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Sandy caravan makes quite an impression

By Soyia Ellison, Habitat for Humanity International copywriting services manager and volunteer caravan driver

Volunteers load tools and equipment into Habitat Mobile Response Units in Charlotte.

We set off Monday before the sun came up: 60-some Habitat staffers and volunteers in 24 brand-new Chevrolet vans, headed for New York and New Jersey neighborhoods devastated by Superstorm Sandy.

Rolling up I-85 North with a squad of motorcycle policemen flashing their blue lights alongside us, our caravan must have made quite an impression. And that was the idea.

As Sandy fades from public view, we don’t want people to forget the tens of thousands who lost their homes in the storm. They still need help — and will for months and years to come.

Help Habitat provide greater stability for more families in need.

These vans we’re riding in will play an important role in their recovery. Chevrolet donated the vehicles, valued at around $817,000. Lowe’s and the Robert Bosch Tool Corporation provided about $180,000 in tools and cash to transform them into rolling toolsheds.

In fact, our first official caravan stop was at a Lowe’s store in Charlotte, North Carolina, where employees had filled the parking lot with what store manager Paris Lytle estimated was about 3,000 items. There were circular saws. Reciprocating saws. Miter saws. Wheelbarrows and trash bags. Chainsaws and Dremels. Ladders and drills.

“It was very energizing and a lot of fun,” said Alan Adler, who works in GM’s communications office. (GM owns Chevrolet.) “Nobody stood around. It’s like everyone was in attack mode; if a pallet needed unloading, people would just dive in. I had a great time.”Our team, with help from volunteers and staff at Habitat Charlotte and the ReStore Support Group, loaded them all onto the vans.

So did Julie Knapp, a volunteer who signed up for the trip because she couldn’t go home to Ohio to see her family this Christmas. “I love it. It’s great to be able to do this and help people,” she said.

Kip Scheidler, Habitat’s senior director of global disaster response, said the holidays are the perfect time to lend a hand. Many of the storm’s first responders are heading back home, which can be a discouraging sight for the families left behind to rebuild their lives. “The fact that we’re going to be pulling in right before Christmas with all these tools and vans and a cadre of volunteers hopefully will keep people from feeling disheartened,” he said.

And when our group is gone, the vans will stay behind so that Habitat affiliates can continue rebuilding. “It isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon,” Scheidler said. “The affiliates are going to work on this recovery for years.”

First, though, we’ve got to get the vans to them.

As I write this, we’ve stopped at a hotel for the night. But we’ll be back on the road, bright and early, for what promises to be a long day.

New Jersey, here we come.

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Leigh Nofi wrote:

How do you pick who receives your help? My parents' home in Amityville, NY was devastated due to Sandy (whole first floor, basement, no working appliances, heat or hot water or electric downstairs). What they received from FEMA will never help them rebuild. They are retired and can not afford what it will cost to rebuild so they have made the painful decision to sell the house as is.

Shala Carlson wrote:

Leigh, please email for more information.

Chuck Hawley - ... wrote:

It sounds like y'all were headed to NY/NJ close to the same time I led our Habitat for Humanity Frederick County's team to Ocean Beach, NJ. We took our ReStore's 16' box truck loaded with about 4 tons of furniture, winter weather gear, tools and supplies and delivered to New Hope Church. While there, we bought materials and supplies for assisting in the rebuilding of the church. We are planning future trips on a monthly basis. Our team has been in New Orleans, LA; Jackson, Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, and Gulfport, MS; and Tuscaloosa, AL for a total of 13 weeks since March 2006. Thanks, Chuck Hawley - Volunteer & Disaster Relief Team Leader

Shala Carlson wrote:

Hi, Chuck, I've passed along your contact info to our Disaster Response team. Thanks for your efforts and thanks for sharing this news!

Ray Crompton wrote:

As chair of Habitat for Humanity in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, I am in awe of the support you guys get in the USA. 2011 was a big year for us when the biggest floods in 27 years hit our southeast corner of Queensland.
With limited resources, we were able to make a difference revitalising neighbourhoods. Habitat for Humanity Queensland is using a new structure to identify local housing needs for people on low incomes and will assess the best response to that need using the following services: building new homes for families to buy; renovating homes; repairing and maintaining existing homes (Brush with Kindness).
With the impact of the floods we will also be rebuilding neighbourhoods. These services could be available to community organisations at a discounted rate, on a case by case basis, to assist them in revitalising their premises. To support new and existing homeowners in maintaining their properties, we also offer homeowner education in collaboration with local community organisations.

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