VINELAND — Downed oak trees littered Janice Fischer’s west Vineland yard for almost a month after it was hit by June 30’s thunderstorms — until the people with chainsaws arrived.
Fischer’s yard was one of more than two-dozen in the area set to be cleared Saturday by Mormon Helping Hands, a nonprofit program directed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that provides disaster relief during and after storms.
She was grateful as she watched the crew from her porch Saturday morning. “I’m 63,” Fischer said. “I’m not in terrible health, but it’s beyond anything I can do.”
Earlier in the day, Aaron Titus, a member and state leader with Mormon Helping Hands, briefly instructed the approximately 100 volunteers in the gymnasium of the Vineland Church of Latter-day Saints, on Highland Avenue in the east side of the city.
The volunteers wore bright yellow vests identifying them with the group. They came from around southern New Jersey, arriving at the church via nearby roads where stacks of sawed and drying lumber made brown chest-high walls. Church property was unspared, with falling trees collapsing several sections of the rear fence.
Emergency management officials from Cumberland and Atlantic County thanked them for their help.
Vineland has said it received about $100 million damage during the storm. Robert Romano, Vineland’s mayor, said the city needed their assistance and planned to hire private contractors to handle additional pickup.
“We’re overwhelmed, really, by the amount of cleanup that’s still left in the city,” Romano said.
Titus, 33, of Nutley, Essex County, told them the event was for aiding area residents, not for proselytizing, but they were welcome to share their faith if asked.
He told them that they should cut tree branches to segments four feet in length or shorter, keeping the smaller and bigger limbs separately grouped. People younger than 18 needed parent’s permission, and those younger than 14 needed adult supervision.
Helping Hands member Andrew Zmuda added that the wood should be stacked at curbside, unless the homeowner wanted it for firewood. Volunteers should also leave limbs on wires and roofs alone and not try to saw through stumps or logs too big for the chainsaws.
Church members then fanned out across Cumberland and Atlantic County. Scheduling sheets showed the group planned to clear limbs away from more than two-dozen homes in Cumberland and Atlantic Counties.
The largest number of homes was in hard-hit Egg Harbor Township, but church members also planned to go to Vineland, Pleasantville, Somers Point, Northfield and Bridgeton.
Team Two, led by Ken Browne, 64, of Vineland, arrived at South Mill Road a little after 10 a.m.
Fischer’s tan bungalow sat amidst a snarl of downed trees. A large limb broke off an oak in the front yard, missing the house by about 10 feet. In the side yard, another massive oak snapped off about halfway up, leaving a jagged, 30-foot stake in the ground, the remaining 50 feet blown across the yard. More downed limbs littered the rear yard.
She lives with a menagerie of a dog, cats, fish, birds and hermit crabs. Her insurance company had not decided to cover the tree removal. Meanwhile, drive-by chainsawers offered to cut up the wood for $2,000 — and bill the insurance company $2,800.
“I think it’s wonderful” she said of the assistance. “When I saw it in the paper, I thought ‘Gee, this is great.’“
The crew quickly got to work. Brown and Dave Torpey, 46, of Millville, turned on their chainsaws and sawed through the fallen limbs.
Others worked to carry away branches and sawn logs, quickly piling the wood along the road.
Patrick Michaud, 12, traveled from Clayton, Gloucester County, with his sister Amber Michaud, 14, their aunt Barbara Fisher, 36, and Fisher’s fiancé Daniel Hoffman, 29. They met friend Raven Williams, 16, of Millville at the church, to begin laboring in the fields of the needy.
At the house, all busied themselves with hauling wood.
“I wanted to help clean up,” Patrick Michaud said in between trips. “Some people can’t do it (by themselves), so you help out and when you’re done you feel good about yourself.”
Added Amber Michaud, as she headed to the backyard with Williams for another load, “When you serve others, you’re serving your Lord.”
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