There's something about being driven home through flood waters by National Guard troops in a Humvee that opens a person's heart.
Three woman who grew up in town and have enjoyed the beach all their lives have organized a cleanup effort Sunday that mau draw several hundred volunteers, organizers said.
Lindsey Morton, Katie Boland and Kelly Niznansky got the idea for the effort from seeing the wrecked furniture and ruined possessions that have piled up since the Oct. 29 storm in front of damaged houses. Kelly and her mother, Kathy, were driven back to Kathy's house on Penfield Road three days after the storm by the military unit deployed in their neighborhood after they failed to get through in a kayak.
The women used social media, particularly Facebook, to get the word out about Sunday's cleanup.
"We grew up in Fairfield and we were looking to do something to help the victims living near the beach," Morton said. "It seemed that everyone wanted to help those affected, but were having trouble finding a way to do so. We decided to name the date, time and place and the response was immediate."
Since the Facebook page was created last Sunday more than 600 people have said they will help with some or all of the seven-hour effort. Volunteers are to meet at 9:30 a.m. Sunday in the Jennings Beach parking lot to organize the cleanup, assign teams to particular houses or stretches of beach.
The Fairfield beach area was ripped apart by Superstorm Sandy. On Friday, the town's Board of Finance toured the area.
The destruction viewed by the finance board members was what motivated people to plan the cleanup day.
Kathy Niznansky said Friday that she didn't cry when Tropical Storm Irene damaged her Penfield Road home last year, or when she first saw the extensive damage to her home from Sandy. But she was overcome with pride at the efforts her daughter and her daughter's friends are making.
An eighth-grade history teacher at Tomlinson Middle School, Niznansky hasn't returned to her classroom since Sandy hit. Instead, she is dealing with insurance companies, federal officials and contractors as she prepares to rebuild her home for a second time.
"But at least I have a home. Some of my neighbors have lost everything," she said. "I'm amazed at how quickly this cleanup came together. It's all over the school system, too."
Morton said the effort will focus on the outside of the damaged homes, and that volunteers will be provided with the tools and materials to do yard work and gardening.
"The other aspect of our event is that we will be collecting supplies necessary for clean up," she said. "Supplies can be donated for those residents living by the beach affected by the storm as well as approximately 300 Fairfield University students who are now currently without housing."
Morton said in an email: "We will have volunteers organizing the collection at the Jennings Park site that day. Lastly, Operation Hope will be on site to collect non-perishable food items,"
More than a 100 Fairfield University students and alumni, who created a separate Facebook group to round up volunteers, will also be participating.
The cleanup is drawing support from the Fairfield police, who have helped organizers to access the storm-damaged areas, and several civic groups including the Junior League, the Keystone Club, and the Wakeman Boys and Girls Club will pitch in, Morton said.
Organizers are still seeking donations from businesses for materials and supplies, and food and water for the volunteers.
Halley Ciglia, a social worker at Fairfield Warde High School, said that work gloves, rubber gloves, masks, wheelbarrows, large leaf bags and rakes are needed. Children and teens who want to volunteer are welcome, Ciglia said in an e-mail, but they must be accompanied by an adult.
Meanwhile, many Fairfield residents and others along the state's shoreline have been applying for federal aid to assist with rebuilding their homes and lives.
The number of applications for disaster relief after Superstorm Sandy will most likely surpass those filed after last year's Tropical Storm Irene, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Friday.
The governor, speaking during a conference call from his office with state and local officials as well as Chamber of Commerce members from throughout Connecticut, said 948 businesses and 3,832 homeowners have now applied for help from the Small Business Administration.
That compares to 5,654 homeowners and 1,321 businesses that sought assistance over a much-longer period of time following the August, 2011 storm.
"This is certainly going to surpass our prior storm," Malloy said. "By quite a bit. We want to make sure no one loses an opportunity to use these benefits."
The conference call focused on the needs of companies, which through the Small Business Administration are eligible for low-interest loans up to $2 million, even if they did not sustain physical damage. Lost sales and revenue are included, said Karen Mills, SBA administrator.
"We are in a position to speedily turn these things around," she said.
Information on the disaster aid is available through the SBA at 1-800-659-2955 or on the web at SBA.gov\sandy
For information on the Fairfield beach cleanup, go to: https://www.facebook.com/events/110820039079922