By Dave Rogers
---- — 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.
Alden Merrill will also be donating hundreds of pastries to the cause, Keenan said.
“There was no way I could do this alone,” said Keenan, who lives right on the Newbury/Newburyport line.
Keenan’s drive began Feb. 1, and will run until almost the end of the month. The original plan was to end the drive today, but the massive blizzard two weekends ago slowed donations to the point where Keenan said it made sense to extend the drive until Feb. 26. So far, about 600 items have been collected, according to Keenan.
“A lot of folks and businesses, too many to mention here, have shown support. I believe that with the extra week of collections, our community will make a strong statement of solidarity and support for those most affected by Sandy,” Keenan said.
Keenan added that although he considers the endeavor a tool drive, he stressed that other items are welcome.
“Whatever we can do to help out we will do. Basically, we’ll take anything down that will help them,” Keenan said.
Monetary donations can be mailed to: Turning Point For Sandy, P.O. Box 548, Newburyport, MA 01950. Tools and other supplies can be left at all Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank branches, Kelly’s True Value at the Route 1 traffic circle and Appliance Warehouse at the Seabrook traffic circle. If potential donors need tools or supplies picked up, or have any other questions, call Mike Keenan at 978-255-2696.