Montclair State Helps Out with Sandy Recovery

A team of Montclair State University volunteers stand before a pile of sand removed from inside a home in Sea Bright, New Jersey.

Hurricane Sandy had a devastating impact on New Jersey and although the state and municipalities are working hard to get things back to normal, the road to recovery will be a long and challenging process. Volunteers, including students, have been playing an important role in the recovery efforts around the state and the Montclair State University community has rolled up its sleeves and joined right in.

Spearheaded by the Center for Student Involvement and Service Learning and Community Engagement, the University has been involved in hurricane relief fundraisers, food and clothing collection drives, volunteering at food banks and helping out in community cleanup efforts.

In late November, 36 Montclair State students, faculty and staff traveled to Sea Bright, one of the hard-hit Jersey Shore communities, to help in a cleanup. Junior Danielle Knoeppel, who helped organize the students for the cleanup, worked seven summers at Sea Bright’s public beach so she knows the area and some of the people in the community. “It’s definitely the place that I wanted to help out,” she says.

Her former workplace is now completely gone, but Knoeppel was glad to be able to help out in the community. “The experience was amazing. Everyone was really thankful for what we did,” she says. “We cleaned out a woman’s house and she was so grateful…she gave us all a big hug!”

Also working on the cleanup was Krystal Woolston, assistant director of Service Learning and Community Engagement, who had grown up in the area and spent her summers in Sea Bright. She was shocked by what she saw: “Looking around has been heartbreaking,” she says. “My community was destroyed in so many ways—from where I had my first job, to my favorite sub shop, to the more upsetting reality of my family and friends’ homes destroyed. The bayshore that I knew and loved has been forever changed.”

The volunteers were divided into teams and were put to work removing sand from homes, decks, yards, and streets. “My group’s assignment was to help two homeowners clear the three to four feet of sand that had been blown into their homes and backyard,” says Woolston. “We worked through the entire day and finally finished our makeshift ‘sandcastle’ outside the homes for the sand to be filtered and returned to the beach.”

Woolston says the outpouring of support and the spirit of the volunteers has been both heartwarming and inspiring. “It restores your faith in humanity and America as a whole,” she says. “This storm has allowed us to grow stronger as communities and the sense of hope you get from being here leaves me with the thought that we're going to be okay and our shore will return better than ever.”