On a recent trip to Union Beach, Stacey Brown was struck by the daytime quiet.
“There was no power,” said Brown, leadership development manager of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. “There were no residents, save for one or two walking with bags, trying to pick things up. We saw houses that you could see right through; we saw houses that were broken in half. We saw dolls and personal items strewn around, and we saw piles and piles of rubble.
“We saw a community that was just decimated.”
Union Beach, a borough in Monmouth County, was one of the shore towns ravaged by October’s Superstorm Sandy. Some 200 homes were destroyed and 85 percent of the remaining homes sustained so much water damage that most of their ground floors were wiped out.
In the storm’s wake, the Morris County township of Madison “adopted” Union Beach, and, through the efforts of Martin Heller, a Madison resident and long-time major donor to the federation, asked the Whippany-based federation to join their effort.
On Dec. 5, three representatives of the federation — immediate past president Gary Aidekman, development associate Rebecca Pollack, and Brown — together took a trip to the area to gather information.
With them were Madison Borough administrator Raymond Codey, Madison assistant administrator James Burnett, and Borough of Union Beach administrator Jennifer Maier.
After seeing the results of the storm, the representatives from Greater MetroWest, which normally serves Morris, Essex, Union, Sussex, and parts of Somerset counties, pledged to help.
“It truly is a devastated area,” said Aidekman. “This is a small community, blue collar, and they do not have a lot of extra resources or the cash flow needed to put out money in advance and wait for insurance or FEMA to repay them. It’s a difficult situation. They need all the help they can get, both hands-on and financially.”
On Dec. 18, the Super Storm Sandy Relief Task Force, chaired by Gary Wingens, approved a $10,000 allocation from the Greater MetroWest federation’s Sandy Relief Fund for efforts in Union Beach.
The federation is also focusing on referrals and in-kind donations and contacts for the residents, such as building supplies, bedding, and legal and insurance expertise. So far, 23 beds and headboards have been donated, along with a truckload of sheetrock.
“We have among our donors a network of contacts we can reach out to,” said Aidekman. “We can help them get supplies and materials they’ll be needing, and we are contacting lawyers who can help with insurance claims. And they’re really going to need help and hand-holding. That was very clear sitting down with the Union Beach administrator.”
“The one good thing that came out of Sandy is that I’ve met so many beautiful and wonderful people that it’s amazing. The help we have been getting is unbelievable,” said Union Beach Mayor Paul J. Smith Jr.
The first delivery of building supplies was scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 19, the same day that about 20 volunteers from the federation staff were scheduled to spend the day helping with cleanup efforts in the area. They planned to bring with them some of the gifts donated during Super Sunday, the annual federation fund-raiser held in Whippany on Dec. 2.
The Greater MetroWest federation’s efforts augment storm recovery assistance being provided by other Jewish groups, including the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, which in collaboration with its agencies distributed over $100,000 in food and financial assistance in the storm’s wake.
Representatives from Greater MetroWest have been working in concert with Monmouth “every step of the way,” according to Brown.
Keith Krivitzky, executive director of the Monmouth federation, said, “Our relief efforts in Monmouth County have primarily focused on the Jewish community. A number of our local synagogues and partners have been engaged in their own relief efforts in Union Beach, of which we are supportive. If someone is able to offer additional help or expertise, by all means. The more resources we can bring and the more we can collaborate, the better off we all are.”
Monmouth synagogues have provided everything from generators to gift cards. Temple Beth Ahm of Aberdeen, just three miles from Union Beach but protected from the surge, has developed what is expected to be an ongoing relationship with the community, preparing Thanksgiving meals, providing food and clothing, and putting together a makeshift playground.
Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Monmouth County provided grants to help people cover housing costs, food, and clothing, in addition to other expanded services.
The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey is also considering making a grant to Union Beach. “We are investigating the needs, and we are open to making a grant,” said Marsha Atkind, executor director.
In addition to the losses suffered by the municipality — including 14 police cars, three ambulances, and four fire trucks — the losses to individuals are incalculable. “Think of what’s on the first floor of your own home, and you can begin to think about all the things the people need,” said Aidekman.