RebuildRecover co-founder Mike Hernandez surrounded by donated materiel in the organization’s initial home: his Sounds to Go DJ office on East Front Street in Red Bank. (Click to enlarge)


Eight weeks after the hurricane, a grassroots effort to provide necessities to residents of neighborhoods damaged by Sandy is still going strong, and plans to morph into a permanent relief operation, its founders say.

Created by six twentysomething friends who wanted to provide aid on their own terms, Red Bank-based RebuildRecover quickly became one of the Shore area’s most visible and influential nonprofit charities, attracting the attention of The Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who lives in town, and hundreds of lesser-known donors.

“After three days of working with another, really well-known charity organization that will not be named, my co-founders and I decided to take matters in our own hands,” said vice president David Cruse. The idea, he said, was to “create an organization that would provide those in need with direct, immediate help.”

Jon Stewart popped in on volunteers shortly after RebuildRecover set up shop. (Photo by Melissa Dilger. Click to enlarge)

Originating at Sounds to Go DJ, owned by RebuildRecover co-founder and president Mike Hernandez, the operation was designed to work personally with residents of storm-ravaged communities, providing food, shelter, clothes, amenities and occasionally even cash donations to those in need from Union Beach all the way to Atlantic City.

So far, the organization has raised more than $75,000. Board member Anthony Setaro, who also works at Sounds to Go, estimates that the organization has facilitated an additional $125,000 worth of aid through third parties.

“We like to think of ourselves as Facebook for real life,” Setaro joked. “We’re out there connecting people who need help with those who can give it at a large scale. We’re all about connections at this stage.”

Setaro describes the organization as in its third stage of the recovery process. Two weeks ago, it cleared all the donated supplies and food from its expansive warehouses, including one set up in a vacant car-rental shop on Shrewsbury Avenue, and has now switched focus from getting people back on their feet to getting them back in their homes.

“Most people don’t need bleach or soup anymore,” Setaro said. “They need sheetrock and wood.”

RebuildRecover is now using funds to buy supplies for reeling towns such as Sea Bright, as well as things like Home Depot gift cards, which towns dole out with help from charities like Habitat for Humanity and Sea Bright Rising. Measures are in place to guard against double-dipping, said Setara.

“It helps us make sure we get the money and supplies to the people who really need it,” he said.

The organization has garnered nationwide recognition from numerous national media outlets and also the attention of some very famous local fans.

“Jon Stewart stopped by about three days after we opened,” Setaro said. “He dropped off a van full of supplies, and shook everyone’s hand. He said we were doing ‘God’s work’ – and those are his own words. That was the moment where I think we all kind of stepped back and realized, wow, this is big.”

Stewart also sang the non-profit’s praises during his benefit appearance with Brian Williams at Count Basie Theater earlier this month.

“These young guys put together this group, and it sort of came up virally, and it was boots-on-the-ground, real change for people that needed it in a way that is incredibly inspirational to me,” he told a packed house.

Locally rooted rock phenoms Gaslight Anthem also stepped up to the plate for RebuildRecover, creating T-shirts to support them, and Jukebox Criminals headlined a benefit last week at the Downtown, where they raised $1,000 for their continuing cause through donations and a charity auction.

One thing Setaro emphasized was that RebuildRecover, though it still has a lot of work to do in its home state, will continue to grow and eventually be able to help victims of catastrophes nationwide.

“One reason we didn’t name our group ‘Rebuild the Shore,’ or ‘Recover NJ’ was because we plan on using our model to help out with future tragedies across the nation,” he said. “Blizzards, hurricanes – even something like the devastating shooting in Newtown. We want to be there to help.”