pif sandy relief 2013

Volunteer Mortimer Spreng, of Ventnor, fills bags of food and supplies for people in need. Jewish Family Service volunteers at St. James Church Hall, in Ventnor, as Sandy relief efforts continue into 2013.

Staff photo by Danny Drake

Mortimer Spreng, Ventnor

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, I volunteered at the Ventnor Relief Center at the St. James School being run by the Jewish Family Services. The storm had devastated our community, especially in the Ventnor Heights section. We spent our days in the cold auditorium, sorting and providing all the items donated by the Red Cross and other agencies to anyone who needed it. The people coming in told stories of losing everything, they came literally with nothing but the clothes on their backs, clutching their children and thankful for whatever goods we could give them. It was heartbreaking to hear their tales, to see the anguish on their faces as they looked over the winter coats trying to find something to keep them warm against the coming winter.

But one moment that I will always remember was when a U-Haul truck pulled up jam-packed with donations, from floor to ceiling, collected from this little town in Ohio named Shelby, population 9,400. They took the time to donate everything they could for us here, from the most common household necessities to handmade items, for people they had never met and will never know. They drove through several states paying for the gas out-of-pocket to make sure their donations got to the places that needed it the most. They even brought their little daily newspaper, no more than a newsletter, actually, just to show us a glimpse of who they were as a community.

And they brought fresh hot coffee for us on the day they delivered the items they had collected, even looking out for us cold and tired volunteers.

Of all the damage and devastation in the world around me during that time, that moment brought more joy and love to me than anything I have ever known in my life. I fought back tears as I helped unload all the boxes and bags of clothing. That selflessness, that generosity, that dedication of these people who did all they could for us showed me that we are not doomed as a species. That our innate humanity towards one another is unbreakable, even when all the world (at least our corner of it) has fallen apart.

I suppose the reason for writing this is a plea. There are corners of this world that are troubled, from outbreaks overseas to war refugees to right here in the Atlantic City area, with places like the Boys and Girls Club undergoing recent financial troubles and the constant need at the food pantries. If you can, pay it forward; donate, volunteer, mentor, go out in the world and make a difference.

Show those wonderful people in Shelby, Ohio, how grateful we are as a community for their love and how their generosity of spirit was well-founded and now that we have gotten back on our feet, we will honor that little town’s spirit by doing the same for others.

Note icon

Tony Novak, Newport

Money Island on the Delaware Bay shore is one of the state’s smallest and most remote communities. Full-time population is about 20, mostly those who make their living off the bay. Money Island is South Jersey’s second-most important commercial port with millions of dollars of oysters and crabs and other seafood products landed here annually. Its only retail business is Money Island Marina.

I knew that Money Island had been hit hard when we crossed paths with two watermen at Newport post office three days after the storm. They were able to drive to the island at low tide in an elevated 4WD truck just before officials closed the road. It would be three more days before I was allowed in to see the devastation. These guys, tough as nails from years of earning a living on the bay, had tears in their eyes and could barely speak the words, “It’s all gone.” I’ve never seen a waterman cry before or since.

The community pulled together and worked 14+ hour days, 7 days a week, without a break for more than a year to rebuild the docks and marina from the ground up. We worked through Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and every other day in 2013. We still have much work ahead.

Visitors today stop by to say “The place looks so great. I guess you weren’t affected much by Sandy.” Customers are slowly returning and the marina might manage a very modest profit in 2014 (if we ignore the ongoing costs of rebuilding).

All our insurance claims were denied. Every application for aid or loan was declined: FEMA, SBA, NJEDA and SeaGrant all proved worthless. Meanwhile, state government stepped up enforcement of new rules.

Two years after Sandy we know it’s not nature but government that we need to fear. We have confidence that our community can pull together to overcome nature’s worst, but it is even scarier knowing that our fate is now in government hands.

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Press copy editor since 2006, copy desk chief since 2014. Masters in journalism from Temple University, 2006. My weekly comics blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback, appears Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com.

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