Trips to Misquamicut Beach in Westerly have been annual rites of summer for Michael Ziegler, district sales manager at Collette Vacations, since he was a child.
So when the remnants of Hurricane Sandy devastated the area’s beaches, salt ponds, homes and businesses last fall, Ziegler reached out to Collette President Daniel Sullivan about ways the Pawtucket tour firm could help.
“I am from northern Rhode Island, but grew up vacationing in Misquamicut, so when I saw it had been hit hard, I wanted to get a group together to help,” said Ziegler, of Burrillville.
Collette decided to donate $5,000 to a fund run by the Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Chamber of Commerce that makes grants to local businesses that suffered large losses in the storm.
And Ziegler led a group of seven Collette employees on a Saturday cleanup of the heavily damaged Andrea Hotel organized by Providence-based Serve Rhode Island.
The Collette group joined more than 1,000 volunteers from companies throughout the region to volunteer for Serve Rhode Island Sandy cleanup in Westerly.
Together with the Westerly Chamber, Serve Rhode Island has led a five-month effort to put the state’s southwest coast back on its feet.
And the campaign continues as the area makes a final push to prepare itself for the summer vacation season.
Even with snow lashing much of the state in early March, Serve Rhode Island was looking for volunteers to remove piles of debris pushed by wind and storm surge from Misquamicut into Winnapaug Pond.
“There is still debris cleanup, and depending on how many volunteers we get, it could take from two weeks to two months,” said Cyndi Myers, disaster-response coordinator for Serve Rhode Island. “The beaches’ businesses will be open, and now we are trying to make the ponds a top-line priority.”