When my husband and I visited the Jersey Shore in January, we were saddened by the damage that still remained months after Hurricane Sandy hit. Those were images that couldn't leave my mind. And so, at the first opportunity, I took a day off from work. And signed up to volunteer at one of Jersey Cares rehabilitation projects.
I chose Union Beach since it is a blue-collar town just like Dunellen. Had the storm had a different track and rained more, we would have been the ones flooded out.
I arrived at the Union Beach Municipal Building, and after being asked if I had safety glasses and gloves, was given the address of a house nearby. The house was already filled with workers from Americorps and Nature Conservatory. Some with hard hats, a couple with headband flashlights, and all with respirators.
I walked inside the house to get my bearings and realized I couldn't move my foot. That's right, within the first five minutes of being on the work site, I managed to step on a nail that pierced the heavy sole of my hiking sneaker, slipped between my toes and poked the top of my shoe!
After gently removing my shoe from the flooring and tracking down a crowbar, I wrapped my scarf around my nose and mouth, and got to ripping the warped subflooring from the joists. The dust was thick and the sweet-sour smell of mildew still made it through layers of fabric. Luckily, one of the two other volunteers had an extra mask for me. These volunteers, both men in their late 50s, had been volunteering for quite some time. Tom had been working seven weeks straight on job sites. And both he and Dave had purchased their own equipment to make the work more efficient.
The work was very emotional. Not just because the work was arduous. But because this was someone's home. The little boy whose baseball hat still hung on what little wall remained didn't get to use the mildew-covered sled that was shoved in the cover of the crawlspace. We were all helping them get back to their little 1.5 story bungalow but when?
We worked the whole morning then broke for lunch at the municipal building.
The town volunteers had stopped serving hot meals the week before but we lucked out. Someone had brought in homemade minestrone soup. I used this time to talk to the local residents. One volunteer wasn't going to be able to return to her home of 60 years until at least April (Her husband who had died just before the storm had been born in the house 80 years prior). Another volunteer and her husband were feeding four displaced senior citizens dinner every evening, making sure that they got one hot meal a day. It reminded me of how Dunellen's residents banded together during the darkness Sandy brought those two long weeks.
I returned to the house to finish up the job... tossing the torn up boards outside and removing the nails from the floor joists. And then, we were done. The day ended around 3. Had the job not have been finished, the day probably would have stopped at the same time. With no electricity or heat, there was only so much time.
So I know you want to help out too. The head of the donation center said that many homes are at the redecorating stage. If you have paintbrushes, paint trays, or blinds to donate, you can drop them off at the Union Beach Municipal Building.