A Project to Heal Wounds From Two Tragedies Named Sandy
Firefighters and gift shop owners are teaming up to raise funds to rebuild a playground in Ocean City and name it after a Sandy Hook massacre victim.
The project focuses on rebuilding playgrounds that were destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, while tying in a tribute to the teachers and children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn.
Almost seven years ago, the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association had rebuilt three playgrounds that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Their work came full circle when in December 2012, after Hurricane Sandy, the local volunteer firefighters of Gulfshore communities in Monmouth County, Mississippi, gathered and sent 1,000 wrapped Christmas toys to New Jersey.
At about the same time, the nation was struck with the news of Sandy Hook. The New Jersey FMBA began to think of how they could help, while continuing to help the Hurricane Sandy victims. Over a few days, the FMBA thought back to the project from Hurricane Katrina, and the thanks they had received from Mississippi.
The idea of “The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play” was born.
The group would rebuild playgrounds in devastated areas in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Taking it one step further, they would honor the Sandy Hook victims by building 20 for the lost students and six for the lost teachers. Ten playgrounds in New Jersey, 10 in New York and six in Connecticut are on the list to be rebuilt.
“Twenty-six playgrounds all along the coast of three states built by firefighters, police officers, teachers and support staff, and volunteers in an attempt to connect two tragedies that eerily share the same name in a way that people can never forget,” says the Sandy Ground Project website. “Perhaps each playground can reflect the personality of the teacher or child for whom it would be named. A project that would only be done with the approval of the families of those lost.”
As the state FMBA moved along with plans, the Ocean City Firemen's Mutual Benevolent Association Local 27, joined in. The family of Benjamin Wheeler requested that a playground in Ocean City be restored. Wheeler was a 6-year-old first-grader killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.
“In our community, we did not have destruction as bad with playgrounds and overall from Sandy,” FMBA Local 27 President John Murphy said. “After I got a phone call from the FMBA president Bill Laven, our thought was to switch the locations of the 29th Street firehouse and the 29th Street playground. It would be a win-win situation”
The 29th Street firehouse was damageed by Hurricane Sandy and is currently not in use to house firefighters. While the equipment and vehicles are still being housed there, the firemen are across the street in a condo. The city has not yet decided what to do with the building, or if the locations of the playground and station will be switched.
Each playground will take about one week to build with $70,000 to $75,000 of material. The work would be completed entirely by volunteers with the help of construction companies.
“Each playground is named in honor of an individual, but it’s dedicated to children of violence everywhere,” Murphy said.
So far the following 9 projects are planned.
- 10 East Ocean Avenue, Sea Bright, NJ – Start Date Friday, March 1 (Opening Ceremony 6:30am) – In Memory Of: Anne Marie Murphy
- Scholer Park, Union Beach, NJ – In Memory Of: Jack Pinto
- Father Capadanno Blvd, Midland Beach, Staten Island, NY – In Memory Of: Catherine Hubbard
- Westport, CT – In Memory Of: Dylan Hockley
- Normandy Beach, NJ – In Memory Of: Chase Kowalski
- Rockaway, NY – In Memory Of: Noah Pozner
- Ocean City, NJ – In Memory Of: Benjamin Wheeler
- Stratford, CT – In Memory Of: Victoria Soto
- Mystic Seaport, CT – In Memory Of: Dawn Hochsprung
The large project is estimated to cost between $1.8 and $2 million, and teams all across the East Coast have begun to work together in raising funds to see this project get going.
This is where sister stores Old Salt and Sting Ray come in — owners Holly Buck and Stacey Klause thought of the best product to raise money.
"When the hurricane hit, I had a two-week-old baby, the store had 16 inches of water and the community did such a great job with helping each other. There was such a nice sense of community," Buck said. "When the shooting happened, it was reallly just overwhelming to me. I have a child in kindergarten, and I felt compelled that I had to do something to help. For a business owner of two stores and having three kids, what on Earth could I do?"
That's when Buck got the idea of selling a plaque memoralizing a few of the playgrounds. It's made of recycled barnboard and screen-printed with UV ink. The regular beach-themed item was one of the most populars in the stores anyway, so she went forward with getting approvals. Everything quickly fell into place, and she's proud of that.
"These families are honored and it's so spectacular. The whole project shows there is more purpose in life than a day-to-day routine. I get very emotional because this is such just a wonderful feeling to live in a wonderful area. We are going to be able to help out a family in Connecticut, far away while showing and teaching our children at the same time."
“Firemen help out, it’s what we do,” Murphy said. “It started after the storm when we were able to have a walking tour of the most damaged areas and we just directed people to different resources. We are not just firefighters; we give back to the communities, and what better way to give back but to help from the storm and honor the memories of these children.”