Operation Photo Rescue Restores Precious Mementos for Sandy Victims

By Lauren Wanko
NJ Today

Normandy Beach resident Cheryl Chando lost everything to superstorm Sandy, but today, there’s something she can salvage — a collection of photographs that tell her family story.

“For some reason, the photos, the memories, the times that we had together, it’s preserved in photographs for generations and generations and that’s where really part of your heart is there,” Chando said.

Operation Photo Rescue, a non-profit launched after Hurricane Katrina, set up shop in the Home Depot in Seaside Heights this morning. Over the next three days, volunteers will restore up to 20 photos for storm victims, free of charge.

Said volunteer Mike Sluder, “We always say insurance can’t restore memories but we do.”

The way it works is that the team makes a digital copy of the damaged photographs with cameras and copy stands, and eventually upload them onto an online gallery. Volunteers from all 50 states and 72 countries choose a photo to restore.

“It can take anywhere from four hours to a week or more per photo so that’s one reason why nobody can pay someone to restore these because most of the time, it takes too long,” explained Sluder.

Storm-damaged photos come in wrinkled and buckled, covered in mold, or ripped apart, like the baby picture of Donna Zioda’s husband.

“Everything is based on your history. History is what makes you who are today and to have this, you know there’s a future to have,” according to Zioda.

Sharon Applegate lost her entire wedding album to Sandy, except for three pictures. Sje said, “My mother passed away 5 years ago so I wanted to get these pictures restored.”

One wedding portrait which dates back to the 1930s has the picture stuck to the frame’s glass, but the team can photograph it without taking off the glass.

“This is a valuable picture for my wife, it’s the only one we have,” said William McEvoy.

So far Operation Photo Rescue has restored over 9,000 photos in storm-ravaged communities throughout the country, and their army of volunteers — 2,800 strong — continues to grow.

For volunteer Pat Sluder me, the project gives me an opportunity to do something that I truly love and enjoy and have a really profound effect on someone else’s life in a positive way.

For Cheryl Chando, the photo restoration is a gift.

“They’re very special, the boys are special, and the photographs are special, and it’s memories right there,” she said

Memories that will now live on.