PDA and Super Storm Sandy

Genesis of a need and an opportunity

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy roared ashore near Atlantic City and soon was battering the north shore of New Jersey and the states of the Atlantic seaboard to the north as far away as Boston.

Damage was unimaginable though, for the most part, those of us who were even a short distance inland were largely spared.  There were problems, to be sure:  trees were downed and electricity was knocked out.  Communications were entirely disrupted and travel was restricted to daylight hours.  Many relied on cell phones to communicate with other folks and to get help, as it was necessary.  Gas was rationed.  Food was hard to find and much of what we had in the refrigerator was lost.

It was not until the power began to come back on line that we were able to ascertain the extent of the damage and begin to view pictures from beyond our area.  The devastation was unimaginable and numbing.

There were some early, well-meaning and uncoordinated efforts to help those who were most severely impacted – providing food, clothing, shelter and some comfort as they surveyed the wreckage that once was their home.  Promises of a rapid response soon were proven to be empty and as the days stretched to weeks thousands of people remain homeless and almost reduced to wanderers.

In the second stages of post-Sandy clean-up, some people helped others by going to their areas and actually mucked out houses, provided for food kitchens and provided some temporary housing.  For others, life returned to normal and it was largely a matter of "out of sight, out of mind.

In fairness, there have been all manner of help offered and extended from nearly non-existent to profound.  Even so, we face a long-term recovery that will take from three to seven years, depending on the intensity of the effort to restore the shore to the new normal.  (Whatever that might be)

The beginnings of a local response


In late November, the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program (PDA) sent volunteers into our area to assess the damage and to help get recovery underway.  Those volunteers met with Dr. Cupp and Diana Noble (Moderator of the Mission Commission, at that time) to see if there were ways in which FPC could become involved.

Over the course of those conversations, which lasted for a couple of hours, PDA asked if we might be interested in hosting a Volunteer Village.  They indicated that we were and said we would approach others with the idea to see if there would be any traction.

Discussions ensued and several more people were brought into the conversations.  At the end of December, PDA came and met with Dr. Cupp and Jerry Godbehere, Clerk of the Session (at the time), to revisit the question and to see if we had made any progress in securing an answer.  Conversations led us to believe that some had and PDA was invited to a meeting of the Session in early January.  At which time the Session voted to proceed with a more intentional exploration of whether or not to become a host site for a Volunteer Village.

Several announcements were made at subsequent worship services and people were invited to enter in to a conversation about what was involved and what might be required of us if we were to become such a site.

The congregation voted in April for our church to become a PDA Volunteer Village. We submitted a request for the PDA seed grant, and in June PDA approved our request and granted our church a generous $5,000 grant. This enabled us to pay for equipment for our dormitory to house up to 20 volunteers, as well as purchase an icemaker and other needed items. We are very grateful for the support and generosity of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Program.




On June 15th FPC opened our doors to receive volunteers to work in our area rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.



What has happened since the vote?


We have created a dormitory that will accommodate up to 20 volunteers at a time.  There are bunk beads with comfortable mattresses.  The space is air conditioned so that during the hottest months volunteers can come back to a space that is a break from the elements.

The kitchen is open and accessible to volunteers so they can cook and provide meals for themselves each day.  And, we are in the process of up-grading the kitchen with new equipment and storage that will make providing meals easier.  In addition, we have made a "Welcome to Matawan" dinner a part of the experience of each group who comes.

We have also made available recreational facilities for them, once they come back at the end of the day, where they can relax.  Included here is cable television, access to the internet and an air conditioned lounge where they can sit and talk, play games or write home.

Local health clubs have opened their doors so that volunteers can use their showers to clean up until such time as when we can modify our facilities to include showers.  Currently we are working on plans to install up to four showers on site.

Restaurants have offered deep discounts to volunteers when they come in.  Those who have taken advantage of these offers have found a welcome that is unparalleled in their past experiences.

In late 2013, we received a generous  grant of $68,000 from the Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund  that is intended to help us up-grade our facilities beginning with the kitchen and extending to the aforementioned showers.  Work on these improvements is progressing as this is being written. The stove was replaced in Late March of 2014. After some hard work by several of our church volunteers, the old kitchen stove was removed and a new one installed in March of 2014! Plans are in motion for the bathroom renovations as of early April 2014-  UPDATE, New bathrooms with four showers was completed in mid-October 2014!


In 2013, groups came from Rochester, Michigan, the Presbytery of Cincinnati, (Ohio), Wrightsville, PA and Tacoma Park, Maryland.  Two other groups were also scheduled but had to back out due to illness among team members.  These teams have contributed over 1,200 hours of volunteer labor and the equivalent of almost $35,000 worth of labor that can be charged back to FEMA for the loans our area has received toward rebuilding.