Friday, April 5, 2013

Day 3 - A Personal Touch

Today I chose to be part of a smaller group of 7 that was headed to the Salvation Army in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The other 46 people in our group helped with the Bucket Brigade and installing linoleum in a house.

From my end, we arrived at 9 a.m. at the Salvation Army and had an hour to learn the ropes before the facility officially opened to the public at 10 a.m. The Salvation Army had three lines of tables. The first line included women’s winter gloves, children’s slippers (with a Star Wars Darth Vader head), water resistant boots and racks of men’s and women’s clothes. The middle line was stacked with different food items, from canned green beans and corn to peanut butter, jam, soup, canned tuna and bags of cereal, to name a few. The final line of tables were stacked with hygiene products, such as toilet paper, soap, baby wipes (which can double as wet wipes), toothpaste and cleaning supply buckets. A couple tables toward the back also had blankets and hand towels.

Two girls from Elyria Catholic High School in Elyria, Ohio unload a box of waterproof boots. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock) 

Most of the people I helped choose items (they stressed to not use the word shop, that word can have a connotation to it and many have nothing, no homes, no jobs, no money) had been at the Salvation Army before. However, I did help one man who did not know about the Salvation Army before and yesterday was his first time there. I definitely helped him grab more items than anyone else I had today. In addition to him and his wife, he has four children. There were times when he would turn to me and ask me how many can I have, just one? My response was go ahead and take whatever you need, then reminded him that he can come back every seven days. But so many of these people have very little, so I had no problem giving him two 24-packs of water bottles, numerous cans of corn, mac and cheese, coffee, etc. And the Salvation Army said told us they could take what they want.
I helped a few people right away in the morning, but then two trucks arrived stocked with supplies. Since I am young, energetic and fairly strong, I opted to let some of the other people help up front while I unloaded the truck. I helped fill at least a half dozen carts with packs of water bottles, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, etc. At one point I filled a cart with water bottles packs, 24 bottles to a pack. We filled the cart six packs across and four tall. When the cart was filled, I wheeled it in the building all by myself and unloaded the whole cart, also by myself. I was joking around, with all the packing and unpacking of items, saying I’m going to be so buff by the time I get home, lol. Things really picked up in later morning, and I was unable to break until 1:30 p.m., when my stomach was mirroring Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, screaming “Feed Me!”

After lunch I returned and spent the rest of the time stocking items as they were taken and helping people pick up the items they needed. I have to admit, I managed to stay composed, but some of the stories were very hard. When Katrina hit it was a media frenzy, tons of coverage, the volunteer efforts. But out here, volunteer efforts are focused on main tourism areas, and I wish I could say the stories of people not getting what they deserve are once in a while, but that is not just the case.

Two trucks filled with supplies for the Salvation Army, including toilet paper, hand soap, chicken alfredo individual meals, tote bags for children and packages of 24 packs of bottled water. The bottled water was a God-send for people, considering we actually ran out of it that morning.
This morning I spoke with a woman, Sandra Bauman, who lost pretty much everything. Her house took on five feet of water and the foundation of her house was split right down the middle, she said her house is bowed and she lost more than $70,000 worth of equipment that was in her house. The township declared her house unlivable, condemned and she has to demolish it. The insurance is another story completely. She said an insurance claims investigator came out to the sight, saw the crack in the foundation down the middle. And he actually had the audacity to tell her that her house is not unlivable, and that she should just pour concrete down the crack, that will be fine. The insurance company gave her $30,000....$30,000 and her house was insured for $165,000. What makes it worse is she cannot apply for additional aid from FEMA because FEMA will only reimburse for up to $30,000, and she already received that in insurance. Some of my fellow volunteers who worked there the past two days shared similar stories. One of those stories was about a man who lost everything: his house and his property and belongings in Hurricane Sandy, and both his wife and son died in the months since.

However, I also met the most amazing man at the Salvation Army today. ??? owned a lot of non-commercial property on the ? island, he said approximately $2 million worth of land. When Hurricane Sandy hit, he lost pretty much all of that. Can you imagine? A major storm hits and you take a $2 million loss. He has not been reimbursed for any of that. If that was me, I think I would be so overwhelmed by a sense of loss, I don’t know what I would do. Yet instead of cursing God or Mother Nature or the government, he has faith. Don’t get me wrong, he was frustrated with the way government works, but when I asked him how he was going to recover, he goes “I’ll be fine.” He said he has been helping other people that suffered in Hurricane Sandy and he has also received help from other people. He is trusting that with help, he will be able to recover.

What I found interesting is Hurricane Sandy was not the first major hurricane he went through. Most of the people I talked to said they were not prepared for anything like Hurricane Sandy to occur, and that the last major hurricane in the area occurred a little more than 50 years ago, in 1962. Well ? was 12 years old at the time when the 1962 hurricane hit. Ironically he said going through the first hurricane taught him things, and he was better prepared for Sandy last October. Again, for someone who lost so much, I was just amazed at the positive attitude he had. It was a breath of fresh air.

Our volunteer group at the Salvation Army on Thursday, April 4. Between unloading two trucks full of donated items, sorting and stocking the items and helping the day’s visitors, there wasn’t an idle moment. 

We talked about other things as well, and at one point he told me that I should always reach beyond, reach for the big goals and to never let others discourage me. I told him that is how I normally am, and whenever someone tries to get me down or tell me I will never accomplish my goals, I fight tooth and nail to prove them wrong, and as a result I usually succeed. Apparently my attitude brightened his day, and as I helped him load his bags of groceries into his car, he told me that it was a pleasure meeting me, that I brightened his day and he would be in a good mood for probably a month.

The Salvation Army closed for the day at 4 p.m., and while we were waiting for the bus to pick us up in 40 minutes, we decided to take a stroll about a half mile away and check out the house that the Jersey Shore cast resided in. I settled for just checking out the outside of the house - you could tour the inside for $10, but honestly, the show irritated me and I never watched it, so I did not feel like going in. Outside the house an organization was actually selling clothes - sweatshirts, T-shirts, sweatpants, and some accessories, sunglasses, coffee mugs, slippers, to benefit the people affected by Hurricane Sandy. I purchased a black sweatshirt for $25, with the words Restore the Shore printed on it. Most of our group members purchased something, knowing that pretty much all the funds would go back to helping the victims.

Although I do not watch Jersey Shore I did decide to check out the house while I was there, especially since it was only 10 minutes walking from where I volunteered. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock)
Tomorrow will be our last full day in New Jersey. The National Relief Network did plan a fun day for us - they say whenever they take a group somewhere they build in a fun day so the volunteers can see something besides just devastation, they want to share some of the good in the area. So....tomorrow we will be traveling to Hoboken and meeting up with....the Cake Boss! Not gonna lie, a part of me would honestly prefer to go somewhere else and help with more disaster relief (and I am not the only one on the trip who would like to do that), but tomorrow should be pretty fun. My last blog post from the trip will be posted early Saturday morning. We will depart at 6 a.m. Saturday morning and return to Sun Prairie close to midnight.

A part of me can’t believe this trip is almost over. I’ve been looking forward to it since I first heard about it in January, and the time flew by so fast. However, I also feel a sense of accomplishment. I was definitely not wasting time or lazing about, I put in a solid 7 hours of work every day, and even doing somewhat heavy lifting at times. So while I wish I could stay longer and help, I will return with a sense of accomplishment and happiness that I made a difference in the lives of other people. For some of the people at the Salvation Army today, just listening made a world of difference.

A roller coaster on the Seaside Heights shore, still submerged in water. Again, I was naughty and wandered beyond the Police Do Not Cross yellow tape, only this time I got busted. Oops. At least it was after I got the shot. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock)

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