More than two months after Hurricane Sandy climbed up the East Coast, decimating portions of New Jersey’s beaches and shore towns, the cleanup effort remains and thousands are still homeless.
Residents of northern New Jersey, especially Washington Township, also were impacted by the storm’s devastation, but clearly not to the degree of those along the coast.
That was realized, and quickly, by the student body of West Morris Central High School, who wanted to help almost immediately after Sandy’s smoke had cleared.
Highlanders for Humanity, a student-based group that meets monthly at the high school to create goods for various drives and donations, told their advisor, Chris Kling, it was time to help Restore the Shore.
“The thought of fundraising came up,” Kling said, “but we thought, ‘everyone can do that.’ Let’s do something that will have a greater impact.”
So the club decided to set up a date and time in which they could clean up or do whatever was possible to Restore the Shore. The project was opened to the students throughout the school, and the result was 175 volunteers and five buses heading to Union Beach on Jan. 21.
Students assisted the AmeriCorp crew with beach cleanup, sorting donations, removing debris from ball fields and sweeping sand from the streets Kling said.
“It’s amazing how much work there is to be done, even this long after the storm,” Kling said. “The debris removal becomes tedious because there’s just so much of it. The AmeriCorps workers said they’d never seen a group of high school students do that much work in a single day.”
The group’s decision to work in Union Beach came nearly by chance. With so much destruction along the coast, the students could have chosen almost any town to work in.
But a Google search for which town had the most damage returned Union Beach, citing the small municipality had the highest percentage of damage to its area.
The destruction was beyond what the students and chaperones expected.
“Water rose 15 feet above sea level in Union Beach,” Kling said of the town that sits on a bay. “There were homes 10 blocks inland that had water marks on them. There were homes completely gone, some that were half gone. There were homes that, from the outside looked fine, but had red stickers on them saying the structure needed to be demolished.”
The students were so impacted, Kling said, a group has already said it was going back on its own to work on cleanup.
“The kids were really engaged in the whole thing, asking the AmeriCorps workers questions while they worked,” Kling said. “A lot of them have connections to the shore with visiting or having family there. They’ve been coming back and talking about (the cleanup effort) everyday since.”
The students’ efforts won’t end with the single-day effort, either. This year’s annual semi-formal dance, scheduled for February and will donate proceeds to Hurricane Sandy relief.
Kling said volunteerism at the school is at an all-time high.
“It’s almost become the culture here now,” Kling said. “The more students who get involved, the more that can be done.”