A little over two weeks has now passed since Sandy plowed through New Jersey like a run away train. For some, it's as fresh as yesterday and for others, life is starting to go back to the normal routine and day by day it's becoming a bad memory of the past.
I, myself, am guilty of starting to allow myself to get comfortable again and continue to try each day to find a way back to my old normal routine BEFORE Sandy. Then with every watch of the news, or glance at a local newspaper, or even a Facebook posting, I would remember. REMEMBER that it's NOT over. It's far from over for so many people.
So many of us lost power for days and even weeks! We waited in several hour gas lines to fill up on our selected day. We car pooled with neighbors to stores that were open for food and water. We were cold and uncomfortable and even inconvenienced, but we were lucky. I am sure none of us thought that at the time, and maybe some of us even now. As awful as that time period was for so many, it truly was beyond life altering for so many more.
Once the normalcy began and the floods were gone and power restored, I realized I couldn't turn a blind eye to what was going on and live in my bubble since I had come out OK. Donating money through the Red Cross just didn't seem like enough. So last weekend I broke out of my own little world and ventured with some friends to do some "one on one" help.
We began by purchasing and collecting blankets and food for those hit so severely in Union Beach, NJ. Then dropped those off to the collection site.
Next on our way to a church in Toms River to help sort and distribute food and clothing donations. The ride there began to reveal the clear picture of how devastated this area was. From downed trees and electrical poles to sand filled roads and piles and piles of water logged personal items and household furnishings curb side.
Then reality set in. The sad truth of how our neighbors, so close to us, were doing so much worse.
The lines of families coming in to take food to hold them over for the next few days, and clothes to get them by because they had nothing left at all. The children scrambling for donated book bags and notepads so they had something when they returned to school to the younger children asking for the donated toys since they no longer had any.
My heart was broken and broke more and more with each conversation I had with the wonderful appreciative people who told their stories of Sandy. What they lost, what they went through, where they were now and what they were doing to recover. Every story was more overwhelming than the next.
It became clear that these people were NOT going to be OK any time soon. NOT before Thanksgiving and NOT before Christmas. Maybe not even before next Spring or Summer. Towns had to be rebuilt from the ground up - from gas lines to electric to roads. Then after that, people would have to start rebuilding their homes, step by step and their lives, piece by piece.
What was extremely uplifting and heart warming was the amount of people who stopped by to ask what the people needed. They wanted a list of most needed items as they were going to the store to get them. So many did and returned with boxes and bags full of what was important. Some just showed up with bags or items and walked in and put them down and walked away. No thanks or recognition needed or wanted. People simply wanting to do for others that could not do for themselves.
After hours of that, we headed toward Atlantic City and assisted the Red Cross in their collection and distribution site as well. Once again, the amount and outpouring of community bonding was overwhelming. The damage in that area, also, pretty severe.
Those images and conversations were important to me. They engraved the reality of this situation into my heart and mind. THAT helped me continue each day to remember how truly blessed I was to simply be powerless and freezing for many days. I got the "better part of this deal" and I should not forget it! No matter how normal my routine becomes again, I am going to continue to reach out and volunteer until I know that most of NJ is up and running again. That may be a year or more, but if that's what it takes, then I want to help.
So many have come together to volunteer and continue to. There is a wonderful Facebook page called, "NJ Volunteer Exchange" which lists all of the volunteer opportunities they are notified of across NJ several times a day. Go check it out and consider spending some of your free time, giving back.
"NJ Shore Hurricane News," also on Facebook, has done an excellent job in updating people of information for those areas, as well as posting pics of personal items that people have found washed up on shore and reuniting them with their owners!
The Red Cross continues to have a presence through out the state. They are always looking for help. Reach out.
As the days continue and time moves further away from the dreaded day Sandy came to NJ, it will be easier to forget. Easier to move on. Please don't.
Please remember those in the shore areas, parts of NY and Staten Island. Those who lost their homes or at least most of it due to flood waters and winds. Remember those who lost all of their belongings - clothes and pictures and jewelry and important papers, furniture and even cars. Continue to think about what you can do to help those living in shelters, cars, hotels and staying with family members and friends.
Volunteer to give food to the many, many Thanksgiving and holiday dinners that will be cooked across the state for all these in need. Give up your time and go and help first hand. Let this feeling continue through into the holiday season. Donate toys and warm clothing and necessities to those in need. Let this need to help continue into next year and start off 2013 on the right foot.
Remember that we are all in this together and it's going to take a very long time to recover and rebuild New Jersey. Don't forget the help that is needed once the initial shock wears off. Unfortunately after a tradgedy such as this, the outpouring of volunteers and assistance dies down with each passing week. Let's not let this happen in New Jersey!
Life is hard. Sometimes VERY hard. Let's help each other - Today and many many days going forward. Pay it forward because you never know when YOU will be the one in need. Trust me, it feels good!!
I wish a safe and speedy recovery for all those effected. There are no words to help ease the pain and loss, but please know I feel for each and every one of you and will do my part to help the best that I can in the days to come.
Jersey strong!! XO