On Sunday, the Northern Monmouth Chamber of Commerce Beacon of Hope closed. It will continue as a partner with the RAINE Foundation and their 12th Annual Holiday Drive to distribute over 25,000 gifts this holiday season in the Bayshore Communities.
That it was created and sustained by so many good people during the difficult days after Hurricane Sandy says so much good about our community.
When Sandy struck the Jersey shore, Cliff Moore of the IHOP in Keyport lost power to his popular restaurant. Any perishables in the restaurant were sure to spoil as the area was not expected to get power back for days.
Cliff had an idea. Teaming up with the RAINE Foundation of Hazlet, he made arrangements to donate all the food and paper goods to help feed those left homeless by the storm. This program fed an average of 15,000 people each day, several days that number went as high as 20,000. They worked tirelessly delivering meals to shelters around the area and providing the staples people needed to survive. This was the beginning of the Beacon that would bring Hope to thousands hit so hard by the hurricane. Soon others stepped up to join Cliff and together with Father Dan of St. Benedicts, the RAINE Foundation and the Northern Monmouth Chamber of Commerce the Beacon of Hope distribution center was born in the vacant Childrens Wear store on Route 35 and Hazlet Avenue.
This Beacon does not stand on its own, it’s supported by the hundreds of volunteers who have been showing up each day. Volunteers like Flo from Marlboro who works with Cliff. When she saw her friend working day and night to set up a resource center for those in need she stepped up like an angel of mercy and asked what she could do to lighten his load. From then on she donated her time every day to help organize volunteers and donations. She has friends in Keyport and Union Beach who were hit hard so she wanted to do her part to help. And she did it all for a smile. Flo says helping someone find what they need; a coat that fits, clothing for their children or simple household supplies, could bring a smile to the face of those who lost everything. Just to see someone crack a smile can make Flo’s day.
Rob from Matawan who lost power for a few days knew of others who were not so lucky. Rob shows up at the Beacon of Hope every day to work. He says the best part of his work is the chance to brighten the day for someone in need. Just to be able to ease someone’s burden and bring a smile to their face makes it all worthwhile. Rob shows up early, stays late and is grateful for the opportunity to help the people in neighboring towns.
Andrew Kurywczak, owner of Energy Mizer of West Long Branch, has been working at the Beacon of Hope every day since the beginning of November. He’s seen the devastation of his friends and neighbors and wanted to help. Having grown up on the Jersey Shore, Andrew sees the Beacon of Hope as a way to give back to the community. He is also the man of 1000 hugs. As part of his work at the Beacon of Hope Andrew wore a sign advertising “Free Hugs”. The first day he hugged over 300 people. Some holding on as if for dear life. They needed the comfort a warm hug could give. This simple gesture went a long way in showing Andrew the emotional needs of the victims were just as great, if not greater, than the need for things. People who had lost it all just wanted someone to hold them and listen to their story. Andrew says this was the best part of the volunteer experience, knowing you gave a few moments of peace to a soul in need.
Toni from Holmdel also showed up almost every day. She’s folded clothing, passed out food and helped people find what they needed from the numerous tables full of goods. Looking around the room, Toni says she’s probably worked on every table in the room, stocking, folding and organizing. In spite of worrying over an ill granddaughter, Toni gave her time and energy to every stranger who walked through the door at the Beacon of Hope. She’s listened to a million sad stories and held the hands of those who cried.
Helena and her husband Ken are also just a few of the tireless volunteers who have shown up every single day. From Hazlet, they were lucky enough to live in an area with little storm damage. A few days after Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey Shore, Helena and her husband drove past the Beacon of Hope and stopped by to see what was going on. They never left. Each day from then on was spent donating their time and energy. Helena put her previous restaurant management experience to work and took charge of the food corner of the warehouse. Making coffee, serving sandwiches and other food donated by local businesses. She sings the praises of the Red Cross who came in during the earlier days and helped feed the volunteers. Helena read stories to children so their mothers could shop for necessities and lent a kind ear to those who just needed to unload their troubles. She wanted to do a little to help out and ended up giving so much more.
These are just a few of the volunteers who made the Beacon of Hope possible, but there were more amazing individuals who showed up. Some came from far and wide to give a few hours. Girl Scout troops, Boy Scouts from all over New Jersey and as far away as Chicago and groups from local colleges came to donate their time and energy.
A family from Ohio saw a post on Facebook and drove 2 SUV’s and a trailer full of new clothes and supplies to New Jersey. They dropped everything off at the Beacon of Hope and worked until 10:30 at night unloading the goods. With no hotels available, the family spent the night upstairs with no heat. Cliff made sure they had a good breakfast at IHOP the next morning and after that the family came back to work another day. Volunteers gave them a place to stay that night and when the family was ready to head back to Ohio the next day someone asked why they had done it, donated time, money and energy to help the Jersey Shore. The woman told them when she was a 7 years old her family farm burned to the ground. There was no insurance and they lost everything. Their town came together and rebuilt their home. She never forgot the generosity shown to her family in their time of need and wanted to give back.
The Beacon of Hope received Trailers of donations from the Outer Banks of New Orleans, Friends of New Jersey from Florida, and many other places. Groups from Vonage, AT&T, Keller Williams, Bayer, TD Ameritrade, and the Monmouth County Association of Realtors came out to help. Many of these companies provided busses to bring their volunteers in to work. Businesses around the area donated food to feed the army of volunteers who worked so hard. Dominos, Paco’s Tacos, Giuseppe’s Pizza, and many more local restaurants cooked and prepared meals to keep the volunteers fed and energized.
The Beacon of Hope started as a donation center yet became so much more. It was a help to those in need and a lifesaver to families who lost everything. For the volunteers who gave so much, the Beacon became a gift of a lifetime. I don’t think they really know how much they gave as they held, hugged and wept with the victims of Hurricane Sandy. I think they gave a small piece of their souls and hearts to a community that will be forever grateful. Like our police and first responders, the Beacon of Hope’s volunteers are also true heroes of the storm.