It doesn’t necessarily have to take a superstorm to move Mountainsiders into action. In times of trouble, folks in the Borough traditionally just show up when somebody needs help. So it really didn’t surprise me when I received an email from longtime resident Cindy West, asking me to help spread the word about a three day collection drive for those who lost far more than their patience with the power company.
We were the fortunate ones. Aside from a handful of scary tales from the night a Frankenstorm rolled into town and cancelled Halloween for a second year in a row (but who’s counting), no one died here. No houses had burned down, and no one in the Borough, that I am aware of, was seriously physically injured as a direct result of the historic post tropical cyclone superstorm named Sandy. I’d say that was pretty miraculous.
And like many Mountainsiders, even before the lights came back on, we were counting our blessings. Friends with generators; where to go for WIFI (thanks again to Union Starbucks), or a hot tip on a short gas line, just to name a few. Most important of all, everyone was just grateful that family and friends had escaped harm’s way.
But the photos and footage of unimaginable devastation within driving distance were undeniably horrific. And what followed in the wake of tragedy, equally a beautiful thing.
Even though not everyone in town had their own electricity restored, news of the grassroots collection drive managed to spread quickly via social media, email, cell phone and word of mouth. With advance notice of less than four days, a plan was in place to collect food and clothing, and have it delivered to those who needed it most.
From Nov. 10 to Nov. 12, a steady stream of residents poured into Pollard Hall at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Mountainside. People of all ages lugged in bundles, bags and boxes containing everything from the barest of necessities such as canned goods and toilet paper, to gently (or never) used coats with designer labels. Many goods, such as bedding, socks, and gloves, were newly purchased just for the drive.
As the items arrived, they were separated, labeled and repacked by a core group of volunteers, many of whom loaded their personal vehicles and made deliveries as far away as Staten Island.
Mrs. West told Patch, “All of the volunteers were so overwhelmed by the community’s generosity, and how quickly the word traveled!”
Donations were taken to Union Beach, L.I.N.C.S. Food Pantry in Linden, the Linden Animal Shelter, the Manasquan Elks and Toms River Shelters, and Staten Island, Mrs. West said.
Borough residents Vivian Hoff and her son, Adam, were among the helpers who made numerous trips to places like Union Beach, which was especially hit very hard.
Ms. Hoff said, “There was a small area for people to shop for items they needed, people in the hallways with paper plates waiting to be fed, and just trying to keep warm. It was heart wrenching, we need to do more. I was happy though, to see how well organized everything was, and how the entire community came together to help each other."
The break in routine from normal work activities and busy schedules brought many families to the church, connecting with neighbors, and showing firsthand how to help make the world a better place.
Several teenagers took the opportunity to earn community service hours for their upcoming confirmations at Our Lady of Lourdes. Sean Hess, 13, told Patch, “I was just happy to help the victims. I felt good participating, and it made me feel like I made a difference. I know other people would help my family if we experienced such a loss, and so I understand that it is important to always give back. It really surprised me how many people reached out and donated."
But what about the candy? With the annual Halloween festivities scrapped for a second year in a row, Sean’s mom, Maureen Hess, told Patch, a “Trunk or Treat” was organized and held at the Loop Playground, with approximately 75-100 cars participating. Sean said, “I got a lot of candy, so I was satisfied!”
With a little luck, I’m hoping next year Mother Nature will permit us to resume our own self-inflicted chaos on Old Tote Road, with the kind of goblins we are accustomed to seeing roaming around our Borough, so rich in spirit and filled with such tremendous hearts.