News Column

Using Facebook to Aid Recovery

Nov. 19, 2012

Kristi Funderburk

Long before power came back and water receded, a few New Jersey residents got to work rebuilding the Jersey Shore with a click of the mouse.

Each of them lives in a different town, but they share a love for life down the shore. When disaster threatened, they used Facebook to start volunteer groups, donation drives and other ways to help clean up and rebuild after superstorm Sandy.

Joe Driscoll, a 23-year-old Toms River man, is helping supply the groups that give to others by making connections and offering plenty of food, clothes and other needed items for families struggling after the storm.

Jackson resident Shannon Ruvelas, 34, is spearheading a massive cleaning and rebuilding effort with a team of volunteers and making an impact one house at a time.

And Michael DiGiacomo, 29, a West Milford man with a house on Long Beach Island, is helping organize volunteers and coming up with unusual fundraising ideas.

"My family was lucky. We're all in Toms River. We didn't even lose power, but some people really got hit hard, so we're trying the best we can to send some relief out," said Driscoll, who started the Rebuild the Jersey Shore Facebook page.

Rebuild the Jersey Shore, with more than 70,000 followers, works as a facilitator to help for churches, fire departments and other groups distribute what struggling residents need. Connections made online has helped Driscoll and his volunteers stock their Toms River headquarters with a plethora of items such as diapers, toothpaste, food and clothing that people really need, he said.

We Are Team Jersey started with friends of Ruvelas who brought more friends and volunteers and eventually created a massive team of willing helpers. Now, Ruvelas said, the team is 2,200 strong.

The team visits at least two houses each day, helping homeowners clear out wet or ruined furniture and appliances, rip up carpet and pull out drywall, Ruvelas said. They plan to return to the homes and help with rebuilding as well, she said.

Every minute of hard work pays off with every hug and every thank you, Ruvelas said.

"They smile and sometimes they cry and it's great." she said.

DiGiacomo's all-encompassing organization, Restore The Shore Benefit, quickly grew to 24,000 followers, which helped him in his effort to organizes resources so people can find temporary housing and supplies and volunteer efforts for on-site cleanups, he said.

The group also started a clothing line and is planning benefit concerts featuring New Jersey-based bands, DiGiacomo said. The group also is working with corporate sponsors to maximize their efforts, he said.

The massive response he got from starting the organization is helping rebuild the devastated Shore that much faster, DiGiacomo said.

"I'm not saying we'll be ready by next summer, but at least we can make a huge dent in the process," he said.

Source: (c)2012 Asbury Park Press (Neptune, N.J.) Distributed by MCT Information Services