million meals to people who were affected by the storm,” said Marion Lynch, marketing and communications coordinator for the Foodbank. And a year after the storm, “Our work continues. We provide food and outreach services to some of the area’s most hard hit communities and support recovery efforts in both counties. We remain committed to helping our neighbors recover and we rely on a caring community to support our work.”

The American Red Cross has also been a major partner in the recovery effort.

In the weeks following the disaster, the American Red Cross’s 5,300 employees and volunteers supported 65 shelters, distributed more than 1.5 million relief items, provided more than 23,000 health and mental health contacts, and served more than 4 million meals and snacks to Sandy survivors in New Jersey.

More than 2,200 Red Cross volunteers came from around the country, working with partner groups like the Southern Baptists, Islamic Relief - USA, Team Rubicon and others to help New Jersey.

Members of the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen Action Group, VISTA and AmeriCorps members also served as Red Cross disaster volunteers, joining members of Red Cross societies from Canada, Mexico, Saipan and other locations around the globe who were deployed throughout the state.

Red Cross volunteers contributed over 395,000 hours of service in New Jersey and millions of dollars’ worth of Sandy-specific in-kind donations flowed from generous corporate donors through the Red Cross. The agency delivered everything from batteries to baby food, food trucks to internet access, to the people of New Jersey.

Donations made by Americans around the country to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund supported the distribution of more than 47,000 Red Cross Clean-up kits and more than 28,000 Red Cross Comfort Kits in New Jersey.

 “The American Red Cross continues to support residents of New Jersey in their recovery from Hurricane Sandy through a variety of programs, including grant funding to community and faith-based groups actively working to help individuals and families recover,” said Nancy Orlando, regional CEO of the American Red Cross South Jersey Region.  “Additionally, through our Move-in Assistance Program, the Red Cross is providing direct financial assistance of up to $10,000 for housing-related expenses to eligible individuals whose primary homes were destroyed or made uninhabitable by Sandy. As of September, the American Red Cross has given close to $6 million to approximately 1,300 households in New Jersey through the MIAP initiative.”

While volunteer efforts have helped thousands of New Jerseyans repair, rebuild and recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, many residents still need help. NJVOAD has been working since before the disaster struck to coordinate and deploy volunteer resources where they are needed.

LTRGs continue to serve survivors in the following locations: Atlantic County, Atlantic City, Bergen County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County/Ironbound, Gloucester/Salem Counties, Hudson County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County and Somerset County

 “They are all working hard to help people in their communities,” said Cathy McCann, chair of NJVOAD. “NJVOAD has been hosting six regularly scheduled coordination calls among the different LTRGs so that they can share challenges, successes and support one another and that we can speak as a united group on any issues we see on a statewide basis.  The different coordination calls are Case Management, Volunteers, Construction, Donations, Emotional and Spiritual Care.  

This week we have asked Church World Service to come in and do four workshops on how cases can flow through the Long Term Recovery process.  We have over 200 people scheduled to participate in these workshops. Sometimes it is hard to believe it is a year already and other times it feels like we should be further along, there have been many challenges, and many organizations that have not traditionally worked together are learning to do so, and are finding that we all need to work together to help people recover.” 

If you or someone you know is still in need of assistance with a Hurricane-Sandy related problem, help is available via the web at and

Survivors may also find information and access resources by calling 2-1-1 or via the web at

The confidential service is funded by local United Way chapters in partnership with the State Department of Human Services, the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the Department of Children and Families.

Resource specialists can connect New Jerseyans with community agencies for help with basic human needs such as clothing, food, shelter, rent and utilities, with special needs such as caring for an elderly or disabled person, with child care and with locating health and mental health care services

“The needs are still many,” McCann noted. “So many people are not aware of the Long Term Recovery Groups that are out there and that volunteers are available to help in the rebuilding,” McCann noted.

And as they help our neighbors in New Jersey rebuild, members of the volunteer network are reminding those who still want to help that donations of money and resources are still needed.

For information on making a donation of cash or materials, visit the National Donations Management Network on the web at to match your donation to the needs of the community.


Video Timeline of the Sandy Recovery Effort

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Last Updated: 
November 7, 2013 - 14:33
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