UNION COUNTY, NJ — The devastation from Superstorm Sandy was still fresh in the minds of volunteers at Kean University as they packed donations for disaster relief in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“We all lived through Sandy, so we know how difficult it was,” Norma Bowe, a Kean professor who heads the Be the Change volunteer group, said. “And the pictures and the photos coming out of Texas are heartbreaking.”
Be the Change is a Kean-based group with more than 1,000 online members, including current students, alumni and others.
The group collected more than 10 large suitcases full of medicine and toiletry donations for a five-member team to distribute in Texas.
The team planned to fly out to Rockport, Texas, on Thursday, Sept. 14, with airfare paid for by Jonathan Steingraber, a Union Township High School alumnus, Bowe said.
Others throughout Union County are stepping up in big ways, too. Community FoodBank of NJ President and CEO Debra Vizzi said her organization is sending ready-made meals, water and monetary donations to Texas after Hurricane Harvey tore through the state in late August.
The Community FoodBank is part of a national network called Feeding America. Vizzi said the Community FoodBank was tapped to help out with disaster relief because of its experience with Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“I think the Community FoodBank is now being seen as a leader in disaster relief because we had experience,” Vizzi said in a recent phone interview.
Vizzi anticipates that her organization will also be called on to provide resources in the aftermath of Irma, which struck Florida last weekend as a Category 4 Hurricane.
Although food and water are necessary in the short term, Vizzi stressed that monetary donations to food banks and faith-based organizations in Texas will help in the longterm.
A list of those organizations can be found at www.cfbnj.org/general/hurricane-harvey-relief-efforts.
“Clearly when people are without homes or shelter their needs will change when they do get shelter,” Vizzi said.
Although Be the Change is not working with the Community FoodBank, the need for monetary donations hasn’t been overlooked by it either.
Be the Change collected nearly $3,000 in Visa gift cards, which the five-member team will be handing out as they travel to Florida for five days.
The team will consist of: David Teixeira, a former Army Ranger who currently teaches in Elizabeth; Lisa Athan, a grief specialist and executive director of Grief Speaks in Springfield; Linda Salcfas, an emergency management director in New Egypt; Jess Fernandez, a graduate social work student at Kean; and Bowe, who is a nurse.
“We are going to walk up and down the disastered street and hand out what people need,” Bowe said, adding that 100 percent of all donations will go directly to people in need.
About 15 members of the group became certified in FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team program, Bowe said.
A portion of donations from Be the Change also were stockpiled for those affected by Hurricane Irma in Florida.
About 35 volunteers showed up in Hennings Hall at Kean University to prepare and collect donations like diapers, baby formula, toiletries and medicine like Advil and Benadryl.
Representatives from Northfield Bank also dropped off a carload of donations, including cleaning supplies.
Some donations were sent to Union Beach, where a tractor trailer will be sending supplies from Be the Change and others to Texas, Bowe said.
It was, meanwhile, the memory of Superstorm Sandy and that spurred Be the Change volunteer Diana Calle to jump into action. She had heard about the event through one of her coworkers.
“Today it’s for them and tomorrow it’s for us,” said Calle, a Kean alumna. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
To learn more about Be the Change, follow the group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/78699077138/.