Desolate streets, broken sewer lines, and driveways piled high with debris. This was the scene that Princeton students encountered upon arriving on New Jersey’s Long Beach Island last weekend.
The island, which was recently reopened to evacuated homeowners, was one of the areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. Princeton students, organized by the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, were among the first volunteers in the area.
More than 60 students arrived on Saturday and Sunday, going from door to door and offering help. Students did everything from ripping out Sheetrock and clearing debris to making a list of supplies requested by residents.
“Our group of volunteers were very enthusiastic and eager to get dirty, work hard, and reach people who really needed help,” said Jennifer Bornkamp, a physics faculty assistant who led a team of Princeton students. “When part of our group heard from several LBI residents [who had fared better] that there was a trailer park just south of Beach Haven that was hit particularly hard, the volunteers doggedly try to get to that area, even though they were turned away twice by the National Guard and police who informed them that access to the area was still limited to residents only.”
For students, it was encouraging to see that recovery was already well underway by the time they arrived. Even residents who did not need help were grateful to see the student volunteers.
“Though the reconstruction of homes will require time and effort, the people, at least some of the ones we met, seemed to be inspirited and welcoming, which really encouraged me,” senior Ryan Kang, who also led a team, said in an email.
A retiree who used to work in the Princeton Environmental Institute and now lives on Long Beach Island said that when she saw the familiar TigerTransit bus carrying the volunteers, she “got all excited.” Another homeowner remarked that his friend’s expression changed upon seeing the students. “That’s the first smile I’ve seen from him all day,” he said.
The volunteer trip to Long Beach Island is part of a larger student-led Sandy relief initiative. Over the past two weeks, students at the Pace Center have canvassed in dorms to collect donated supplies, organized a blood drive with the Red Cross, and prepared sandwiches for food banks and the Salvation Army.