Doris Camangian was still in tears when she pulled up to thank the volunteers from Operation OHIO that has just cleaned out and gutted her storm-ravaged Weaver Drive home in Beach Haven West.
“I just had to come by and thank every one of them from the bottom of my heart,” said Camangian, who had driven down with her husband. She said she had no idea what the eldery couple would be able to do themselves once they got here.
When she saw that her neighbor, Joanna Connley, who has been coordinating volunteer clean up efforts for the past month, had arranged for her house to be included, Camangian said she could not stop crying.
Retired Navy Seal Frank Hoagland, who was coordinating and dispatching the Operation OHIO teams, said this reaction was all the thanks he and his volunteers needed. “I spent 22 years in the military all over the world. Now I get a chance to help out my own country,” he said.
In all, the group tackled around a dozen homes in the seven hours they were on the ground, carrying out furniture, ripping up carpeting and doing whatever else needed to be done. One volunteer proudly proclaimed she was ready for anything after tearing up some sub-flooring.
Running the operation in true military fashion, Hoagland established his FOB, (Forward Operations Base) at Connely’s home. The team of 47 volunteers from around Ohio had all undergone a safety briefing at the hotel the night before. They were also issued tools and protective gear like gloves and masks.
His wife, Darla, was his “Operations Officer” as well as Transportation Officer - driving crews from site to site in their pick up.
They had set up their base camp up at the Marriott in Mount Laurel after coming in by bus of Friday. Meals were provided by the nearby Bob Evans restaurant for the group that consisted of Ohio State students, retirees, construction trade professionals and legislative aides among others.
Organizers Pam Hashem and Jessica Stepleton had set to work long before the bus rolled out of the Buckeye State, lining up sponsors that included Ohio State University, Abecrombie and Fitch, Walmart, Home Depot, Bed, Bath and Beyond and members of the Ohio Legislature.
Tom Sutherland, of Powell, OH, said his congressman Bill Johnson (6th-OH) had recruited Hoagland. “Frank’s now putting us to work, and we are glad to do it,” he said.
In addition to lots of muscle and positive energy, the group also came bearing gifts. One hundred and fifty relief packages - each containing a handwritten letter from an Ohio State student - were packed in insulated baskets from the OSU Medical Center. Each contained a hat, gloves, scarf, warm socks, fleece jacket, laundry bag and assorted toiletries.
The packages were dropped off at the Stafford Township Hurricane Relief Center at 775 East Bay Ave. for distribution.
Back at FOB, Connely had arranged for a donated White Castle lunch for the volunteers, which also included a group of firefighters from Wayne and local residents.
For most of the Buckeyes, their first “slider” experience was a positive one as they dug into the cases of burgers and chicken sandwiches, which were prepared and shipped down from the chain's Toms River location.
An added treat there were the cupcakes decorated with American flags baked and passed out by Marydiane Russo, also of Weaver Drive. She had also brought over a large bowl of homemade chili and endless pots of coffee to help out.
Looking over the scene, Hoagland said, “I don’t think the military could duplicate this effort any better.”
Conelly said she will keep the clean up and house gutting effort going as long as it is needed. In addition, her employers are working on the application for her Beach Haven West Community Association to become a 501-3c non-profit organization so that they can continue with relief and rebuilding efforts.
For more information visit the group’s Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.