It’s been seven months since Hurricane Sandy churned its way along the East Coast after forming in the Atlantic Ocean. Many communities and their residents devastated by the destructive “superstorm” that struck with ferocity in October 2012 are still trying to recover.
One such community is Union Beach, a borough in Monmouth County N.J., located along Raritan Bay. From the shore, a view of the New York City skyline is offered.
Since December the working-class community of Union Beach has been receiving assistance from inland sources, namely work teams from Morristown Presbyterian Church, located in Morris County, N.J., northwest of Newark.
Teams of volunteers from the church, part of the Sandy Relief Task Force, have been making the 90- to 120-minute drive – depending on traffic – on selected days to do what they can to assist those who were impacted by Sandy.
“It’s a working-class, blue-collar community that does not have a lot of resources and was one of the regions hit hardest by the storm,” said the Rev. Cindy Alloway, missions pastor for Morristown PC. “The area did not get a lot of attention, and we wanted to become part of that community and help any way we could.”
Volunteers from Morristown, up to 35 of them at a time, traveled to Union Beach three Saturdays before Christmas and have been going as often as they can on Saturday and other designated days since then. They already have trips planned to continue through September. Most of those days are Saturdays, when manpower is more readily available, though others are scheduled during the week.
Typical work days last from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Those who plan to help out meet at the church parish house in Morristown at 7:30 p.m. to carpool to Union Beach, and they return from their day’s work around 6 p.m.
The work even has drawn attention from people outside the church who want to help. Many show up to make the trip each time it is scheduled, and some of those have even joined the church after being involved in its ministry along the shore.
“There’s still so much work that needs to be done, but the people from that area are gradually coming back,” Alloway said of Union Beach. “We have done so many things since we started going there to work. We’ve cleaned debris, sorted donations, planted seagrass on the (sand) dunes to prevent storm surges, provided pastoral counseling and helped with rebuilding of homes (hanging drywall and insulation, painting, etc.). If nothing else, we’ve been able to provide a listening ear, an opportunity for people to tell their stories of suffering and survival. And we offer prayer.”
Union Beach, like most of the northeastern portion of the United States was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. The deadliest and most destructive storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season was listed as a Category 3 (a 5 is deemed the most powerful) at its peak and was still a Category 2 system off the coast of the northeastern United States.
It came ashore in New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012, as a post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds. It was determined to be the largest Atlantic hurricane on record (in terms of diameter), and it caused $75 million in damages, a total surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina when it struck the Gulf Coast of the United States in 2005. Two hundred eighty-five people were killed along the storm’s path, which covered seven countries.
In addition to extensive wind damage, there was severe flooding and loss of power to large areas for extensive periods of time, especially in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions.
Alloway said there were issues from Sandy that affected Morristown, located 35 miles inland from the Hudson River and New York Bay. Knowing they were affected by the storm made members of Morristown PC want to do something to aid those who were impacted even more by the storm’s wrath. They felt a sense of empathy.
“We had a lot of damage with downed trees and lost power for two weeks,” she said. “Because we suffered inland, it brought out people who had never done mission work before. Many of us felt bonded to those who suffered on the shore.
“When you can relate to a tragedy because you have suffered from it, you have a better understanding of what others are facing. Hurricane Sandy brought out people to help people. It’s been neat to see church folks of all ages come out to help.”
In addition to providing manpower, Morristown also raised more than $13,000 in gift cards to help residents of Union Beach purchase items needed for their homes. The church also gave $5,000 to assist Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church, south of Asbury Park along the Jersey shoreline, construct a volunteer village to give people a place to stay when they come to help with renovation efforts. Morristown will be sending team of adult and youth volunteers to stay there this summer as they work in Union Beach.
Alloway said the fact that so many of MPC’s members have been involved in the relief effort is part of its personality. Teams from the church went to Mississippi and Louisiana to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and they did the same thing following the deadly and destructive tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., two years ago.
“We have a sense of knowing what to do and how to engage in these situations after helping out,” said Alloway, a crisis counselor for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and co-founder of Foundation for Peace along with her husband. That group was pivotal in providing assistance during relief efforts for victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
The needs of the people and communities along the New Jersey shore are ongoing as they work with countless agencies and volunteers to rebuild homes and businesses. Alloway said the work being done is a blessing, for those it benefits and those involved.
“The Holy Spirit passes long blessings. When you give, you receive in surprising ways,” she said. “There is a sense of resilience from (Union Beach residents). We see how resilient they are, and it has taught us how we can overcome these tragedies. We have bonded with these people, and they are part of our family.”
Alloway said the work of Morristown Presbyterian Church is merely another example of The Golden Rule, found in Luke 6:31.
“It’s loving your neighbor as yourself,” she explained. “It’s what Jesus would want us to do. You feel good about yourself and what you have done to help, and the new friends you have made. We are drawn together to do His work and overcome these situations through our faith in God.”
Anyone wanting to volunteer their time and efforts to assist with the relief effort in Union Beach, N.J., can contact Alloway by email at email@example.com.
Additional work days are scheduled for June 1, 13 and 29; July 18; Aug. 15; and Sept. 14 and 18.