James and Michelle Wallace of Sammamish, Washington, receive a plaque and citation for their donation of almost $7,000 to the township's Police Athletic League Sandy Fund. Photo credit Little Egg Harbor Township

Little Egg Harbor Township

From Sammamish, Wash., James and Michelle Wallace decided in November that they had to help their home state of New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy ravaged Little Egg Harbor Township, where James' parents live.

James Wallace said he lived in northern New Jersey for the first 25 years of his life and vacationed at the shore. Eight years ago, his parents, Joe and Lois Wallace, moved to the Sea Oaks adult community in Little Egg Harbor Township.

When Hurricane Sandy struck in October, the couple knew the township needed help, he said.

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"My wife and I have been involved with the Washington state wine community for years, and we had a party scheduled since August for December with Sparkman Cellars," said James Wallace, 41. "Then about three or four days after the hurricane hit, we were meeting with winemakers on details for the party and came up with an idea that we could turn it into something to benefit Hurricane Sandy victims."

The plan was that Sparkman Cellars would make a special one-time blend for the party that would be raffled off to guests, he said. The wine was a 3-liter bottle of a red-blend, dubbed "The Four Horsemen," he said. Sparkman Cellars also agreed to donate 10 percent of its sales from a weekend party in November to hurricane relief efforts.

Hestia Wine Cellars heard about the Wallaces' fundraiser and also donated 10 percent of sales at their tasting room from November to December.

The couple set up a big raffle table in their dining room and displayed the bottles - some of them signed by the winemakers - and corks were sold as tickets for $25. Guests threw them in a big barrel, and at end of night the wines were raffled off.

"When all was said and done, we had 12 wineries donate over $4,000 worth of wine for the raffle. Between the sales and the raffles, we raised about $7,000," Wallace said.

"We didn't want to just donate to the Red Cross or the United Way because we didn't know exactly where that money would go. I said we could probably find a smaller, centralized charity we could do this for."

James Wallace's parents spoke to Deputy Mayor Ray Gormley, and it was decided that the donation would go to the township's Sandy Fund through the Great Bay Regional Police Athletic League Inc. The organization's executive director is township police Chief Richard Buzby.

About $35,000 has been raised for the fund so far. The money has been used to pay utility bills of storefronts that are storing supplies for Sandy victims, food purchases and care packages for local students who remain displaced, Buzby said.

"Our emphasis is on families and on families with children through this fund. With this generous donation, we'll now probably do something in connection with the Robin Hood Foundation by donating gift cards to families who are rebuilding," Buzby said.

James and Michelle Wallace traveled to New Jersey last week to visit James' parents with their 7-year-old twins, Brandon and Cameron. During their visit, the Wallaces were recognized by the Township Committee and presented with a plaque and citation thanking them for their donation, Buzby said.

"The recognition was not expected, but it was very nice," James Wallace said.

Joe and Lois Wallace said they are very proud of their son and daughter-in-law and grateful to their friends for being so generous during the wine raffle.

Lois Wallace said that like James and Michelle, many of their friends who attended the party and participated in the raffle are originally from the East Coast.

"I think that part of it comes from the fact that I spent 31 years in the volunteer fire service in North Jersey, and he (James) picked up on that about helping people in need," Joe Wallace said.

Buzby took James and Michelle Wallace on a ride through the storm-damaged areas so they were able to see where their donation was going, Lois Wallace said.

"They said it was a very humbling experience. They wanted to do something that was personal and not just give it to a group and not know where it went. After the storm, they just really wanted that connection," Lois Wallace said.

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