Local church tackles aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
For many in Northeast Ohio, the devastation of Superstorm Sandy is just a memory. But for coastal residents in New Jersey and New York, it is in front of them each and every day since. That’s why a small team from Stow Presbyterian Church headed to Keansburg, N.J., in December to help with recovery efforts there.
The church partnered with Group Mission Trips, a national Christian aid organization, for a one-day workday in Keansburg, a small borough in northern New Jersey that sits on the edge of the Raritan Bay just 20 minutes south of Staten Island. The Bayshore coastline suffered an estimated $30 to $40 million in damage to municipal property (excluding privately owned boats) during Sandy, according to the Harbor Commission.
The team of four men and four teenage boys arrived at their worksite early on a Saturday morning, ready to work.
“Originally there were 40 people at our worksite, but only one house to work on,” said team member Andy Walls. A coordinator showed up to assess the project needs and determined that the SPC team had the skills to complete the work. “After about 15 minutes, they moved everyone else to other sites and left just our team to work on this house.”
The house was owned by a retired couple and had seen its share of floods over the years.
“They said it was their fourth flood in eight years,” said Alex Walls, Andy’s brother. “The house was only eight years old, but looked like it was thirty, maybe because of all the flooding.”
Fortunately, the storm surge damage to the house was limited to the basement, where Andy, Alex and the rest of the team quickly organized to prep new drywall for painting and install foam insulation sheets and tiles in the ceiling.
“The lady was very appreciative and helpful,” said team leader Dave Fast. “She was by no means wealthy, but seemed to be living comfortably before the storm had hit. It was a reminder that money is not the only thing that matters to people in need. Even if she had the cash needed for labor (unlikely), it’s doubtful she could have found local skilled people to hire with the amount of devastation surrounding her.”
The destruction in the area was significant.
“It was just like people saw on TV…no, it was worse than what you saw on TV,” Alex said. “At the end of the day we went down to the beach and saw seafood restaurants falling into the bay. Houses were completely hollowed out, like the water just took everything inside.”
His brother Andy said the impact on the people living in Keansburg was also evident.
“Everyone seemed a little shell-shocked. You could tell they hadn’t been sleeping real well,” he said. “They were happy to have the church volunteers there. We didn’t see a lot of government presence at that point.”
At the house, the ceiling work was the most difficult because the team had to manually pound nails in overhead. Since the team members were given only a general idea in advance of the type of work they would be doing, and it was a one-day work project, they did not bring nail guns or a few other things they would normally bring on a full-scale mission trip. Everyone was definitely tired by the end of the day, but everyone on the team, including leader Jeff Capple, was satisfied with their efforts.
“The one thing I took away from this trip is the fact that we got this couple’s home ready for winter,” Capple said. “Despite everything they will be warm, and that means we did our job.”
The trip was also an eye opener for some of the younger team members, including one who got his very first live view of the ocean, and a reminder of blessings at home.
“It reminded me of how fortunate we are to live in an area safe from hurricanes,” Andy said, “and made me wonder a little why people would still want to live there. But I guess that’s home for them.”