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How Hoboken Pulled Through, One Volunteer at a Time

Looking back at Hoboken's volunteers during and after Superstorm Sandy.

Walking through the now empty hallways of the Hoboken High School, it’s difficult to imagine that only two weeks ago the floors were covered with supplies, clothes and other donations.

Where students now walk back and forth at all hours of the day, the halls were filled with hundreds of volunteers from Hoboken and beyond during Sandy and its aftermath.

The same is true for the cafeteria. To the students it’s just where they eat lunch.

For Hoboken’s volunteers, it was the epicenter of donations and supplies. Walls of water crates and boxes of diapers have all disappeared. The people who made up the make shift assembly line that quickly got all the donations onto amphibious trucks are back at work.

Downtown, the same can be said for City Hall.

The benches in council chambers have been placed in its neat order, facing the dais. Two weeks ago it was the epicenter of volunteering. Hundreds of people stood in line, dropped off water and batteries.

hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers walked through Hoboken in groups. Climbed on trucks. Knocked on doors. Delivered goods.

“We wanted to help the community,” said Elena Virgadamo, who had been trapped in her own apartment for two days after Sandy. After getting out, she and her husband went to City Hall, from where they were sent to the high school.

“There are a lot of people,” said Virgadamo, who has lived in Hoboken for three years.

After 13 years in Hoboken, Sean Kingston said he wanted to do “anything to help.” Kingston, 36, together with Marian Sideco, 31, had driven up from Central Jersey with a car full of baby supplies to donate.

Looking around, at long lines of volunteers and people dropping off supplies, Kingston said he was happy but not surprised to see Hoboken come together like that.

“People step up in times like this,” Kingston said. “I don’t expect less from the people here.”   

At any given moment, there were at least 200 people at work in the high school during the immediate aftermath of the storm.

That, of course, doesn’t include food trucks that came into town to serve free food.

It doesn’t include the cooks who served more than 3.000 hot meals at the Elks Club.  It doesn’t include the groups of Stevens Institute of Technology Students who manned the hotline during the height of the storm.

Nor does it include the various religious institutions in town who sent people all over to help residents clean their properties and cars.

Samantha Reisman, 30, who has lived in Hoboken for three and a half years had come to the High School not exactly knowing what to expect. “I have no power, no hot water, I have nothing better to do than help out,” she said.

But once she got there, she was impressed with the full fledged operation that had sprung up.

“Now we’re a team,” Reisman said. “It’s really exciting.”

Outside — handing out water, food and diapers — former Hobokenites Kevin Sheurs, 29 and Jeff Mahmood, 29, had come in from New York City to help.

“We used to live here,” Sheurs said, looking to do a good deed.

Mahmood agreed. And while happy to help out, he said he was shocked to see the shape Hoboken was in.

“It’s sad,” Mahmood said. “Everything is at a standstill.”

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