Volunteers Become Heroes to Those Hit Hardest by Sandy

Three months after Superstorm Sandy clobbered the Northeast, volunteers play a key role in rebuilding. In New Jersey alone, 28,000 people help, some sacrificing their careers, others logging hundreds of miles and all becoming heroes to those hit hardest.

“When I first tried to come in to this house, it was like a hurricane hit inside the house,” said Alex Dionne, of Staten Island, N.Y.

Though down to the studs, the inside looks good compared to three months ago. Dionne, a city utility worker, looks forward to getting the walls up so he can move back home.

“Yeah, it’s coming together,” he said. “I never would have been this far especially without all the help of volunteers.”

Guyon Rescue, a small, local, non-profit group, coordinated the work.

“Once his heat is on, the electric works, the new subfloor is put in, the mold remediation’s been done, we could get his place insulated and sheet-rocked next week,” Derek Tabacco said.

Tabacco and his friends launched the grassroots effort within hours of the storm’s arrival. Tabacco works for a financial technology company during the day, then volunteers at Guyon Rescue at night.

A Staten Island native who now lives in Manhattan, Tabacco logs 115 miles per day between home, work and hard-hit Staten Island.

“My mom’s house was affected by the storm,” he said. “My brother’s house was affected by the storm.”

Almost two dozen people died on Staten Island, and hundreds of homes were lost. Some of the most severely damaged homes in the days following the storm are gone. But still there are tents manned by volunteers serving hot meals for those who still have no place to cook for themselves.

Across the region, non-profits like Guyon Rescue on Staten Island and Shores United Relief Foundation in New Jersey spread the word on social media sites, bridging crucial gaps in help that Sandy victims either have yet to receive or just can’t afford.

Ryan Kurek’s expertise is in marketing, but he’s put his career on hold to help his battered home state of New Jersey.

“I’ve dropped my real job to do this, because this is more important,” he said. “So there is no juggling. There’s just one ball in the air and it’s called Sandy.” 

On Staten Island, that same commitment gradually transforms Alex Dionne’s damaged shell back into a home.

“Without them, a lot of us would have walked away from the homes, myself included,” he said. “Because it’s just too devastating, too much destruction.”

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