It’s been three months since Hurricane Sandy blasted New York and New Jersey, and the media spotlight has long since moved on. But work continues, with the Army Corps of Engineers struggling to clear millions of pounds of sand off the streets and shorefront families struggling to heat their homes in sub-freezing temperatures. In short—it’s going to be a while before things are “back to normal.”
“It’s too often that tragedies like this go out of sight, out of mind,” says Allbriton Robbins, an art director at the Barbarian Group who lives in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. “Which is why we wanted to do something that let people always have a way to remember, not only the devastation to the shore but the lasting effects we have on this planet.” Robbins and his collaborator Hema Patel (an art director at Grey) witnessed Sandy from the Jersey Shore. Afterward, they struggled to find a way to channel their creative energy into a project that would benefit storm survivors.
They found it in the millions of pieces of driftwood littering the New Jersey shoreline. “Each piece has a unique story, whether it was part of a weathered boardwalk in Long Branch or a branch from a tree in someone’s front yard in Sea Bright,” Patel tells Co.Design. “These are not just pieces of wood but little pieces of towns’ history.” Working under the name Drift Relief, the duo collect, dry, and paint pieces of wood they find amongst the wreckage. The finished pieces sell for $150 to $950 on their website, with proceeds going to Sea Bright Rising, a local relief nonprofit. Each comes with a silver plaque that notes where it came from—the boardwalk, say, or a beachfront porch.
Though cynics might expect some negative backlash from those who aren’t ready to see symbols of their misery turned into art, Patel says the public response to Drift Relief has been incredibly positive. For she and Robbins, the project has become "a way to focus on those memories with positivity rather than grief.”