Mike Dunlea said when he first went to help Joe Mangino clear his property after Sandy neither imagined how their project would take on a life of its own and turn into Stafford Teachers And Residents Together or S.T.A.R.T.
During a presentation at last Tuesday’s Stafford Township Council meeting, Dunlea said to date S.T.A.R.T.'s nearly 2,000 volunteers had logged more than 10,000 hours clearing 700 homes in Beach Haven West.
Based on the average charges being quoted for clean ups after the storm, Dunlea estimates the group saved affected residents a total of $2.5M.
Now that most of the clean ups are finished, S.T.A.R.T. is beginning to help people rebuild their homes, said Mangino. Several projects are already underway with more planned, he added.
The group is now seeking volunteers with construction and renovation skills. “We need plumbers, electricians and others who can not only help out, but teach other volunteers the basics of hanging sheetrock and other skills,” he said.
Mangino said the local Home Depot and others are donating much of the supplies and materials being used.
The group attracted national attention via their Facebook page, cross postings and shares, media coverage and articles on various teacher and education groups' websites like the New Jersey and National Education Associations. Dunlea is a Stafford teacher and Mangino’s wife works in the school system.
“We had volunteers, many teachers, come in from around the state and farther,” Dunlea said. They also received many donations from school districts, including $2500 in gift cards from teachers in Biloxi, MS. They said they remembered the generosity of the residents of New Jersey after Hurricane Katrina, he added. “Those cards made Christmas happen for five familes who lost everything in Sandy,” said Dunlea.
In addition, other local groups like Stafford First, the Beach Haven West Civic Association and local “Bucket Brigade” worked in concert with S.T.A.R.T. to get the job done. “We could also count on the township’s Storm Relief Center. We would call them and tell them what we needed and they would say ‘Come get it,’ or, ‘We will get it for you,’” said Mangino.
After the presentation, Councilwoman Lori Wyrsch pointed out the S.T.A.R.T. volunteers did a lot more behind the scenes, like transporting people to the hospital or doctor’s appointments. They also prepared, served and delivered hot meals out of the township’s community center on Jennings Road.
Administrator James Moran also noted the volunteer hours that were documented by the township will earn the municipality a credit with FEMA when a final accounting for the cost of Sandy is made.
“We documented 12,900 volunteer hours from various groups. Even if FEMA only allows us $10 an hour, that is still a significant savings for the township,” he said.
Those looking to donate, volunteer or want more information can visit the S.T.A.R.T. Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/staffordteachersandresidentstogether or call: Joe Mangino at 908-783-2050 or Mike Dunlea at 609-488-0513.
“The one mistake we made was putting our personal cell phone numbers on the page and flyers,” joked Dunlea. “But they are still working,” he added.