When the "shattered souls" began to emerge from the flood waters in Oceanport, Monmouth Beach and Sea Bright, many came to a shelter at Maple Place School, where they were greeted with a smile and a warm embrace.
"When they signed in you had to give them a hug," said volunteer Chrissy Ellam, about those flood victims in the days before the Red Cross or county workers arrived. "We had to be our own social workers."
Ellam said many days senior citizens showed up blue on the doorstep of the warming center in the morning, because they had decided to tough it out in their cold, dark homes. She said many seniors told her, "I tried to stay home, but I couldn't."
It was during those first hours and days after the storm that the borough's staff and a host of volunteers took charge of the situation and marshaled the strength to serve their neighbors, even as their own homes were underwater.
On the first Thursday post-Sandy, the Oceanport Borough Council gathered for a special public meeting at Maple Place because borough hall had been flooded. Mayor Michael Mahon and council members spoke with emotion as they acknowledged the volunteers who had not stopped working since that first high tide. "If you put on a fire coat, stand up" he said, "if you put on an EMS jacket... a CERT hat... a gun... a DPW uniform..."
Office of Emergency Management Director Buzz Baldanza broke up when he talked about how Administrator Kim Jungfer and her staff were on the job the morning after the flood. "We were the only town operational the day after," he said, "You gotta thank them for that."
In fact, the office staff worked through the whole storm, and have endured three office moves in the last two weeks. About her own staff, Jungfer said this week, "We're displaced people and they never missed a beat. They really shined. I'm very proud of the entire staff, and the department of public works and the local contractors we hired."
Fighting back tears, she said, "They've been really amazing."
Baldanza also gave sincere thanks to the police officers and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers, who jumped in to work long hours without regard to their own losses. "Their houses have been destroyed just like yours," he said.
That's true for Wendy Baggot, a CERT volunteer now at the center of the volunteer effort at the Port au Peck Chemical Hose Firehouse. Her husband Chris is a volunteer with Oceanport's OEM. When Patch caught up with her on a Friday night working at the warming center, she was waiting for news from a structural engineer to hear if her home could be saved.
Baggot said in light of the destruction, one of her relatives asked her, "Are you leaving Oceanport?" "What are you talking about?" she replied, her face twisted in indignation. "That didn't even cross my mind."
If anything, Sandy has cemented her bond with the town and its people.
"I didn't know Chrissy before this," Baggot said. Now the two work hand in hand every day. It was they, along with fellow CERT members and a handful of new recruits, who created the original warming center and a matrix of resources like donated clothing and bedding, coordinated by Annamarie Ippolito of the PTO.
"It's been a community effort," Ellam said, quick to rattle off names of volunteers and accolades for their efforts: Rich Barnes, John Benedict, Jessica Herndon, Judy Seymour and Larry Seymour "just phenomenal", Mrs. Riordan and the kids from RBR, who moved the warming center in one evening, the National Guard guys "they are wonderful, oh and Robin who made beds for the seniors (in Oceanport Gardens)" and on and on.
"In two days we had a 194 volunteers," said Ellam, who pitched in because she had taken citizen disaster classes with FEMA. In turn Ellam and Baggot reached out to Oceanport residents on the sidelines, like Jack Harris an adjunct professor at Farleigh Dickinson University, who is now handling communications and coordinating volunteer efforts. "He was so reluctant," Baggot said. "I said, 'There's a learning curve but I think you can handle it.'"
And because Harris took immediate ownership of his new responsibility, Baggot said she was able to go and do other things.
"We all got promotions in a matter of hours," she said.
"We wouldn't have been able to do this without Buzzy, the mayor and Chris Baggot," Ellam said. "It was their insistence that they take care of the people they represent. They set the framework fo us to do this."
Hundreds of volunteers have been part of the recovery effort in Oceanport. Use the comment section below to recognize the people you saw lending a hand.