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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, Part 5: Helping One Truckload At A Time

When the power came on Thursday morning, the television was on before the heat came up. The first pictures we saw confirmed our worst fears: our house was still standing, but the place we called home for our entire lives was never going to be the same. It will recover, and it may even be better in some respects, but it will never be the same.

While I felt elated that we had power, my wife was a bit slower on the happiness take. There's a certain guilt that affects the fortunate. Our's came not from some "look-at-me-I-am-a-good-person" false ethos, but from a deeper place that reminded us that while we were warm and dry, we were in the minority.

As the sun came up our visceral need to use our good fortune to do something to help those who not only didn't have power, but didn't have homes. I have no faith in governmental and quasi-governmental agencies because I have become familiar with the people who run them. Our police and fire services did a fabulous job, so before you shut down and stop reading, understand that I am talking about political agencies beyond the first responder level. I have the utmost respect for what I personally watched happen in the past eight days as far as first responders are concerned, but my fears about the Red Cross, FEMA, and most OEM's have been confirmed.

My wife ran to the only open store in the area on Thursday and purchased food and then came home and gathered clothing and blankets. While I was waiting for her I decided to put my faith in the individual to the test and put out a call for help from people I am in contact with on Facebook and Twitter.

There is no way I could have anticipated the response.

A National Guardsman takes a box filled with batteries, peanut butter, tooth
paste and other items that my daughter sent from Nashville, TN
On Thursday afternoon I made my first trip to Toms River and was amazed to see the amount of people dropping items off and picking items up. By 2:00PM there were eight school buses lined up that were filled top to bottom and stem to stern with clothing. I asked the OEM worker what was needed next and she informed me she was in need of blankets and pillows.

The ten mile ride took 45 minutes, and when I got home I put out a notice on Facebook that I was collecting the needed items to bring back down to the shelter. Neighbors and friends from twenty miles away gathered items up and met me in my driveway as the sun went down. I drove back to the shelter and was greeted with an annoyed huff by the same woman who told me items were not being accepted. I asked her where I could go and she instructed me to go to a shelter that she claimed to know was in desperate need. I drove to the location, but it was empty and quiet. Worrying that I was going to run out of gas, I drove to a firehouse just north of where I was.

I arrived at the Silverton Fire Company in Toms River and spoke to the chief of the Mantua Fire Company who was on standby there (Mantua is in southern New Jersey, near Philadelphia, around seventy miles away). After some confusion he got me to the chief of the Silverton Company who got a brigade of guys to empty my truck. Silverton is located on the western shore of Barnegat Bay, and of the 47 active members there, 27 lost their homes. In spite of what the paid relief agents were telling me, there were a lot of people in deep need who were not getting help.

After a few more requests on Facebook, I was able to make three trips on Friday and two trips on Saturday. By Saturday boxes from out of the area arrived, and because I was in a small truck I was able to get much farther into the disaster area to get relief supplies to people. No red tape, no middlemen, no bullshit. Just a bunch of people who wanted to help, a guy in a truck and a bunch of people who needed help. Through the word of a friend I was even able to pick up supplies from a bursting shelter (I had dropped things off to just the day before) and ferry them out to a children's psychiatric hospital that was in need of things. The fact that the State of New Jersey was unable to aid children at a state facility was not lost on this libertarian.

On Monday, an urgent request for aid came from a shelter in Brick for items that I had luckily just received from Tennessee and California. This encounter is the one that sent my frustration and exhaustion to new depths, and one that will forever cement my belief that help comes not from the government, but from the individual. 

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