Justin Eckilson clears out a garage with other Saint Anselm students during a recent trip to New Jersey to help homeowners affected by Hurricane Sandy. (COURTESY)
St. Anselm College groups help areas affected by Hurricane Sandy
GOFFSTOWN - While most New Englanders have moved on since Hurricane Sandy's departure, those hit hardest in New Jersey and New York are still struggling to rebuild, and students at St. Anselm College recently visited the area to lend a hand.
According to a press release issued by the college, the Office of Campus Ministry organized two weekend service trips, including one to Manahawkin, N.J., where 17 students worked with a nonprofit volunteer organization, Jersey Cares, from Nov. 16 to 18.
Twenty-two students traveled to New York from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 to work with Gerristen Beach Cares in Brooklyn and Staten Island Recovers in Staten Island.
Student leaders from the campus organization Service and Solidarity led the weekend trips, which included 11 Knights of Columbus and a staff member.
One of those students, Justin Eckilson, a junior from Woonsocket, R.I., said the group did a lot of work with homeowners on Long Beach Island, N.J., helping them remove everything from drywall to appliances to personal items before some of the homes were razed.
"A lot of the houses along the water were ripped down to the beams," he said.
Eckilson said students weren't prepared for the level of devastation they witnessed just a few hundred miles from home, as they came upon cars that had been slammed into homes, houses filled with mud and debris that littered the entire area.
"There was a lot of structural damage," he said.
But what may have surprised the students even more was the attitude of the homeowners.
"You'd think the residents would have been discouraged, but they just said, it is what it is, and set about their plans to re-build," Eckilson said.
Residents welcomed the students with open arms and continually expressed their appreciation, Eckilson said, even making sure they were fed while they were there.
"They were so thrilled to have us, and so surprised at how far we'd come to help them," Sarah Haigh, a senior nursing major, said.
The trip gave students some perspective as well, Haigh said.
"We were very humbled," she said, noting that students were happy to have missed a day of classes because of the storm.
"A tree that had fallen on campus was the big to-do for us, but two weeks later, I'm driving through Holgate looking at all of the damage, and everybody in the van was just silent," Haigh said.
Haigh said the students formed a bond with the residents in the area and were even invited to come back during the summer to see the area restored.
Haigh said the students are exchanging Christmas cards with some of the homeowners they met and were glad to lend a hand.
"Doing service is always a great feeling, but these people were so heartbroken about their homes," she said. "It was nice to be a little shining light for them."