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Outpouring of gratitude accompanies students home from relief efforts in Staten Island

They never expected to see such utter destruction – mile upon mile of houses damaged – thousands of lives forever altered by Superstorm Sandy. Yet amidst the belongings piled at the curb, there were tears of thanks and hugs of gratitude for the Misericordia University students who did what they could to help. 

As many as 50 students and nine vans filled with relief aid made their way to Staten Island and other hard-hit areas of the mid-Atlantic coast throughout November 2012 carrying out the Misericordia-led missions of Mercy. Campus Ministry directed the efforts and served as a collection site for donations from the campus and local community

A network television interview with alumnus Danny McKeefrey ‘07, a New York City Police Department officer, whose immediate family and much of his extended family lost everything in the Breezy Point flooding and fire, inspired the first wave of MU relief. Members of the men’s lacrosse team filled a van with relief supplies and delivered it to McKeefrey’s neighborhood within one week of the historic storm.

A second group of students, accompanied by alumna Megan Franz ’12, Bethlehem, Pa., departed on Nov. 9 with another van filled with donations for the Staten Island neighborhood of alumna Andrea Brognano ‘11, whose house was spared, but where many others were destroyed.

A third group, comprised of members of the Cougar’s swim team, filled seven vans with relief items and headed out the following weekend.

“Many members of our campus family were impacted by that horrific disaster,” says Christine Somers, D.Min., M.S.W., director of Campus Ministry at Misericordia University. “A large part of the mission of Mercy at Misericordia is reaching out in support of those in need. There is no greater need than those who have lost everything, including the basic necessities of electricity, heat and permanent shelter.”

The items the students took with them included everything from socks, baby items and canned food, to heavy-duty garbage bags, bottled water and batteries. 

Student Irene Donnelly ‘14, Olyphant, Pa., was born in Pennsylvania, but was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., and has family throughout the region. The scene she found on arrival was so much worse than what she had seen on television or ever imagined. “These were streets I used to walk on, but they were hardly recognizable,” Donnelly says. “Some of the homes were covered as if in swamp lands. At others, I could see the water line on the second level – way above my head.”

Everywhere she and the other students went, safety was a hug concern. “As you entered, you were either sliding from the mud on the floor or holding your nose from the stench of mold,” Donnelly adds. “We had to be careful of what we touched due to the ruptured gas lines, downed power lines and broken glass, as well as the ongoing search for bodies. At the time, they were still uncertain of the number of lives lost to Sandy.”

Donnelly says that despite their turmoil, the residents were constantly concerned about the welfare of the volunteers, and repeated over and over how extremely thankful they were for the assistance. “One homeowner lost everything on his ground floor and the only remaining item there was a conga drum, which I proceeded to play. He slowly approached me and said, ‘I give lessons.’ We both laughed, but I noticed he had tears in his eyes as he talked about how he used to play,” she says.

The feeling of disbelief among the students was common. “I was not expecting to see what we saw … mounds of debris, walls, furniture, clothes and possessions piled in front of every house,” admits Caroline Landen ’15, Bridgewater, N.J. “We saw houses burned to the ground and cars completely smashed. It was such an utterly sad sight. One of the homeowners came out on the street to thank us and she gave me a hug. I felt so sad that her entire life was being thrown out the window and her home was completely destroyed. She said that she could not express in words how much our help meant to her.”

Emily Kudlacik ’15, a nursing major from Parsippany, N.J., shares similar sentiments. “I was expecting to help families clean up outside damage and I did not realize how many of them lost everything in their homes. It was heartbreaking to witness. I will never forget what I saw and the emotion in the people's eyes when we were able to help.” 

“What stood out the most to me was the sorrow of the people and their thankfulness that a little bit of weight was lifted off them because we were there,” adds Alexandra Graham ’15, an elementary education major from Madison, N.J. “We ripped out stoves, refrigerators, removed furniture, tore down walls and threw away damaged items. We would find items such as heart-shaped watches, movies and pictures. You could see the people’s regret and unwillingness to throw all these items away.

“Our group definitely saw what they were feeling and it willed us to help as many families as we could. I will always keep the memories of what our group did and all the thanks that we received from these victims.” 


Caption 1:
Members of the Misericordia University family who took a van filled with supplies and spent a weekend working in hurricane–ravaged Staten Island, are, from left: Irene Donnelly ’14, Kellyann Gough ’15, Chester, N.Y., Emily Kudlacik ’15, Parsippany, N.J., Alexandra Graham ’15, Caroline Landen ’15, Jim Miller ’11, ’14, and alumna Megan Franz ’12

Caption 2:
Misericordia University students Emily Kudlacik ’15, and Alexandra Graham ’15, take on the task of gutting a home in Superstorm Sandy-ravaged Staten Island.

Caption 3:
Misericordia University students Jim Miller ’11, ’14, Caroline Landen ’15, and Emily Kudlacik ’15, take a break from their recovery efforts following Superstorm Sandy.

Caption 4:
Misericordia University students joined forces with members of the local Rescue 1 Fire Department in Staten Island during the clean-up efforts. Shown in the photo are Emily Kudlacik ’15, Kellyann Gough ’15, Caroline Landen ’15, Alexandra Graham ’15, Jim Miller ’11, ’14; Megan Franz ’12 and Irene Donnelly ’14

Caption 5:
Misericordia University occupational therapy graduate Megan Franz ’12, and student Jim Miller ’11, ’14, wear protective masks and gloves as they rip down the walls of a home in hurricane-damaged Staten Island, N.Y.