Anne-Marie D’Onofrio has seen her fair share of hurricanes.
During an 11-year stint in Kill Devil Hills, a city on an island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, more than a few storms blew through town. One dumped enough water on the entire island – a foot – that she recalls people kayaking down the highway.
“I’ve seen what it’s like,” said D’Onofrio, who now lives in Philadelphia. “I know that it’s a lot to deal with and sometimes it’s hard to get the supplies that are needed.”
So, when the Germantown resident saw the destruction that Hurricane Sandy left behind in New Jersey, she leaped into action. Knowing how important direct goods and services can be, she turned to the Weavers Way Co-op in Mt. Airy for support.
“I know how connected they are to the community and they have a way to reach thousands of people,” said D’ Onofrio, a member of the food market. “I thought I could go to them and get somebody interested in providing space to put items and reach into our community.”
All hands on deck
D’Onofrio’s intuitions were on target. Within days of proposing the idea to officials at Weavers Way, a donation drive was set up.
Storage space was carved out of the market’s administrative offices at 555 Carpenter Lane. A delivery truck and even some paid staff members were also enlisted to help.
Weavers Way additionally allowed members to work off their yearly volunteer hours by manning the donation drive.
Each member of Weavers Way has the option of completing six hours of volunteer work each year. It is not required.
All members were notified that they could donate or volunteer to help via email and sent a list of approved items that D’Onofrio and membership coordinator Beau Bibeau found were most needed.
The response was immediate.
“I was [outside of Weavers Way] from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. that first Sunday [Oct. 11] when we were getting the word out,” said D’Onofrio. “I saw some of the people come back and they’d already gone to the store and gotten items that we needed.”
A command center is born
Last Friday, the last day of the donation drive, the administrative offices at Weavers Way transformed into a command center, with four volunteers sorting and boxing donations brought in at steady intervals.
The front half of the room was piled to the ceiling with labeled boxes – food supplies and blankets, for example – while tables with empty boxes lined a wall.
Paula Paul, a member volunteering to complete her work requirement, said the six hours she spent volunteering were heartwarming.
“It’s amazing to see what people are bringing out of their closets and basements,” she said. “I hope it’ll get to the people who need them.”
Paul decided to spend her work hours organizing donations instead of her usual assignments, packaging dry goods or working in the bakery, because she wanted to help her neighbors to the east.
“We’re so close, and yet things are so different here,” she said. “[In Philadelphia], we can go to the movies and eat dinner out and get ready for Thanksgiving. We’re a couple hours away both ways, New York and New Jersey, and people are suffering or lost their homes.”
A donation with a personal touch
Among the din of drive-related chatter and the loud sound of duct tape being pulled across cardboard boxes was a woman quietly knitting in the corner.
“I feel like I’m in sort of like a Santa’s workshop,” said C.L. Reinhard, glancing up from her knitting. “All [of] these people and so many people bringing stuff in and good stuff.”
Reinhard, a cooperative member, said when she heard about the donation drive, she began knitting a multi-color blanket with hopes of finishing it and donating it on the last day. She’d been sitting in the makeshift donation center for the past three hours to finish the task.
She also took time to write a note to go with the blanket.
“To the recipient of this blanket,” it read. “I hope you know that this blanket was made with love and gratitude and I hope you can feel the warmth with which I made it. I made this especially for you, whoever you are.”
Later in the evening, Reinhard’s blanket, along with the rest of the boxes, filled up about half of the 22-by-eight foot long Weavers Way truck scheduled to leave for the Garden State the next morning at 8 a.m.
The struggle continues
Throughout the week-long process, Bibeau said her and D’Onofrio were unsure as to where the donations were going, though Bibeau said the original target was Manasquan, a shore town in Monmouth County.
“The needs have been changing every day,” Bibeau said. “Some of the other sites have all of the donations they can handle.”
Sure enough, at 8 a.m. just before the truck left, Bibeau made an impromptu location switch. Supplies would now go to the New Jersey Shore Dream Center in Belmar, a donation distribution center not far from Manasquan. It was just starting up that day.
“It’s common to get calls at the last minute for both supplies and volunteers,” said Dawn Deluca, a Bronx resident who took the train down to Belmar to start up the distribution center. “My phone number went on the web around 12 o’clock yesterday and the phone has not stopped ringing.”
Deluca, who stayed with a host family for about a week, said she got involved because she was thankful to have her home and health in-tact after Sandy. Some of her fellow New Yorkers were not as fortunate.
“There’s not a picture in the world that can actually bring to mind what has happened down here [in New Jersey] and happened in the New York City, Long Island area,” she said.
Volunteers still needed
It took the five Weavers Way volunteers and five or so volunteers in New Jersey, including Deluca, about a half-hour to clear out the donation truck and pile all of the boxes into—and almost completely fill up—a four-room office space.
Going forward, Deluca said the best thing to do is donate goods—not money—so help can get to those in need faster.
Time is also a good donation, she said, as many New Jersey residents need help getting their homes in order so they don’t end up having expensive damage issues down the road.
“It’s a struggle because you want to help everybody and you want to do everything you can for everybody. But you can’t as one person,” said Deluca.