Heading Home To Help In The Wake Of Hurricane Sandy

Editor’s Note: Louisville resident Glenn Smith, a New Jersey native, recently visited his hometown to help provide relief to the countless number of people who were left without power, food or shelter following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

Special To The Voice-Tribune

Getting supplies to those in need with the Red Cross - Eatontown, NJ

Getting supplies to those in need with the Red Cross – Eatontown, NJ

Oct. 29 

Sandy hits during the day. I listened to New York radio all day to monitor what was going on, and I had weather.com up on my computer screens here at work to keep up on the storm’s path.

Oct. 30-31

Myself, like millions of others, looked at the aftermath on the TV. Just as people around here were touched on a personal level by the Henryville tornadoes, children of the Garden State and of NYC felt (a similar reaction) when they saw those images on the news. I knew pretty quick that I wanted to do something to help, but not just sending money. I had thousands of family and friends back there so I needed to do something with more of a personal touch. I decided on Halloween that I’d be heading back sometime the coming weekend.

Nov. 1-2

I contacted the Red Cross headquarters for the Northern shore region in New Jersey. … I had an aunt that was not too far from the shore that, by some miracle, had her power come back on after only four days, so I knew that I could stay there if needed.

Nov. 3

I got the vehicle ready to go, full tank of gas and 15 gallons of fuel stashed so I wouldn’t become a victim to the long gas lines and rationing that was going on back east. … Very fitting that the Bruce Springsteen concert was this evening here in Louisville. … When he sang “City of Ruins” I’m sure I was the only person among the 19,000 at the Yum! Center that was weeping openly thinking about the task and the road ahead for so many people back home.

People taking buses to check on their homes - Sea Bright & Rumson N.J.

People taking buses to check on their homes – Sea Bright & Rumson N.J.

Nov. 4

I got on the road at 5 a.m. … Twelve hours, about 775 miles. My trip to Jersey was pretty uneventful, with the exception of a gas stop in Elk View, W.Va. While filling up, I noticed the gentleman next to me wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jacket, so I made the comment that I hoped he had a “bad” day since his Steelers were playing my New York Giants later that day. After some back and forth, I told him that I was heading home to Jersey to help out any way I could with relief efforts. … When I went into the station to pay for my gas and a soft drink, the man I had been speaking with had already paid for my gas and wouldn’t let me pay for my drink either. … We parted with a hug and a “good luck” from him.

I got to Jersey around 5 p.m., and since it was the first day of Daylight Savings Time it was getting dark real quick.  The thing that I had forgotten most about being a Jersey boy is how FAST everyone drives on all the highway systems back there. I remembered real fast to either step on it or move out of the way! I jumped in a gas line that took about an hour to get through – the problem with gas was not so much that there was a huge lack of it, but with power out in so many places, you couldn’t get the pumps to turn on without electricity.

My Aunt Betsey (my father’s younger sister) was my first port of call, and the place I would bed down for the next few nights. All she had was a couch to offer to me, and I told her that was more than enough considering what so many others had to sleep on in the area – if they even slept at all.

Red Cross and FEMA unit at Rumson-Sea Bright N.J.

Red Cross and FEMA unit at Rumson-Sea Bright N.J.

Nov. 5

I set out to coordinate with the Red Cross disaster center located in Tinton Falls, N.J., only about 10 miles from my aunt’s home in Freehold N.J. I showed up before 7 a.m. and met a nice lady named Dena who arrived a few days earlier from northern Florida.

I found out right away that the Red Cross center in Tinton Falls had about four to five full time employees that worked there 365 days a year, so all the people I met and worked with over the next few days were either Red Cross volunteers brought in from other states or a spontaneous volunteer (like me) that just jumped in their car and showed up to do what they could to help.

The Red Cross folks came from as far away as California, Wisconsin, Missouri, Florida and Ohio. Many had been helping with relief efforts from all the way back to Hurricane Andrew in southern Florida in 1992. Many had been to Katrina areas in 2005 – they came from all walks of life, demographics, political backgrounds. But, they all had one thing in common: a (burning) desire and passion to help their fellow citizens any way they could.

I washed out coffee pots that held coffee for weary volunteers and people staying in the shelter, I broke down cots that people slept on the night before to prepare the dormitory/meeting area for the next training that was scheduled for around 1 p.m. and helped load up some materials going out to shelters throughout the area on the many, many trucks that came and went from the warehouse.

We picked up pulled pork, beans and corn with rolls and bread – all donated by the Senior Services Center in Neptune, N.J. We then drove down to a FEMA/Red Cross readiness center located in Rumson, N.J. … We handed out meals to people who had been sheltered locally at a school and church – people who had lost everything and weren’t allowed to go home yet – if they had a home at all to go home to. Most of them were awaiting transport to other parts of the area that they could be allowed back in to.

A police officer gave me an escort on foot to briefly see some of the damage. … From a distance you could see tons of sand where roads used to be and empty spaces where businesses and homes used to be. Refrigerators and other large home appliances were left on the beach of the canal separating the barrier island from the mainland left by the large of the storm surge before the waters began to recede after the height of the storm.

When I went to sleep on Monday night, I was sore and exhausted from all that I had done that day, but numb from a whole different soreness that was occurring to my heart and soul.

Seaside Heights boardwalk post-Sandy

Seaside Heights boardwalk post-Sandy

Nov. 6

I accompanied Brian (Womack) to some meetings with top Red Cross brass to take notes and help generate a report on locations for some additional temporary shelters that may be needed because of the Nor’easter storm that was due in the area the next day.

The thing that is mesmerizing and numbing at the same time is that fragile balance between man and nature. We ALL wanted to live at the shore growing up – and the ocean and the Jersey shore was such a huge part of everyone’s growing up. Your first kiss, your first beer, your lasting memories for generations of your family were experienced at the Jersey shore and on the boardwalks in Ortley Beach, Seaside Heights, Point Pleasant and places like that – and now all the places, businesses and memories had been washed away.

Nov. 7

No one seemed to be too concerned about who won the election the night before. … All I cared about was the people who lost their house the week before.

Today we had a big truck of supplies that we were taking to a Lowe’s parking lot in Eatontown, N.J. … We were going to set up next to a Tide wash center (where people with no power could take their clothes to wash) and a battery supply center that the Duracell Corporation set up for people who needed batteries for their flashlights or needed to charge a cell phone.

The weather was getting brutal with freezing rain, dropping temperatures and 30 mph gusts of wind, but we had supplies like blankets, bottled water, comfort kits with stuff like shampoo and soap, food and some other supplies to get to people. About three hours later we had a completely empty truck and the freezing rain had changed to snow.

I said my goodbyes to all the people that I had worked with the last few days. They all said the same thing: “Thank you very much for your hard work,” which was very nice to hear, as I had wondered to myself if I had really done anything to help.

Red Cross HQ - Tinton Falls, N.J.

Red Cross HQ – Tinton Falls, N.J.

Nov. 8

Driving back here was more enjoyable and less enjoyable at the same time as I thought about “could I have done more?” and all the trappings that come with wondering if you truly helped. All I kept thinking about was how people, who at other times would be arguing and complaining about frivolous and trite things and worried about red states and blue states, can truly come together and remember best that there is only one true race to concern ourselves with: The human race. And the only colors that I worry about aren’t red or blue, but red, white and blue.

Heeding the call to help

Glenn Smith is just one of many Kentucky and Indiana residents who felt compelled to help those affected by the destruction of Hurricane Sandy. Patty Browning, a Louisvillian originally from New York and working for a New York fashion company, followed news coverage of the storm closely as she worried for friends and family living in the hard-hit areas. When she called to check on a friend in Chelsea, N.Y., she learned that, while her friend had been fortunate, a man who worked in her building had lost everything. Not only that, nine other families living on Staten Island with him were in the same desperate situation.

Asking how she could help, Browning was told that donations for blankets, coats, clothing and household goods would be appreciated. “That appealed to me because whenever there’s been a natural disaster or hurricane, I always feel like I want to help, and I always hear (relief organizations asking that people only) send money,” she explained. “And quite frankly, I don’t have a lot of money right now to donate – but I do have a ton of clothes, blankets, you know, really nice things that I’m not using, that … someone could use.” Browning reached out to friends and colleagues through Facebook, gathering roughly 2,000 pounds of donated goods. With the help of a local company, MPC Promotions, and the last-minute generosity of a family friend, two weeks ago the supplies were shipped up to New York, where they will be distributed to those in need.

When asked what advice she has for those who aren’t sure how they can help after a disaster like the recent hurricane, Browning kept it simple. “I would ask what people definitely need. What I liked about this was that items that I knew somebody could use were going to an actual family.” She laughed as she continued, “But I would definitely research the shipping first!”