WaWa celebrated the grand opening of its newest Ocean County location Friday by making donations to local Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
CEO Howard Stoeckel presented a $10,000 donation to the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean County and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey while marking the opening of the convenience store chain's new location on Route 70 in Lakewood.
"It's remarkable how people have been bringing the community back to life and supporting one another," Stoeckel said. A tractor-trailer containing 8 tons of food and disaster relief supplies was parked alongside the store.
Over 260,000 meals have been delivered by the food bank since Sandy struck. The organization's treasurer, Lauren Holman, accepted the donation.
"We can't thank you enough. The devastation that these counties have seen is something we've never seen before," she said.
WaWa, which operates 604 stores in six states, also gave $100,000 to the American Red Cross relief effort last week and has raised $232,000 from a customer donation program that continues through Sunday, Nov. 11.
"Our hearts go out to those people who have been impacted by the hurricane. No one ever expected this hurricane would come into this area," Stoeckel said. "Thank you to everyone for getting us through this very difficult situation."
Red Cross Chapter Communications Officer Trudy Thompson Rice traveled from Phoenix after Sandy to help with local recovery efforts.
"You're taking care of each other when it's tough, tough, tough to be here," she said.
Normal deployments are about a week, but Thompson Rice's stay in the area has been extended through the end of this year.
"This is a long haul to get everyone up and running again," she said.
Thompson Rice urged that those who are able to donate blood, as supply levels are low. Drives are up and running, she said, and locations can be found at redcrossblood.org.
Sen. Robert Singer (R-30) stopped by the opening to thank the store for helping those in the community recover.
"It's a little bit of a bright light," he said before helping the store crew load the truck bound for the food bank with goods.
Three WaWa stores in Ocean County remain closed — two on Long Beach Island and one in Normandy Beach, according to Director of Store Operations Jim Walz.
"With the resiliancy, we do everything we can to stay open to meet the needs of our customers," Walz said. "I'm very proud of what the teams have done and how they continue to serve the community."
Following Sandy, 33 stores were closed, but juggling generators as power was restored gradually put them back in business.
"The store teams really strive to stay open," Walz said. "It's sort of like a town hall place, where customers can gather to tell stories of the heartache and what's happened to them. Sometimes they're just looking for someone to talk to."