By Bridgid Coyne
SC Staff Writer
Everyone knew it was coming. And in various ways, everyone moved into positions of preparedness.
For over a week before the storm hit, forecasters were predicting that Hurricane Sandy would make landfall and score a direct hit on the New Jersey coastline.
Bottled water, batteries, candles, plywood sheets, canned food and generators were flying off the shelves throughout the state. Most people felt assured that they were prepared to weather the storm as they had so many times before. For many it was a false sense of confidence.
Sandy was, after all, the perfect storm.
When it made landfall on Oct. 28, it also happened to occur during a full moon and maximum high tide. With winds exceeding ninety miles per hour, it pushed the ocean’s reach to points never seen before.
While people were preparing for extensive rainfall accumulations, the real water threat was not from the sky, but from the ocean, inlets, rivers, bays and tidal basins.
A large section of Toms River, N.J. is situated on a barrier island—the ocean on one side and the Barnegat Bay less than two miles on the other. On the same barrier island sit parts of Brick Township, Mantoloking, Lavallette, several smaller shore towns and Seaside Heights—a major shore vacation town made famous by its sprawling boardwalks, night life, and most recently, by the TV series Jersey Shore.
That barrier island was essentially washed away during the hurricane.
The boardwalk collapsed into the angry sea, houses were lifted off their foundations and floated into the bay, and boats, cars and rubble littered the landscape everywhere. All power went out and soon fires began springing up everywhere from gas main leaks.
Thousands were left homeless. Everything was lost. Police, fire and first responders immediately went to work evacuating the island. Temporary shelters were hastily assembled, but many were without power.
This is when the Toms River Elks Lodge stepped in to help.
A core group of volunteers began by contacting each of the over 900 lodge members. They asked them two questions: “Do you need help?” and “Will you help?” Quickly, the volunteer staff swelled to over a hundred.
The first step was to visit the shelters and lend assistance where needed. The next step was to form an outreach to the community. They utilized telephone calls, print media, electronic media and social media platforms to solicit donations and volunteers.
Before long, the lodge had become filled almost to capacity with donations. Then the trucks started to arrive.
The outreach program was apparently successful. Truckloads of supplies arrived daily from Elks Lodges throughout the state and from organizations in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina. Seven airplanes arrived from a flying club in Pennsylvania.
Ironically, these were the “Battleground States” for the upcoming Presidential election, which was less than a week away. Politics would have to take a back seat to charity.
“What can we do to win” was replaced with “What can we do to help?”
The federal, state, county and local government agencies were, refreshingly, all working hand-in-hand to handle the crisis. The Elks Lodge staff worked with them to ensure that—even after the power went back on, even after everyone had received some financial support, even after temporary housing was established—the unfortunate members of the community who had lost everything would not be forgotten.
A registry was set up at the lodge. The lodge had collected clothing, food, baby supplies, personal products, bedding, snacks and household goods and sorted them all by size and variety into several donated trailers on the lodge grounds. Hurricane victims could contact the lodge and tell them what they needed. The lodge volunteers would pick their order requests and have them delivered.
Once a citizen was registered, the lodge would make follow up calls every two weeks to check on the families and see if they needed more supplies.
Thanksgiving Day was approaching and the Elks made quick plans to offer 1,000 home-cooked meals at the lodge to anyone who needed them.
Thanksgiving, of course, is followed by Christmas. And Christmas, despite what the retailer will tell you, is all about children. So, the lodge began a second donation drive—this one for toys and Christmas presents.
Again, the response was overwhelming, and a new trailer was ordered. The lodge is now preparing for a Christmas party for families affected by the storm. It will include a healthy meal and wrapped presents for all of the children.
A “housewarming” party will follow this, for those who have finally found a place to stay but have little or no furnishing, appliances or household staples.
The lodge has become the focal point for charity and outreach in the community and beyond.
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was formed in 1868, primarily as a social outlet for New York actors and performers. In 1871, they became a national organization, with lodges scattered from coast to coast.
The year 1871 also saw the great Chicago fire. This was the first of many national relief efforts for the Elks, and from that day forward, the organization has responded to every national emergency. When the San Francisco area was hit with an earthquake in 1906, the Elks were the first organization of any kind to render help. Within twelve hours, they had set up shelters and food wagons and directed money to the effort, preceding the Red Cross and all other agencies, public and private. They raised and distributed over $109 million dollars for victims of the earthquake.
Their national conscious was also evident in the outpouring of donations and volunteerism during the Johnstown Flood, the Galveston Tidal Wave, the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin Tornados and, now, Hurricane Sandy.
For more information on the Toms River Elks Lodge’s Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, please visit their website at www.tomsriverelks.com.
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