The year of the volunteer
How Hudson County chipped in through a stormy 2012
by Amanda Palasciano
Reporter staff writer
Dec 30, 2012 | 4258 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HELPING OUT – Signs around Hoboken during Hurricane Sandy offered coffee and power to neighbors.
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If there was ever a year to volunteer, 2012 was it.

With communities ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, various fires, and a poor economy, many local residents were in need. But the tragedies showed the creative ways in which people were willing to help – through grass-roots fundraising efforts, donating electricity to neighbors, and well-organized door-to-door volunteering.

Hurricane response

In Jersey City, the Jersey City Homeless Advocacy Group (who refer to themselves as JCHAG) helps the homeless year-round by providing food, blankets, and other resources to the homeless in and around Journal Square. Before Hurricane Sandy even hit, the “Hags” used the phone lines trying to put a plan in place for those without shelter. They were able to organize busses to take the homeless to shelters before the storm.
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Jersey City Sandy Recovery (JCSR) collected more than $250,000 in food and supplies.
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Sandy also spawned an outpouring of help amongst neighbors.

Jersey City Sandy Recovery (JCSR) collected more than $250,000 in food and supplies from 44 states and seven countries over a period of five weeks. JCSR distributed the donations to close to 2,500 needy families and individuals. Their volunteers also collected enough debris to fill 30 dumpsters. While operating out of the historic Barrow Mansion, they published a recovery resource called the “Daily Sandy.”

In Hoboken, residents of two Hoboken streets that never lost power set up an entire block of resources for their community. The blocks around Eleventh and Garden streets were lined with tables that offered hot coffee, water, power strips turned into charging stations, and even scrambled eggs. The efforts caught on in many neighborhoods, and those with generators also began to string power out of their doors.

Volunteers from throughout the city, including many students from the Stevens Institute of Technology, contributed to a well-oiled machine run out of City Hall that brought prescriptions to seniors, knocked on doors of people living alone, and posted emergency information during the blackout.

A train of hope rolled in for Hoboken and Bayonne all the way from Louisiana. Train of Hope 2012 was founded in November by Donna O’Daniels, CEO of the Tourist and Convention Commission for St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana, and Kim Bergeron, director of Cultural and Public Affairs for Slidell, La., in an effort to pay it forward after Hurricane Katrina. The efforts were coordinated on this end by Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, Hoboken City Council members Tim Occhipinti and Beth Mason, and other Hoboken city officials.

Mason also provided a generator and food at her uptown headquarters during the storm’s aftermath.

Aid to the homeless

In April, around 20 Union City High School Alternative Design Academy (ADA) students served up hot meals like seasoned restaurateurs to nearly 100 homeless guests who had come to the Palisades Emergency Residency Corp (P.E.R.C.) shelter on 36th Street in that city.

Chalkfest was held in July in Jersey City. Chalkfest is a sidewalk chalk art festival featuring the children of The Nurturing Place, a child development center for the homeless and homeless-transitioned children. The center is part of the York Street Project and focuses on children ages 4 months to 6 years old. Approximately 75 children participate in the event. This year, the event was held at Exchange Place Plaza. The goal is to raise awareness to foot traffic of 500-plus lunchtime patrons and encourage them to get involved with the project, directly or in their workplace.

Library and YMCA

Various groups, agencies, and facilities hosted their own fundraisers as well.

The Friends of the Hoboken Public Library ran their annual “Novel Night” at 20 residents’ homes. In the annual event, people gather at Hoboken homes to eat and talk about a book. The evening culminates with a party at a central location. The event raised money for structural repairs to the Hoboken Public Library, specifically the antiquated entryway.

Hoboken’s YMCA closed more than two years ago due to a lack of funds, but is adding 76 additional affordable housing units and is undergoing renovations.

The affordable housing project has been ongoing for some time and funded mostly by tax credits, but the tax credits were not enough to complete the project. A Spring Gala Benefit was held in late March at Liberty House Restaurant in Jersey City.

Medical efforts

In September, Waterside Restaurant in North Bergen was transformed into a Vegas-style casino and raised thousands of dollars for Palisades Medical Center. The PMC Auxiliary, a team of dedicated volunteers, organized the event alongside coordinator of Casino Night, Dennis Whitley. Proceeds went to programs at the hospital, which serves a population of 400,000 in Hudson and southern Bergen counties.

In Secaucus, resident Fred Vogel, raised close to $9,000 in June for Little People of America. Vogel’s brother Mark, New Jersey’s smallest firefighter, passed away 11 years ago. Vogel coordinated the annual event in his brother’s honor and helped pass a resolution that would recognize the month of October as Dwarfism Awareness Month.

Another Secaucus family story involved a mom, Janet Tavarez, who launched the Son-Rise program for her son Lucas, who was diagnosed with severe Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Dysfunction at 20 months. Tavarez successfully recruited a number of volunteers this year to help with the program.

Over $11,000 was raised at “Fiesta Night Benefit Dinner,” a fund-raiser held for North Bergen Detective Carlos Sanz-Batista. Batista was recently diagnosed with stage IIIB gastric cancer. The cancer turned out to be inoperable and resulted in the removal of his stomach and spleen. The township of North Bergen honored Batista at the Nutrition Center and the district held a “Dress Down Day” on top of the benefit dinner to help pay for his medical expenses.

The second annual Secaucus Community Ball was held in October, which drew more than 500 people to benefit Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center. The event was sponsored by the town of Secaucus, Hartz Mountain Industries, and the K&S Social and Athletic Club.

Amanda Palasciano may be reached at amandap@hudsonreporter.com.

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