Begging for relief
By ABBIE TREXLER
Two months ago, I had an awakening in New Jersey. That is to say, that my eyes were opened and my life forever changed after witnessing the trauma that the citizens had endured from Hurricane Sandy. With the recent inaction by congress on a recovery bill for Sandy victims, it seems appropriate to share this story.
Inspired by a friend in Massachusetts who had organized relief for the Sandy victims, my 16-year-old stepson and I took up a collection of donated relief supplies in our small neighborhood of Pine Lakes in Kempton, Pennsylvania. Over the period of a week, neighbors brought bags full of non-perishable food, diapers, pet food, warm winter clothing, bedding, and paper products. Our local feed mill, Albright’s Mill, promised to match every bag of pet food that we purchased, and we left with more than $300 worth of dog and cat food – with the hopes that the donation would allow pet owners to keep their pets in lieu of shelter surrender.
The Monday before Thanksgiving my father, son, and I filled up two large vehicles and drove to Marlboro Township, New Jersey. The hurricane had hit three weeks prior, but people still were without power, trees lay on homes, businesses were closed, phone and electrical lines dangled haphazardly from their poles. The damage to the infrastructure of the area we drove through was appalling, a shock after coming from Pennsylvania where the limbs and power lines had long since been removed and repaired.
We donated most of the goods at a relief site in a community park, but clothing and bedding wasn’t being accepted there.
Somewhat dejected at the thought that the donated clothing might not be given to people in need, we drove five miles further south to a Salvation Army. While we were unloading next to the donation bins, a woman approached us and asked if we might be willing to give her one of the warm comforters that she saw us unloading from our trucks. After introducing ourselves, this woman, Kim, told us that she was a victim of the hurricane.
Kim and her three children lived in Asbury Park, New Jersey. When the hurricane hit, their house was flooded with water and then sewage. When they were allowed back in to retrieve their belongings they discovered that everything they owned had been destroyed by sewage. Pictures, toys, clothing, everything was gone. Fish that the tide had swept in lay rotting in their living room. For two weeks Kim and her kids lived in shelters, and in the third week they were placed in government housing outside of Red Bank.
The morning that we met Kim, she had walked five miles to the Salvation Army in 30-degree weather, wearing a thin sweater that hardly covered her arms, to find blankets to keep her kids warm.
We tore through the bags of clothing that our neighbors had donated, and Kim’s eyes lit up as she scanned the warm outerwear and bedding. We loaded all of the clothing and bedding back up into our trucks and drove her home.
When we got to her apartment, children from the housing project were milling around the front road hoping that today would be the day the school busses came for them. Kim’s kids had been out of school since the hurricane and had not been reregistered in their new school district. She divulged to me that one of the hardships she had faced in the process was little food in the house, a problem compounded by the fact that the kids weren’t going to school to eat lunch.
The three kids came out to help us unload the trucks, and after the introductions were made, each one of them thanked us for coming from far away to help them.
Kim’s three children, two boys and a girl, were grateful for the used clothing and bedding. Three young people, under the age of 15, who had lost their toys and belongings, were looking forward to being warm, with hope that they might get to go to school in the next few weeks.
Incredibly moved by what had unfolded before us, my father and I emptied our wallets, a combined $60, and gave it to Kim for groceries. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she hugged us, telling us between heavy breaths that no one had ever been so nice to her. She stepped back on the worn front porch stoop, looked at us very seriously and said, “Don’t you ever forget me, because I will never forget you.”
These are single mothers, like Kim, who would walk five miles on a cold morning to rummage in donation bins in hopes of adequately clothing her children, relying on financial assistance while raising three kids. These are children, living right here in our country, who hope that someone will give them a used comforter and a jacket. Children who wish that the bus would pick them up and take them to school so that they can eat a warm meal. These are people to whom $60 from a stranger is the greatest material gift they’ve ever had.
It is heartbreaking to think that families like Kim’s have been waiting for three months to have meaningful assistance from the Federal Government. Something must be done to help the people in New York and New Jersey who have lost everything. As a nation, we must take care of our people.