South Brunswick suffered mass damage and widespread power outages from Hurricane Sandy, but the hardships of our own community didn't distract residents from helping areas that suffered more substantial losses.
Monmouth Junction resident Lisa Rodgers, co-owner of Central Jersey Catering, decided on Monday that she wanted to take action after seeing the images of destruction throughout the state. She enlisted the help of LocalChatbox.com owner Suzanne O’Rourke for a quick donation drive, that soon morphed into so much more. The duo put out a to launch a supply drive in South Brunswick to aid those suffering from the storm.
"When I orginally thought of this, I said to my husband maybe we can use our garage to store the donations and he looked at me like I was on drugs," Rodgers said. "We thought of opening our homes, but we realized this might get big and we could get overwhelmed, so we decided to see if we can find a business to help us."
Rodgers had no idea at the time how right she was. O’Rourke then reached out to her business contacts and soon found a willing helper in Donnalynn Patakos, owner of the Family Karate Super Center on Ridge Road to host the drive. Which was a good thing, because before the three women knew it, a huge part of South Brunswick wanted to get involved.
Over the course of two and a half days, over 150 volunteers of all ages showed up to help collect, categorize, box and label 900 boxes worth of supplies donated by the South Brunswick community. That's not a typo. 900 boxes.
"We had so many volunteers showing up and people just kept coming in to donate," Rodgers said. "We had kids from (South Brunswick High School), the middle schools, and elementary schools all wanting to help. Kindergartners were making signs to put out on the street. The whole community really came together, both young and old."
After collecting about 90 boxes worth of supplies on the first day, the second day of the drive was non-stop, as supplies practically filled Family Karate from wall to wall.
"We just got a huge amount of stuff," Rodgers said. "We started to run out of space."
Rodgers worked said the group selected the Toms River distribution center for supplies to be donated to Ocean County and Monmouth County victims. The group also chose to donate supplies to Sayreville for victims who lost their homes.
"We chose those points because of the mass destruction," Rodgers said. "People might say why not donate to Bound Brook or New Brunswick. It's not that issues are less critical there, but it's the flooding that affected these other areas. These are homes off of their foundations. We wanted the efforts to go to people who truly didn't have homes anymore, or their homes are uninhabitable."
Rodgers said she was amazed at the generosity South Brunswick exhibited, as donations came in for items in desperate need such as diapers, formula, clothing, bleach, cleaning products, food, towels, sheets, pet supplies, shampoo and conditioner, toiletries, pillows, school supplies and much more.
The group also donated enough food to fill three van loads to the South Brunswick Food Pantry.
Soon the problem arose of how to move the enormous haul of supplies. Rodgers enlisted the help of South Brunswick Police Sgt. Jim Ryan, who found her a willing helper in GSR Masonry of Kendall Park owner Anthony Socio and Al Nardi, as well as Cleworth Air Conditioning owner Ernie Cleworth. Collectively the business owners offered a 28-foot hitch, six SUVs and other vehicles to help drive the supplies to the distribution areas in Toms River and Sayreville.
The businesses did this using their own time, gas, and money to support the cause, while taking time away from their own companies to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
"This just filled up their trucks. There was not one spot open," Rodgers said. "Those guys were amazing to help like that."
Nancy Asher-Shultz, Claudia Ryan, Amy Rusignuolo, and dozens upon dozens of other South Brunswick volunteers also spent hours doing whatever they could to help the drive.
"This has been an amazing experience," O'Rourke said. "Not only has it brought the South Brunswick community together, but it taught many young people a lesson about giving to those in need."
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