Hurricane Harvey Relief Trip Proves Tough for Local Resident

Oct 18, 2017

For Joe Mangino of Stafford Township, driving into Beaumont, Texas, with a truck full of donated goods in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey was tough. As he and his friend Frank Luna made their way through the water-logged southeastern Texas town, they were silent.

“I am happy I went, but it was a tough trip,” Mangino said of his 3,241-mile trip to hurricane-ravaged Texas last month with a 16-foot truck of donated supplies for those in need. “I didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer, so I tried to break things down for them into steps.”

As a co-founder of START, Stafford Teachers and Residents Together, a nonprofit that formed in the months following Superstorm Sandy nearly five years ago, he knows something about surviving the bureaucracy that comes in the wake of a natural disaster. Mangino also co-founded the New Jersey Organizing Project, which aims to activate, connect and train community members to participate in the decision-making processes that affect their daily lives, and take action for real solutions.

“I told them they need to have a say in the process,” he said during his presentation at the Oct. 11 Southern Ocean Chamber of Commerce pop-up meeting. “It’s the Bible Belt there; they already had 70 people mucking out houses.”

One of the toughest things about being there, Mangino said, was knowing a lot of the people had relocated to the area after surviving the devastating effect of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

A third of the supplies donated by Southern Ocean County residents went to LaPorte, Texas, a city of more than 33,000 people in Harris County, he said. The remaining supplies went to Kingwood, a planned community in northeast Houston.

Mangino, who likes to say Superstorm Sandy is the best thing that ever happened to him, said after volunteers showed up at his water-logged home in October 2012 to help gut it, he  became “addicted” to helping others.

“Your home is your safe place,” he said. “Sometimes you need to ask for help, and there is no shame in that.”

When word got out that he was planning a trip to Texas, some of the volunteers who helped him five years ago, many out-of-state, reached out and asked what they could do to help, Mangino said.

“Sometimes we need a disaster to remind us of the good,” he said.

Gina G. Scala

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