By Kathy Eastwood
It’s been weeks since super storm Sandy hit the tri-state area with a vengeance destroying neighborhoods, flooding homes and leaving families with no power anywhere in parts of New York and New Jersey.
Since the late October storm, governmental and local agencies assessing the situation realized that getting back to normal could take months. To that end, many volunteers have stepped up to help with donations while others helped with the massive physical clean up, including community members from West Point, cadets, faculty, Department of Military Instruction staff and U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School cadet candidates.
“I was struck by the amount of work that needed to be done,” Lt. Col. John Grantz, DMI Military Training Division chief, who helped with the efforts in New York, said. “It was every single house. Imagine how many houses that is in that neighborhood with house after house on street after street.”
Grantz said the National Guard was controlling the logistics and inflow of donations and removing debris from the streets as the Federal Emergency Management Agency was assessing damages and coordinating volunteers.
“What was striking is that there was no manpower to go into the houses and clear molding drywall, insulation and appliances,” Grantz said. “It was literally a race against the mold that was spreading into the upper parts of the houses. “With six people, we cleared six houses in six hours,” he added. “It would have taken the homeowners weeks to do their houses on their own. We felt pretty good after a day’s work, but it was humbling as we drove past rows and rows of houses on the way out of town that evening.”
Volunteers, such as Class of 2016 Cadet Aaron Churchill, departed West Point to the distribution points in Bayonne and Jersey City N.J., to deliver needed items such as comfort kits that consisted of flashlights, food and blankets.
“Pallets of supplies were delivered to the Red Cross warehouse,” Churchill said. “Those pallets were moved by forklift to an assembly area where all the boxes of bulk supplies were opened by volunteers who placed individual flashlights, blankets, etc. into empty bags held by a separate volunteer, who was a member of a human assembly line that made circles around the boxes of supplies. That assembly line would then toss a completed bag to a truck loader and find another empty bag, continuing the cycle.”
Churchill said once 1,000 care packages were loaded onto the truck, volunteers tasked with communication would find out the destination and dispatch a team of two volunteer drivers to deliver the care packages.
Other volunteers maintained the empty trucks by keeping them fueled and staged them inside the warehouse to be loaded. Because the warehouse was small and cramped, the volunteers encountered some logistical problems.
“The cramped warehouse made it difficult to conduct all of these tasks at the same time,” Churchill said. “My responsibility was to be a bridge between all of the task groups, coordinating with all of the group leaders in a way that helped to keep the whole operation moving efficiently.
“I was excited to help out with the project,” Churchill added. “I heard about it the night before and, when I arrived, I thought I would just be filling bags or loading trucks, but I was asked to help out with the whole logistics of the situation since I had experience working in warehouses and with UPS in high school.”
Churchill said the Red Cross staff seemed very appreciative that the group of volunteers helped them out.
“So I decided I would go help for another two days,” he said. “I’m just glad that I got to help out people in need. I came to West Point because I felt a calling toward service to others, so it was only natural to volunteer my time that weekend to those in genuine need.”
Capt. Kelly Thompson, DMI Force Sustainment Branch, volunteered in New York not really knowing where they would be needed, but assumed that they could help in some way.
“There were blocks of houses with excessive water damage that needed to be cleaned out,” Thompson said. “We thankfully had a crew of strong backs and generous hearts who could lift a burden that many of the elderly or families simply couldn’t do on their own. This will no doubt be a long-time recovery for the families affected and I’m reminded that we can continue to serve the affected communities for what (may be) months or years to come.”
USMAPS Cadet Candidate Derick Hanna worked with donated clothing and used items to fill vans, which were then driven to a Salvation Army relief center working in conjunction with other relief organizations near Fort Monmouth, N.J.
“Several generous families around post donated clothing and used items which our group sorted and loaded into vans,” Hanna said. “It was absolutely amazing to see how many people were donating and volunteering. Lines of cars packed with donations were waiting patiently for volunteers to sort and unload their lifesaving cargo.”
Hanna said the atmosphere was cheerful and he could tell people were grateful for the opportunity to help those affected by the storm in any way they could. He and other cadet candidates continued to help after delivering the clothes and other items, but he was more impressed with how many volunteers took the time to do what they could to help those in need.
Volunteers were making their second and third trips to help people they didn’t know.
“My experience in New Jersey was extremely gratifying and opened my eyes to just how generous American people can be,” he said. “This nation’s strength was clearly demonstrated to me in the actions of ordinary citizens and their willingness to sacrifice for those in need. I have no doubt that Americans will continue to weather whatever storms the future may hold and I am inspired by our ability to continually come together in times of trouble and adversity.”