Volunteers Gather for National Day of Service, Lending Hand to Sandy Recovery

Over 50 volunteers from across the state came together for this month’s “Hand in Hand” Sandy Service Day, offering a helping hand to the many still impacted by Superstorm Sandy.

Lutheran Social Ministries of NJ (LSMNJ) serves as a local affiliate of Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Each month LSMNJ Disaster Response along with Long Term Recovery Groups, and other partnering recovery organizations come together for “Hand in Hand” Sandy Service Day. This month’s date coincided with Martin Luther King’s National Day of Service. 

LuAnn Barnes, a member of the NJ Synod of ELCA who works in Bishop Tracie Bartholomew’s office, participated in “Hand in Hand” day, “It was a very well-organized event, and one that really opens your eyes to the recovery work that still needs to be done.” Other members of the NJ Synod staff, family and friends joined Barnes. “Our group ranged in age from 7-65 years old, and there was something for each of us to do, a way we could all make a difference.” 

Fifty plus volunteers divided into three teams and worked on sites throughout Monmouth and Ocean County. Meeting at Camp Evans in Wall Township, volunteers were welcomed by breakfast graciously provided by Salvation Army in Hazlet, NJ before breaking off to their respective projects.

The first team of volunteers stayed at Camp Evans helping to prepare the building as Monmouth County Long Term Recovery Group’s “host site.” Camp Evans will soon host volunteers from across the state and country who travel to help with Sandy recovery efforts, providing a place to eat, sleep, and shower. “Hand in Hand” volunteers hauled debris, quickly filling a dumpster.

“This may seem insignificant to some, but this work was huge. We were able to clear out the warehouse and make room for a kitchen donation shipment that will be arriving next week. We are also one step closer to the host site being ready to go and welcoming volunteer groups,” explained Elizabeth Shouvlin, donations manager, Monmouth County Long Term Recovery Group.

Another group of volunteers headed to the Visitation Relief Center in Brick, NJ- a “one-stop” recovery and relief center for those affected by Superstorm Sandy. Home to many different recovery organizations, this once vacant building has been transformed into office spaces for organizations, a tool lending center, food pantry, on-site case management and more.

“Hand in Hand” volunteers helped prepare the Visitation Relief Center Community Garden by composting wood and leaves to create a natural fertilizer, allowing for fruits and vegetables to flourish for years to come. Victims of Superstorm Sandy visit the community garden and receive produce to replace what they can no longer grow in their own gardens. Additional volunteers cut drywall preparing for a new office space at the center and others spent their time tearing out damaged flooring at the American Legion Hall in Seaside.

The third volunteer team headed to Keansburg, NJ where they helped insulate pipes in a Sandy impacted home, and paint another affected home. Some also spent the day working at Saint Marks Episcopal Center for Community Renewal, a soup kitchen, organizing shelves, cleaning, and serving lunch to patrons.

Beth Gebhart, executive director of Fund Development and LSMNJ Foundation, expressed her gratitude, “We are blessed to have so many organizations working together to help rebuild the communities impacted by the storm. I am amazed at how many different folks join us each “Hand in Hand” day to offer a helping hand to their neighbors.”

Assistant Disaster Recovery Coordinator, Alex Elefante describes the volunteers each month as selfless, enthusiastic, and determined. “They amaze me each time,” said Elefante. “The positive impact they have on the lives of those still affected by Superstorm Sandy, even if for a little while, is tremendous.”

The next “Hand in Hand” Sandy Service Day will be held, February 15. To sign up or learn more please contact Alex Elefante or visit https://www.lsmnj.org.