ANDOVER — When Hurricane Sandy destroyed neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey, a group of Andover moms immediately banded together and launched a grassroots drive for donations for families there.
“We thought we’d collect a couple of U-Haul trucks full,” said Diane Dillon.
In just days, the moms, aided by an army of all-ages volunteers and generous donors, have complied 30 tons of desperately-needed items as part of the “Sending Sunshine” campaign. Clothing, shoes, towels, blankets and more now fill 20,000-square-feet of donated warehouse space in Dundee Park at 3 Railroad St.
Day after day, hour after hour, people of all ages arrived with donations, some making repeated trips. And these donors live as close as in town but have also journeyed from around New England.
“A woman came from Wellesley and another from Waltham,” Dillon explained, saying they collected items at their own homes and then dropped them off in Andover. A Swampscott resident arrived daily with donations. A woman from Conway, N.H., drove down a full SUV. And a woman from Rockaway Beach, N.Y., who was displaced by the storm, came by and spent several hours sorting boxes.
People who have come to make donations stay and help sort the goods into Giant Moving boxes. In one area, 65 Giant boxes are packed with towels and blankets ready to be shipped south. Giant Movers and Bob’s Discount Furniture agreed to ship all the donations to New York and New Jersey.
“It is so rewarding to be involved in something we know will make such a difference,” said fellow ‘Sunshine’ mom Carlene Alpert. “People can make a difference. Just look at what people can do,” she said last night, while pointing out the thousands of items donated.
Dillon said at first they thought they’d just store the donations in somebody’s garage. But they quickly learned they’d need more space. She reached out to Mark Harrington at Harrington Moving and Storage. He had open warehouse space in Dundee Park and immediately turned over the key to Dillon.
“When Diane told me what her plans were, I was more than happy to give her the space,” Harrington said. “I am not only blown away by the amount of clothes and supplies they have collected, but the teams of volunteers that have spent their days bagging, boxing and labeling is truly inspiring.”
Dillon, Alpert and hundreds of other volunteers including Lyndsay Dowd, Tom McLaughlin, Irene Farmer, Susan Ros and Lynette Cavanaugh spent 15 hours daily organizing and labeling each items. Hundreds of children also lent their helping hands, energetically running up and downstairs in the warehouse (which has no elevator).
“Everyone wanted to give,” Alpert said.
“Sending Sunshine” wrapped up the bulk of donation collection at 8 last night. Today, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., you can still donate children’s medicines, liquid allergy medication, mops, brooms and cleaning supplies and kids snack foods.
“The outpouring of love and support has been breathtaking,” Alpert said.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.