By Michele J. Kuhn
RED BANK – What began as a small group of friends and colleagues getting together to help their neighbors has grown in less than one week’s time to something they hope will become a national, perhaps an international, relief agency.
It was Thursday, Nov. 1 when Mike Hernandez, owner of Sounds to Go at 21 E. Front St., got together with David Cruse, Luke Ditella, Melissa Dilger, Anthony Setaro and Ashley George and decided that they needed to help those around them recover from the devastation that hit the area in the form of Super Storm Sandy.
By Tuesday, they had accepted mountains of donations and dispatched them to the hard-hit areas where warm clothing, water, food, toiletries, pet food and other items were most needed.
The group’s founders have deemed the effort “Rebuild, Recover.” They are working on their network of friends and contacts in the music business and other areas of entertainment to gather supplies and support. Several fundraisers were being planned.
Tuesday afternoon, the group was preparing to post its first public service announcement from Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, Ditella said.
“It’s getting bigger and bigger each day. It’s gone far beyond what we could imagine,” said Hernandez, who called it “an eye-opening experience.”
“Basically, it started with the six of us wanting to bring supplies where they were needed,” Ditella said. “After the first three hours, it grew to 40 volunteers … Every day it has grown about 1,000 percent. Now celebrities and large corporations are contacting us to send things.
“That instinct for humans to help one another isn’t as gone as people think it is,” he said.
They also have gone in less than a week from making large truckload drops of donated goods to a more pinpointed system of getting specifically needed goods to specific groups of people or individuals. They have outfitted people, who have requested certain sizes, with clothing, including a man who was photographed carrying his few belongings out of Sea Bright immediately following the storm. His photo was on the cover of the Nov. 2 edition of the Two River TimesTM, Hernandez said.
A sign on the business’ huge windows, affixed to the glass with bright blue tape, says “Hurricane Relief Donations Accepted Here.”
The operation is set up in the Sounds to Go storefront on East Front Street. Since it opened, a steady stream of cars has pulled up to the curb. The donors are met by a greeter on the sidewalk and volunteers quickly unload the vehicle. The items are brought into the store, sorted in the front by another crew and then packaged in black plastic bags for immediate distribution by volunteers with trucks or cars.
They are being assisted by the Surfers Environmental Alliance, Clean Ocean Action and scores of young volunteers who contact different area social service agencies, emergency management offices and other organizations to see what those who have lost their homes and livelihoods need. They also have partnered with Move for Hunger.
The front reception desk of Sounds to Go is populated by people with laptops who were spreading the word about the effort and enlisting the aid of those who can help through social media.
The use of social media has been an important tool to assist in letting people know about Rebuild, Recover. The founders have received messages from across the country, as far as Hawaii, and around the world from Australia.
The founders are continuing to help those in the region but also are looking forward to widening their reach and eventually establishing a national or even global relief operation.
They hope to become a registered nonprofit charitable organization.
“When your heart is in the right place, this is what can happen,” Ditella said.