|Stafford Township PTA members Trudy Frericks and another volunteer remove wet carpet from a home.
One look at a Google satellite image of Beach Haven West, and you’ll understand how the homes there were particularly hard hit. Nearly every home in this 4,000-resident community is on a lagoon. Over 90 percent of the homes suffered major damage according to Stafford Township Education Association member Michael Dunlea. Dunlea is a second-grade teacher at Ocean Acres Elementary School in Stafford Township and a former Ocean County Teacher of the Year.
While his home in Manahawkin came through the storm in good shape, Dunlea knew that many of his colleagues, students, and neighbors were not so lucky. He turned to Facebook in search of others who wanted to pitch in.
“Many teachers are off next week and want to help out the families of Stafford Township and the communities of Long Beach Island,” Dunlea posted. “If you know of anyone who needs help please contact me, and we will coordinate people to help.”
In no time, Dunlea had about 15 volunteers for their first day, Nov. 1, when they set to work cleaning out three homes.
From there it snowballed.
Each day, volunteers met on a designated street corner and cleaned the houses that were referred to them. Each day, the number of volunteers grew. Each day, the number of houses identified to clear of debris grew. Each day, the distances volunteers traveled from to help grew. Airmen from McGuire Air Force Base as well as residents from numerous states showed up to lend a hand and share expertise.
By that Saturday they had over 100 volunteers. By the next Saturday, they had 330 volunteers. Residents whose homes were cleared one day, volunteered to clear others the next day. Joe Mangino, whose wife Becky is a first-grade teacher in Stafford, split responsibilities with Dunlea for the overall project. The Manginos’ home had been one of the first three homes cleared.
|These are love letters written in 1962 from a husband to his wife. They are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this January. “This is the greatest loss we have come across,” Dunlea said. “All the furniture can be replaced but this is the stuff that puts the lump in your throat. Wedding albums, baby pictures, and family heirlooms are difficult to lose.”
“I got it up and running through the first weekend, and then Joe really assumed a major role running things,” Dunlea said.
As of press time, they have cleared over 400 homes of damaged contents. Dunlea estimates that a contractor would charge $2,500 per home, saving the residents of Beach Haven West and nearby communities over one million dollars.
Dunlea noted that the work that he, Mangino, his colleagues, and neighbors are doing is as much about lifting spirits as it is about clearing homes of debris.
“I read that after Hurricane Katrina many of the elderly became despondent and checked out of life,” he said. “We come upon homes where people are living among the ruins paralyzed by indecision. We’re finding these people and making sure to keep checking in on them.”
Now that Stafford schools have reopened, Dunlea works on the cleanup outside of school hours. Stafford resident Joe Mangino has taken over the day-to-day volunteer operations.
“Before Sandy hit I was a second grade teacher, and Joe was a small-business owner and fisheries biologist,” Dunlea said. “This has changed our lives.”