MINGO JUNCTION - Seven local residents spent a weekend in Manahawkin, N.J., volunteering their services to Hurricane Sandy victims at Beach Haven West in late November and early December.
The reason for the three-and-a-half day trip came about through Pam Hashem of Columbus, a staff member of People Helping People: Ohio. Hashem said she know about the Special Tactics and Rescue Training program in Jefferson County operated by Frank Hoagland, CEO, and the work the group does.
"Just before Thanksgiving, when I was needing something to do after watching all the devastation with Hurricane Sandy, Hashem called to ask if we could be part of a team of 50 volunteers going into the New Jersey area for clean-up help," Hoagland said.
PROVIDE AID — Luke Hoagland, Josh Dudzik and Eric Bell, all Buckeye Local High School students, removed a boat dock that was pushed up against an older man’s home in New Jersey. The students were part of a local crew that traveled late last year to the Hurricane Sandy-damaged area to provided aid. - Contributed
Hashem had worked for U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta.
"Johnson had known about the (S.T.A.R.T.) program due to sending his staff to be trained at our Cool Springs facility outside of Mingo Junction and made mention of this to Hashem," he said.
"Hashem told about a 50-volunteer bus that would be departing from Columbus and asked if my trained crew at S.T.A.R.T. could be part of the team," Hoagland said. "My wife, Darla, and I included our son, Luke, a senior at Buckeye Local High School, along with his friends, Josh Dudzik and Eric Bell. And Darla's uncle, Tom Sutherland of Powell, went along on the 50-member bus. Ed Dudzik, classroom teacher and trainer at S.T.A.R.T. and Lee Hill were part of the local team as well."
Frank, Ed and Darla left on a Thursday, the day before the bus was departing, to give safety directions to the crew when they arrived at the site. Luke and his friends caught the bus in St. Clairsville and met up with the Hoaglands in New Jersey.
"It was a good experience for Luke to be helping there," his mother said. "You hear about the devastation, you see it on television but when you drive into that area it looks like a war zone. The residents greeted us with open arms. Frank wants to go back. Some homes need torn down."
"It was a scary situation at a home where an older woman was running a gas heater. When we entered, the smell of gas was strong and we had everyone get out of the area, turned off the gas to her house and waited for the fumes to go away. It was scary. If anyone had lit a match, a big area would have been gone," she said.
Hashem, the Ohio team leader, said, "As a political operative in Ohio, Hurricane Sandy left quite an impression on me, not only on the destruction it caused, but the realization that during the aftermath of disasters, everything becomes politicized. Working with the Ohio business and political community, I pulled together my resources to change that direction by leading Ohioans, who are not worried about political parties or labels and want to give back and help their fellow Americans. 'Ohio Gives' is about people helping people," she said.
"The team broke up to work and helped with the cleanup on 20 houses, but we made an impact on the entire community," Frank Hoagland said. "There was no complaining about the hard work from the group that ranged from teens to those in their 60s."
Ed Dudzik talked about the way the homes in Manahawkin were situated, with finger inlets of water throughout the area. "A big wave came across Manahawkin Bay and totally wiped out the front inlet of houses and made its way along the area, destroying others," he explained, pointing this out on a large map situated in the S.T.A.R.T. classroom.
"There were people coming in to give us great homemade soup and all kinds of food. We were there to help people - it wasn't about us but they were giving us things and thanking us," Dudzik said.
"There was debris along both sides of the streets that were quite narrow because of the trash. Dual tractor trailers with built-in scoops came along to remove it. No pick-up truck could handle all the debris," Dudzik said.
The team praised the help given by businesses, members of the Ohio Congressional delegation, former Navy SEALS, members of the Ohio General Assembly and students at Ohio State University.
"Many who could not go on the trip from OSU helped pack care packages to be given out," Darla Hoagland said. "They contained OSU fleece jackets, scarves, hats, gloves, flashlights, batteries and hand written notes of support from the OSU students.
"White Castle regional and district managers covered the fuel for the bus and rented a van and truck to carry supplies. Bob Evans supplied meals the entire time and we were housed about an hour from the site at a hotel," she said.
Darla Hoagland noted that Kathy Johnson, an employee of Home Depot in Columbus, took a sick day and decided at the last minute to come along on the volunteer trip. She was working at the store when Hashem stopped to pick up the items donated from Home Depot - shovels, tools, gloves, hand warmers, flashlights and such.
Upon arrival at the New Jersey site, they volunteers realized that there were not enough tools. A homeowner drove Johnson to a local Home Depot and she explained to the store manager about being an employee of Home Depot in Columbus and about the volunteer project. The store manager said, "Grab a cart and get what you need." She came out with $1,800 worth of tools to take back and hand out to the volunteers who went right to work.
"We talked to the people and handed out the care packages from OSU. People were so appreciative and some were crying," she said. "One person said they never liked Ohio State but will think of us now when they see them in sports," Darla said.
"These people need help right here in America. I would like to spread the word and hopefully get other people involved in helping the people of New Jersey. Frank is hoping to plan another trip there since we had so much interest from all our volunteers. The biggest challenge will be getting sponsors to cover the expenses to take our volunteers to Jersey. We have the people in the Buckeye State who want to help," she said.
"We want to get the word out to the Ohio Valley that if anyone is interested in volunteering and if there are businesses in the area that would sponsor another team of Buckeye volunteers, please contact me by e-mail at DarlaH@strt.us; or call (740) 278-8063.
Hoagland graduated from Buckeye North High School in 1982, enlisted in the Navy and became part of the SEALS in 1984, where he has remained deployed until 2011. He is an advance medical technician and teaches concealed carry weapons as part of the courses at the S.T.A.R.T. facility. This is where the snipers in the "Jack Reacher" movie, with Tom Cruise, came to learn how to handle the weapons in the movie.
Cruise wasn't there but Rosmund Pike, Jai Courtney, Joe Sekora and David Oyelowoc, members of the cast, were on the shooting range at S.T.A.R.T.