Hundreds of people lined up in front of the Ventnor Educational Community Complex on Saturday to welcome the buses from Livingston’s latest Stuff the Bus.
This edition of Stuff the Bus was geared towards helping the citizens of Ventnor, a shore community with a population of 10,650. The city suffered extensive damage during the Hurricane Sandy last month, leaving thousands without power.
The Livingston community was able to collect over two buses full of food and supplies to bring down to Ventnor. Joining the supplies were 14 volunteers, from the township and school district, eager to help unload the bus and hand supplies out.
“It was really great to help out and see people who needed things get what they needed,” said Spencer Silverman, a Livingston High School student who joined the bus to Ventnor.
The residents of Ventnor applauded as the bus pulled up to the complex. The residents and members of their school district then formed an assembly line with the Livingston volunteers to help unload the bus and fill up their cafeteria with supplies.
“Ventnor has always been one giant family,” said Linda Lee, an English teacher in the Ventnor school district. “This is great; we are just one giant nation of people helping each other.”
Some volunteers from Ventnor felt the need to help out, despite going through their own troubles. Sarahjane Hehre, a recent Atlantic City High School graduate, came back to Ventnor to volunteer, despite her home still being without heat and hot water.
“This is like an amazing movement,” said Hehre, who was at the event with her family. “I think we’re fortunate because some houses got destroyed. So we’re just happy to help.”
The donations were separated into multiple categories in the school cafeteria. Residents who needed supplies then lined up and took whatever they didn’t have at home.
“We have fallen on such hard times lately, we really needed this help,” said one Ventnor mother of three, who asked to remain anonymous. “Thank you Livingston for your generosity.”
Employees from the Livingston and Ventnor school districts collaborated to put together this event. Mark Boothby, President of the Ventnor City Educational Association, said around 90% of the teachers in the district came to help out, despite most living in other cities.
“This was an immense undertaking on your part,” Boothby said when he addressed the Livingston volunteers. “I can only imagine what you all went through and I need you to know just how appreciated your efforts were in this community.”
The bus, provided by Livingston Public Schools, picked up the food and supplies a day earlier, stopping at all nine schools in the district, Aquinas Academy, Temple Beth Shalom Preschool, Little Learners and Kushner Hebrew Academy and multiple businesses.
“It was really nice to see all the products we collected in school get transferred directly to the hands of residents,” said Jennifer Wu, a LHS student and the Student Government Association President.
The idea to go to Ventnor was suggested by Chris Bickel, who grew up in the town. Bickel said administration members of the district sat with him to decide where the latest Stuff the Bus could make the biggest difference. When they said they wanted it to help an “at-risk” community that had residents year-round, Bickel immediately thought of his childhood home.
“I’m overwhelmed by the amount of need and the amount we came with,” said Bickel. “It seems like we matched the need with what we brought and I’m really happy about that.”
In addition, food and supplies was also sent to C.H.O.W. Housed at St. Philomena’s Catholic Church, C.H.O.W, spearheaded by Sister Barbara Howard and a project of the Livingston Clergy Association, is open for families to pick up much needed food and supplies on a drop-in basis.
After the big haul in October, the organizers of C.H.O.W. thought there was enough food for the month of November. However, due to the storm, the shelves were emptied. They have since been filled.
Organizers, who put in countless hours to put together this event, said the payoff was well worth it. Alan Karpas, one of the volunteers on the trip, said this event was one of the most “unbelievable volunteer efforts” he had ever seen.
“I don’t know what to say, other than this was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” said Karpas.