Stunned N.J. towns reach for hope

November 6, 2012—Charlie and Eileen Brennan are sitting on steps of their house in Belmar, a coastal New Jersey town where they’ve lived for 31 years. Taking a break from cleaning up debris in their yard and dragging damaged items from indoors, they eat a lunch of cold ham sandwiches they pull from a cooler between them.

Since Hurricane Sandy struck a week ago, they’ve been living with their son, a two hour’s drive away in Delaware. They drive back every other day to keep dragging out more of the possessions they’ve gathered over their 51 years of marriage.

Eileen sighs: “I just wish we’d get power back.” Like other people in coastal New Jersey, she waits in a chilly state of limbo for power, gasoline, cash, and the other engines of everyday life.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, the Brennans were under an evacuation order. They ignored it. “I’ll never do that again,” said Eileen.

Her husband looks at her: “I’d stay again. I’d do it.”

His wife elbows him: “Then you’ll be waiting here all by yourself.”

All by himself. All by themselves. For many coastal New Jersey residents, the sense of isolation is still pronounced, one week after Hurricane Sandy made landfall.

Bishop John Schol of the Greater New Jersey Conference assured people that they were not alone. “Most of us haven’t been able to view television,” he said. Schol was working with UMCOR to develop a plan for relief and long-term recovery, which is expected to take up to three years.

Schol acknowledged that Hurricane Sandy had impacted not only the physical structures of the region but its psyche as well. “The work that we’re doing is more than brick and mortar,” he said, “and more than hammer and nails. We are going to help heal the whole person on their path to long-term recovery.”

UMCOR has contributed a $60,000 grant to the Greater New Jersey Conference that will go toward relief and long-term recovery.

United Methodist churches in the Greater New Jersey Conference have opened their doors to serve as shelters, meal stations, and safe havens in which to simply charge a cell phone or share stories of survival.

Meanwhile, residents of the New Jersey coastline are coming to terms with the reality that their existence will never be the same.

Yet glimmers of hope for the long term were returning to the shore towns. Paul Mulshine, a resident of Bay Head, was able to jog with his dog, Betty, on the beach for the first time since the storm hit. “In 43 years of living here, I realize I’ve never seen it quite this way,” he said. “In some ways the beach will repair itself but in other ways the landscape here will never be the same.”

You can help those who are wrestling with relief and long-term recovery in the wake of super-storm Sandy. Assemble and deliver urgently needed cleaning buckets to an UMCOR Relief Supply Network depot near you. And give to US Disaster Response, Hurricanes 2012, Advance #3021787.

*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.

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