Hurricane Sandy didn’t just claim homes, lives and livelihoods – for many it also claimed their memories and treasured personal items. Today (Wednesday) and for days, weeks, months and likely years ahead precious mementos and family photos will be found miles away from the homes where they were left before the superstorm. As the cleanup efforts continue, personal items are being picked up, dusted off, and handed over to the several volunteer groups working to reunite them with their very grateful owners.
The vonunteer-run Facebook groups Hurricane Sandy’s Lost Treasures and For Shore popped up in the days after Sandy when it became clear items were scattered pretty much everywhere. With social media playing an active role in the relief, recovery, and rebuilding efforts the groups are adding success stories by the day.
Shannon Swift and Holly Sprick started Hurricane Sandy’s Lost Treasures and have been involved in countless heartwarming reunions. They helped photos of a man who died just two months before the storm find their way back to the man’s family just in time for Thanksgiving. They coordinated a reunion between a woman and her missing canoe only to learn the wayward boat had saved a man and his dog’s life during its journey in the storm. “I found a yellow fiberglass canoe the day after the storm. It floated by the first aid station. I have it safe and sound and would love to find the owner. It saved my life!” John Basile posted to Hurricane Sandy’s Lost Treasures Facebook page calling the canoe a God-send. Not long after Basile posted the picture, the owner recognized her boat and claimed it. “It’s my canoe….I told my neighbor who stayed to take it if he needed it. I’m so glad that it helped someone out,” Jackie Presti said.
The Facebook page For Shore is focusing specifically on returning lost photos with their owners. “We have set up repositories all along the shore or they can just post (pictures) on the site or they can take a pic of it with their smart phones and post it,” Jeannie Esti who started the volunteer group tells rootshed.com. In just one example of how the site’s working, a scanned shot of a little girl’s artwork posted on For Shore was recognized by the child’s mother and the two were reconnected. “Her daughter wrote a poem and drew a picture and though it wasn’t a photo it touched me so much I posted it and she found it with us! Insert sob!!” Esti says. It’s just one of the many success stories the volunteers at For Shore have been a part of.
For many people, the treasures and photos that are found and returned are the only pieces they have left of their pre-Sandy lives. That’s the case for the St Elisabeth’s Chapel-by-the-Sea in Ortley Beach. Built it 1885, the chapel survived the storms of 1962 and 1992 unscathed, but Hurricane Sandy was a different story entirely. “Our little chapel was flattened and its contents were spread out over quite a wide area,” Dennis Bellars, Senior Warden of St. Elisabeth’s Chapel tells rootshed.com. But weeks after the storm, a wall plaque recognizing parishioners for their service and dedication to the chapel was picked up miles away. With the help of Hurricane Sandy’s Lost Treasures and the highly popular and informative Facebook page Jersey Shore Hurricane News, the plaque found its way back home. “The plaque floated across the bay and was found on Green Island,” Bellars says. “The young woman who found the plaque posted it on both sites and information about the recovery went to two different people who are active in the chapel.” While it’s just a small piece of the chapel, Bellars says members of the church couldn’t be happier to have it back. “Because the chapel and its contents are completely gone, we are ecstatic that we have SOMETHING from the building. Some of our parishioners had tears in their eyes when they were told that something had been found and was being returned to us.”
Bellars and his congregation are also hoping someone will find and return the St. Elisabeth’s Chapel church bell. “We had a brass bell that came from a ship that ran aground in the 1880’s. We rang it every Sunday. It is among the many, many items that are gone.” Bellars is confident more items from the historic church will be located and he asks those who find any items of religious nature to contact the church.
Both For Shore and Hurricane Sandy’s Lost Treasures vow to continue their mission to reunite owners with their memories and mementos in the weeks and months after Sandy. Both sites allow users to post photos and descriptions of items they’ve lost, items they’ve found, and also check out the growing list of treasures and photos that have made their way back to their owners.
Resources for Sandy Victims who’ve lost and found items:
- For Shore on Facebook
- Hurricane Sandy’s Lost Treasures on Facebook
- Jersey Shore Hurricane News on Facebook