Miles from home, Flagler students provide relief to Hurricane-ravaged Northeast

By Sarah Williamson |
Photos by Sarah Williamson

Temperatures are below freezing in the Northeast and 500,000 people are still without power due to Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. Thousands of residents in New Jersey and New York are displaced, having lost their homes and access to basic resources that we all take for granted.

Colleen Keener, 21, a Flagler College student from Belmar, New Jersey, couldn’t sit back and look at photos of the damage any longer.

“Right after, it was a really helpless feeling being away … you can’t do anything when everyone there needs you most. I tried to think what I could do here,” Keener said.

Keener took action, rented a 17-foot U-hall with the help of Jacksonville’s Harvest Mission and set up a relief drive at the Flagler campus on Nov. 5.

“I literally put this together in a few days. It’s so great to see our school come together because so many of us are from New York or New Jersey and whether our homes are damaged or not we all know someone,” Keener said.

Molly Falcetano, 23, attended the relief drive wearing a shirt from Donovan’s, her favorite bar in Sea Bright, NJ. Sea Bright was wiped off the grid and Falcetano hopes her favorite hang out spot is rebuilt.

“That’s my childhood. Those are my beaches. My beach club [is gone]. Everything is gone but the big pool. The lobby is missing. I’ve been going there since I was nine. The beach club I went to before [that] is turned on its side,” Falcetano said, while showing photos of the demolished club on her cell phone.

Tristin Joynt, 21, a senior from Seaside Heights, New Jersey, has not been home in a year. Joynt’s dad, a pastor, has turned his church into a shelter.

“My dad said it’s so much worse than it seems to be. They just got power yesterday. I think he was comparing it to Katrina,” Joynt said.

As the fall semester is in its last few weeks, New Jersey students share anxiety about going home.

“Seeing pictures, it hasn’t hit me. That’s not my home. To go back and see that. To actually experience what it’s like. It’ll hit me when I see it in person, but I’m dreading that moment,” Falcetano said.

Meghan King, 23, is from Breezy Point, Queens, where nearly 100 homes burned to the ground. She drove home the day after Sandy hit, accompanied by two Flagler students from Rockaway Beach, NY.

According to King, about 60 percent of Breezy Point residents chose to stay in their homes, but as water rushed in and fires ensued, many were rescued throughout the night. King’s home was still intact only five blocks away from the roaring flames. During the storm, her parents went to the top floor, stayed there and clung to each other the entire night, King said.

“I am not too emotional,” King explained. “I didn’t cry about any of this until I heard my dad’s restaurant was gone. I spent my childhood there with my dad working. I’ve worked there my whole life.”

King spent her trip removing debris from both inside and outside of their home. Photos taken by King displayed dozens of blackened foundations, a home that had moved into the middle of the street, her parents kissing in the front yard and a sign on her front door written by her father saying, “Come in if I’m not here, light grill and make coffee or tea. Water in kettle. If you loot, we shoot.”

The community of Breezy Point is extremely close and they will get through this, King said, adding they will rebuild.

As the relief drive ended shortly after 5 p.m., many Flagler students joined Keener to help load the truck parked in front of the West Lawn.

“We can’t do much from down here, and I’m sure a lot of us feel helpless, but if we can bring some sort of small comfort, then that’s incredible,” Keener said, before driving the now full U-Hall back to her home in St. Augustine Beach.

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