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National Service and the Hurricane Sandy Recovery

by Greg Tucker

One year ago, Hurricane Sandy left a trail of destruction in its wake across six states, doing the most damage in heavily populated areas of New Jersey and New York. The recovery that followed – and even continues to this day -- required a massive response and thousands of national service members joined their fellow Americans to answer the call for help.

Two AmeriCorps NCCC alumni volunteering through NECHAMA empty a trash can filled with water-damaged debris while serving at a home in Atlantic City, NJ. (Corporation for National and Community Service photo)

Sandy led to 160 deaths, making it the deadliest hurricane to hit the United States since Katrina in 2005. Beyond those gruesome numbers were the $65 billion in property damage, not to mention the emotional toll the storm took on the survivors left to pick up the pieces of their destroyed homes, scattered memories, and shattered lives.

While no program can replace these losses, national service members, affiliates, and volunteers joined others from around the nation to help residents throughout the recovery process.

Immediately after the storm AmeriCorps members from around the country, including newly formed FEMA Corps units, mobilized to the northeastern United States to put boots on the ground and provide assistance to begin the relief effort as soon as possible. Additional national service members deployed to help with shelter operations, manage volunteer reception centers, staff call centers, and support emergency food pantries to the storm’s survivors.

AmeriCorps NCCC members work at the Red Cross call center in North Brunswick Township, NJ, to assist Hurricane Sandy survivors in December 2012 (Corporation for National and Community Service photo)

When cleanup efforts were allowed to begin, crews from across the country came to the East Coast to begin the hard work that needed to be done, helping residents muck and gut more than 3,700 homes damaged by the storm’s wind and flood waters. AmeriCorps VISTAs continue to serve local groups to build their capacity as they work to help residents get the information they need to rebuild and work through the recovery process. And AmeriCorps crews even worked at iconic landmarks, removing trash and storm debris from Ellis and Liberty islands to ensure that the Statue of Liberty could reopen in time for this summer’s 4th of July celebrations.

AmeriCorps members from the Washington Conservation Corps and AmeriCorps St. Louis remove debris from a home in Union Beach, NJ. (Corporation for National and Community Service Photo)All told, more than 3,800 Corporation for National and Community Service participants served in six states during the Hurricane Sandy recovery. Our members worked with national and local relief agencies to leverage the services of more than 30,000 volunteers who contributed millions of dollars in assistance. This service will continue as we honor our commitment to the recovery in New Jersey and New York as AmeriCorps members continue to serve in the hardest-hit areas.

And this work hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“I will tell you from traveling the state that what AmeriCorps volunteers did was not just the work that needed to be done -- and is still being done by AmeriCorps volunteers to get people back in their homes,” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service earlier this year. “… AmeriCorps volunteers lifted the spirits of the people of our state.”

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