Every once in a while, social media spreads around something other than pictures of Willy Wonka or dogs in sunglasses. In the weeks after Hurricane Sandy, sites like Facebook and Nextdoor played a huge role in consolidating grass-roots relief efforts.
Janet Azevedo of the 200 block of S. Washington St. says that a full-size van and a pickup truck were filled with goods as a result of a posting on the Fells Prospect page of NextDoor.com, an social media platform for neighborhoods.
Azevedo has a friend who now lives in Towson, but came from the Toms River area of New Jersey, a place decimated by Sandy. The friend put out a call for stuff—toiletries, baby supplies, toys, clothes, diapers, etc.
“I put it on Nextdoor, and the response was overwhelming,” Azevedo says, even though Fell’s Prospect is relatively small—bordered on the east and west by Broadway and Patterson Park, and on the north and south by Pratt St. and Eastern Ave.
“I felt that it was incredibly heart-warming,” she says, adding that there is an informal collection for Thanksgiving goods also underway at the moment.
A similar thing happened when Canton resident Justin Lotano decided to do what he could to help.
Lotano was born and raised in Monmouth County, N.J. , another hard-hit area. In his own words, many of the places he had frequented as a youth—Seabright, Seaside Heights, Belmar, Toms River, Point Pleasant, Atlantic City—basically “no longer exist after Hurricane Sandy.”
Lotano says that he started by sending an email to his coworkers at his Ameriprise Financial office in Towson, then he reached out to his business contacts, and finally posted a status update on his Facebook page.
“From then, the whole idea really started growing,” he says.
A friend, Karin Schwartz, posted on the wall of her friend, Terri Harrington. Terri’s friend Marci Yankelov saw Karin’s post, and got the owners of Downtown Dog resort to open their future Canton site as a place to drop off and store donated goods. All that space and much more was needed.
“I think everyone was wanting to help, but just needed a platform to do it,” Lotano says.
“Something I really learned in the last two days—there’s way more good people in this world than bad!” said Yankelov.
Schwartz said that she was motivated to get involved after reading about the mother who lost her two sons, ages 2 and 4, on Staten Island. She knocked on doors for help, but was turned away, and her sons drowned.
“I have a 2-year-old boy, and it broke my heart,” said Schwartz. “What have we become when a young woman is at your door with her babies, she needs help, and you say no?”
Schwartz’s husband challenged her to do something constructive.
“We were going to drive a pickup truck up there,” she said.
But then she became aware of Lotano—the husband of her sister-in-law’s college friend—and his push for donations.
“It was like, ‘I was going to do this; you were going to do this—let’s see if we can fill up a UHaul,’” said Schwartz.
In the end, Lotano reports that four commercial moving trucks, a UHaul, a moving van, an SUV, and a car full of stuff all made their way to New Jersey.
Joyce Geipe, who owns Easy Movers with her husband, was one of the large contributors to the effort, donating labor, boxes, and a truck.
“It’s the right thing to do,” she said. “I fell that I’m blessed to have the means to help.”
Geipe had heard about the movement through Schwartz, who she knew as a fellow member of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
Walter’s Relocation also added a 26-foot moving truck to the effort, and Von Paris, another commercial mover, kicked in another truck and even reached out to the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles nearly filled another truck with their drive.
In addition to the future Downtown Dog Resort site in Canton, drop-off points were established at Engility and Healthplan Headquarters. Joel’s Auto Shop in Joppatowne and SAIC also did drives for the effort.
“It was the Baltimore business community coming together, in a way I’ve never seen happen,” said Schwartz.
Next up? Lotano says to watch for a Canton bar crawl to collect Christmas gifts and toys for the kids of New Jersey. Stay tuned.
by Erik Zygmont