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February 19, 2013

Lending a hand â€" and a tool â€" for Sandy

PI resident collecting for hurricane victims

PLUM ISLAND — As Plum Island deals with its own erosion problems, longtime resident Mike Keenan is urging people to pitch in for their coastal neighbors to the southwest.

Keenan is seeking donations of household tools and equipment for residents of Coney Island, N.Y., and Monmouth, N.J., who are still trying to bounce back after Hurricane Sandy devastated large swaths of the coastline down there in October;

He is looking for people to fill an almost 20-foot-long steel container at Plum Island Center with pick axes, rakes, fans, heaters and other items by the end of the month.

On March 1, Keenan and others will be carting the hundreds of items to New York and New Jersey and delivering them to those in need.

Keenan said he got the idea for the drive after he visited battered Union Beach, N.J., in mid-November, a few weeks after the mega-storm had struck the region. For three days, Keenan volunteered with clean-up efforts. He said what he saw was not only humbling, but awe-inspiring and motivational, with numerous examples of strangers helping each other.

In one instance, an enclave of Occupy supporters set up a kitchen right at a clean-up site and fed hundreds of people, including uniformed emergency responders and volunteers. The Occupy movement sprung in New York City in 2011 as a way to protest perceived inequality between how the richest Americans are treated compared to the rest of the nation. Based on the success of what was called Occupy Wall Street, splinter groups formed in cities across the country.

“What I saw down there was remarkable. The brotherhood I saw down there really stuck with me. It was probably one of the most significant things I’ve experienced in my life,” Keenan said.

Upon his return home, Keenan reached out to influential friends, including Peter Kelly of Kelly’s True Value in Newburyport, Newburyport Rotary Club president Liz Jutras and Turning Point president Geraldine Dorr. All three, and others, were instrumental in helping him set up collection stations and solve other logistical problems related to the drive.

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