PLUM ISLAND, MA - Mike Keenan, a 62-year-old disabled, retired veteran residing in the Newbury portion of Plum Island, Massachusetts, is on a mission to get tools that volunteers need to help rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy on the Jersey shore.
After the storm, “stories of inefficient responses, non-responding utilities, and people without shelter, medicine, and food were common. The sense I got was that there were significant areas where the people could not depend on their government to help them. Both FEMA and the Red Cross were singled out as ineffective, while a loose coalition of organizations and activists were recognized for reaching the victims, assessing their needs, and delivering the goods to those victims. This group became known as Occupy Sandy and they are still active today. Unrestrained by government red tape, field kitchens were set up in areas where people had no food, supply hubs were set up for the storage and distribution of medical, sanitation, cleaning, and other basic needs. The volunteers who spearheaded this effort were embraced by the local communities because they were accomplishing things that bureaucratic agencies could not. They were providing immediate care and comfort to those in need,” Keenan said.
On Friday, November 16, 2012, Keenan left Plum Island for Union Beach, New Jersey as a volunteer for Occupy Sandy. “I’d never been there before,” Keenan said. “But it was a seaside community much like mine, and they needed help.”
Keenan went to the Union Beach Fire Station where the Firehouse Grille and a supply station were set up on the fire department picnic grounds. The station itself had taken four feet of water, and could not house its trucks. It had been gutted because of mold, and its garage door destroyed by the flood.
There were three large tents for this kitchen, one for food prep and cooking, one for supplies, and the third served as a dining area. Behind that there were about thirty tents where the volunteers slept. There were two port-o-potties off to one side, with highway type lighting supported by trailer-mounted generators.
“It reminded me of a rear area in Vietnam,” Keenan said. “Except there were no hostilities.
“It was colorful and it was very cold. Throughout my stay, the nighttime temperatures were in the mid 20s. I slept in my truck.”
Every hour, new groups of police and firefighters converged on the Fireside Grille for their meals. “All were volunteers,” Keenan said, “who used their vacation time for the honor of helping their fellow man.
“It was an ironic and unanticipated sight to watch these idealistic activists who wanted to make the world a better place, serving food to uniformed but otherwise idealistic activists who were there for the same reason. A great deal of mutual respect flourished at the Fireside Grille, as did pride in being an American.”
Keenan spent his next two days bringing crews to cleanup sites, providing transport, and going on supply runs for the kitchen. “The devastation I witnessed would put the fear of God into almost anyone,” Keenan said, “but the brotherhood I experienced is my strongest memory.
“The people of Union Beach are decent working class Americans. They gave of themselves to help their community get through an incredible disaster. Life being as it is, the folks with money are tended to first, having their homes rebuilt and refurbished. Those without the financial resources have to wait. They stay with relatives, or in hotels, or in shelters. They want to work, and rebuild, but lack the tools. There are volunteers who are anxious to help, but the tools are in short supply.”
That’s where Keenan comes in with his Turning Point for Sandy Relief project. The Rotary Club of Newburyport, in association with Turning Point, Inc., will be conducting a drive for tools and supplies to assist the cleanup and reconstruction efforts from Hurricane Sandy. Collections will begin on Friday, February 1 and end on Tuesday, February 19.
Drop off sites include Kelly’s True Value, Newburyport Traffic Circle and Appliance Warehouse, Seabrook Traffic Circle for larger items such as shovels and rakes while smaller items will be accepted at all Newburyport Five Cent Bank locations. Monetary donations to help with transport expenses should be sent to “Turning Point For Sandy,” P.O. Box 548, Newburyport, MA 01950, a local 501(c)(3) non-profit agency.
Keenan is asking for used but serviceable tools to expand the cleanup and reconstruction effort. “There are hundreds of volunteers but a chronic shortage of tools is a problem,” Keenan said.
Keenan hopes to collect shovels, rakes, prybars, pickaxes, room heaters with sensors, dehumidifiers, generators, sealed goggles, work boots, OSHA P100 masks with filter replacements, Tyvek suits, hammers, safety glasses, flashlights, batteries, garbage bags, baby wipes, non-perishable foods, disposable aluminum serving trays, sterno, plastic cutlery, cups with lids, plastic glasses, and brooms.
“Sandy was as damaging to the East Coast as Katrina was to the Gulf Coast,” Keenan said, “With the added hardship of being followed by winter. Recovery will take years, and thousands of families, elderly, and disabled will remain displaced until repair and reconstruction occurs.”
In addition to the Rotary Club and Turning Point, support for the project has come from Appliance Warehouse, The Daily News, Kelly’s True Value, Minuteman Press, Newburyport High School Interact Club, Newburyport Five Cent Bank, Senator Bruce Tarr, Sherriff Frank Cousins Jr. and WNBP Radio.
A group of local, volunteer musicians will accompany the tools and supplies to New Jersey and will perform for the volunteers and residents as a good will gesture.
“I believe that my community has the resources and the ability to help out our American brothers and sisters in their time of need,” Keenan said. “I believe that we can help them, and that there will come a time when we will need them. So I ask my community to recycle our tools, so that the victims of Sandy can rebuild.”