Community Leader Who Emerged After Sandy Heads to Storm-Torn Texas

START Co-founder Joe Mangino Brings Donations and Experience to Victims of Hurricane Harvey this week.
Sep 06, 2017
Courtesy of: Joe Mangino Beach Haven West’s Joe Mangino (left) and Frank Luna, district chief of staff for Congressman Tom MacArthur, on a pit stop while traveling to Texas for Hurricane Harvey relief.

It was the rain that did Houston in. Last week, when Hurricane Harvey stalled out over Texas, dropping record rains on Houston, the images of folks wading through towns and coming to the realization that the floodwaters had destroyed their homes were all too familiar to those in Southern Ocean County. When Superstorm Sandy hit five years ago this October, it was the rising ocean and bay that destroyed so many homes.

Salt or fresh water, it doesn’t really matter.

But for each memory of devastation, there was also a memory of resilience, and of the locals who stepped up, despite their own losses, to organize an epic rebuilding of our communities. Among those were Beach Haven West power washer and softball coach Joe Mangino.

Few in our area will forget his leading armies of volunteers with crowbars, Sawzalls and face masks into heroic battles against mold growing in storm-ravaged homes. He co-founded START, Stafford Teachers And Residents Together, and was able to mobilize labor where officials had their hands tied. Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora noted how much those efforts helped the area in recovery.

In the last five years, Mangino has taken a role with the New Jersey Organizing Project, which has fought for legislation to get Sandy victims the kind of help they needed from the state. He also recently was elected to the Stafford Township School District Board of Education. Last week, he revved up the old START engine, teamed up with the Stafford Township Recreation Department and went to work on a donation drive.

“It was the same volunteers. I put the word out, and these people knew what to do,” said Mangino.

Then, while the rest of the region was sleeping in on their Labor Day Monday off, Mangino started driving a box truck to Texas.

“We know what they’re going through down there,” Mangino said while driving through the South. “Texans are hurricane savvy, but this is the first time they’ve experienced this magnitude. They have no idea about the obstacles from crooked contractors to dealing with insurance companies. They’re going to be dealing with this for years.”

It took Mangino, his wife and two daughters several years and several moves to navigate the RREM Program, get their house lifted and get back into their home for good. In that time, he has become something of an expert in catastrophe aftermaths.

The donation drive asked that people donate personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies and demolition gear, much of what was needed after Sandy. START was emphatic about keeping it to necessities, so as not to make extra work for Houston volunteers by having to sort and get rid of useless items.

“They don’t need prom dresses and ski jackets right now,” said Mangino, “and everyone stuck to the list.”

He also reported nearly $4,000 in donated gift cards.

Mangino was traveling with Frank Luna, a native of Waretown who lives in Bradley Beach. Luna, district chief of staff for Congressman Tom MacArthur (R-NJ-3) was himself displaced after Sandy. He is known for being an outspoken, real-life figure willing to engage in dialogue with both sides of the political aisle.

“Joe and I were texting last week,” Luna said. “He asked if I knew anyone with a box truck. And he also needed a co-pilot.

“What I like about Joe is that we both have a backpack and a sleeping bag. He’s going to do whatever the hell is needed.”

Luna remarked that it is reminiscent of Sandy in that so many people are coming together from around the country to help.

“Whether we wind up working in a soup kitchen, cutting out Sheetrock or unloading trucks, I’m looking forward to getting started,” he said.

“We’re going to go down there and show them what we’ve learned about grassroots movements,” said Mangino. “It’s about helping the helpers so they can go back out there and make a difference. We learned so much. They may not know that it’s better to be staying in your own home if it’s gutted but livable, than in a hotel 50 miles away.”

Many areas outside the immediate city have been underserved thus far, including the coast where Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 mph (by comparison, Sandy’s top sustained winds were 80 mph), barged slightly inland, and then barely moved for five days of downpours.

The pair’s first scheduled stop is at La Porte, Texas, outside Houston, on Trinity Bay, meeting with a contact that Stafford Recreation recommended. From there, they were headed to Fort Arthur, which is closer to the Louisiana border.

What Mangino became particularly known for was his effectiveness. START wasn’t a for-profit or government agency that had to work around a lot of red tape. He is looking to apply those same tactics where Harvey did its worst and encourage Texans to do the same.

“We’re going into the hardest-hit regions and the low-income areas where supplies are going to be limited. We’re going to hit the ground running and get tools into the hands of people who need them,” he said.

Mangino was also planning to make contacts and keep up with those on the ground after he returns to New Jersey. He feels he can be a help farther down the line when they have questions, and even mentioned a toy drive around the holidays.

Texas will take years to recover from Harvey, but if a few of the leaders who emerged in our community following Sandy are there, the road may not be as long and hard for some.

— Jon Coen

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