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National Clothesline
Cleaners pitch in on post-Sandy
relief and recovery efforts
It lasted less than two weeks, yet the bleak destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy will not be forgotten anytime soon.
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Killing more than 130 people and wreaking over $63 billion in damages in the U.S. alone, the storm left Americans with indelible images of flooded subways, roller coasters submerged in the ocean and Atlantic City’s famous Boardwalk literally washed away.
But in time, the country was able to focus on positive acts of kindness, as well. People from all over contributed in whatever way they could to help provide some measure of relief for the millions who suffered personal damages. The hope that accompanied such generosity also proved unforgettable.
Many from the drycleaning industry felt compelled to play a small role in the recovery efforts.
A California-based project united 17 drycleaners from across the country to donate a percentage of sales to the American Red Cross. In all, it added up to over $8,000 (Click here for story).
Closer to the East Coast devastation, Fred Siegel, owner of Lapels Dry Cleaning in Hanover, MA, opted to be of assistance by collecting clothing for victims along the Jersey Shore.
In just a few days, his plant accumulated 45 55-gallon contractor bags full of garments, enough to fill up a box truck, which Siegel had to rent so he could transport the items about 250 miles away to the Glen Rock Jewish Center where his friend, Artie Pazan, originally organized the drive.
The partnership took shape when Siegel’s daughter, Ariel, spoke to Pazan on the phone on a Sunday night about wanting to volunteer. There was no shortage of volunteers; however, he noted that the problem was finding enough clothes for all the locals who had lost so much in the wake of the storm.
By that Tuesday morning, the first emails announcing the drive were sent out. The resounding reply took a few days to really take hold.
“By Tuesday evening, we had two bags of clothing. By Wednesday night, we had maybe four or five. On Thursday, we had about ten,” Siegel recalled. “Then, it exploded all of a sudden on Friday. What happened was a couple of our customers had forwarded our emails to church members. It went viral.”
Siegel admitted the outpouring of unselfishness was much more than he had anticipated.
“The response from customers was overwhelming,” he noted. “We had non-customers coming in who just came in and said, ‘Thank you for doing this. I’m bringing clothing in to you. I’m not a customer.’”
In fact, many of the non-customers we’re so impressed they returned later with personal garments to be drycleaned.
Siegel wasn’t the only one shocked by the 45 bags of clothing; he recalled his friend’s reaction when he pulled up to the Glen Rock Jewish Center.
“He was just flabbergasted by all the stuff we had,” he laughed.
Originally, the rabbi had wanted the clothes in his office, but upon seeing the truckload, it was apparent that it was simply logistically impossible. Instead, the bags filled up half the Jewish Center’s library.
Later, all of the clothing was picked up and taken down (in two trips) to the Jersey Shore where it was distributed to those who had little to wear.
It was good to see the good in people,” Siegel said, summing up the experience. “Too often you see the bad things — you know, like the situation in Newtown—but to see that people were willing to go into their closets and take clothing and donate it to help somebody else out was just fantastic.”
Siegel’s Lapels franchise wasn’t the only cleaners under that label to chip in for Hurricane Sandy victims. Also helping out were two Lapels stores owned by Tom and Leslie Dresser in Brick and Freehold, NJ, closer to the affected areas.
“We offered special discounts for those who came in with their whole closet soaked with sea water and stuff. We did provide storm discounts for people who had pretty extensive losses,” Tom Dresser said.
His Lapels plant also provided discounts for volunteers and police and fire officials and made sure the cleaning turnaround was performed as quickly as possible...once power was restored to the area, that is.
“The plant in Brick lost power for 12 days and the drop store in Freehold lost power for ten,” he added. “We didn’t clean a thing for 12 days. The day I went in to rent a big generator to get the plant up and running, the power came back on. As I pulled onto the lot with the trailer behind my truck, the lights went on.”
Having no power certainly did not help his business much in the short term, but Dresser was quite grateful that his house managed to barely escape severe damage.
“We’re probably about a quarter to half mile from areas that had three or four feet of water in their homes. Out our back door, three blocks away, are people with boats on their houses,” he said. “We’ve had people come in and tell us that they walked out of their homes, neck deep in water, no lights, holding each other’s hands with the dog in their arms because they were in places where they weren’t even supposed to have flood insurance.”
With so many people displaced and waiting for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt, Lapels is also currently storing clothes for many of its customers for an indefinite amount of time.
“I’m tripping over myself because people have nowhere to take their clothes,” Dresser joked. “I’ve got a wonderful set of clients here. Most of them are trying to find a home for their clothes.”

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