Recovery: Feeding Troops in Sea Bright

Woody's Food/Tent City is feeding thousands of Hurricane Sandy refugees and volunteers a day

"In all my 39 years as a fireman, I've never seen anything as bad as what  Hurricane Sandy did here," said Sea Bright Fire Department Captain Dave Estelle, also a retired Deal policeman, as he chatted in front of the firehouse with other volunteers readying to feed the troops dinner.

To the right of Estelle, where there used to be a public beach parking lot, there was an encampment: rows of U.S. Army National Guard tents, refrigeration trucks, hummers, soldiers and civilian volunteers scurrying around, sorting through supplies and on alert to help.

Chris Wood, or Woody, the owner of Woody's Ocean Grille who spearheaded what had become unofficially dubbed Food/Tent City, milled around, totally in sync with his mission.

He directed food, supplies and people to the right areas, geared up for dinner and rattled off a list of what was needed the next day:  "OK ... tomatoes, cucumbers, boxes of rubber gloves, potatoes, shallow long aluminum chafing pans, dish towels, paper grocery bags, whole milk, half and half, peppers, onions, ice, soda, sports drinks, lighters and sterno."

For those who would like to contribute, those supplies will be collected at the parking lot at the corner of Bingham Avenue and River Road in Rumson (across from Crazee's) on Tuesday morning.

It's like that daily in Woody's oceanside world where he and a host of others work to bring Sea Bright back and help Sandy's survivors. Getting people three square meals a day is a start. It soothes the souls and feeds the fight.

There's breakfast, lunch and dinner ... and then the volunteers regroup, reassess and do it all over again the next day. The days have melded together since Sandy spun her wrath on the beachfront peninsula community that was strewn with beach, bars, restaurants and homes — all of it gone now, surrendered to nature in what looks like a apocalyptic isle.

Then there's the spirit of survival that seems to blanket the bad. It did not take long for Sea Bright residents and business owners to rally and look toward rebuilding.

Not injured as much as others by Sandy's destruction, Woody was one of the first.

What started out as a without-a-flinch reaction to a disaster that literally hit home for the area native and Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School alumni, Woody never imagined just how massively his vision to help would materialize.

"I just figured that since I made it through so reasonably well that it was just a natural thing to do to help in any way I could," Woody said. "My head chef was amazing in his efforts to help me get this going. Then, before I knew it, so many great people were helping and the National Guard was here with tents and refrigerated trucks.

"Grace Hanlon, of the NJ Division of Travel and Tourism really helped out with that. We got a thumbs up from Gov. Christie, who was here and great with lending support. Bon Jovi was here showing support. I'm just so grateful to everyone who's helped set this up and keep it going. There's just so much more to do."

Woody said he and his volunteers have fed and continue to feed roughly 2,000 people a day, with lunch bringing in the biggest crowd, "because that's when most of the residents are here." He estimates that once residents are allowed to start moving back into town, "that number will increase exponentially."

As he was talking in front of a backdrop of tents, supplies and mountains of sand and plows piling it back in place, a trailer pulled up with portable showers for the guardsmen who sleep at the site.

A couple of them joked about who was sleeping in what tent and where the water tends to leak in when there's rain. They've been there for days ... on the mission.

A few Michigan State Troopers walked through. Troopers from Mississippi had been there in the days before. A lot of volunteers from all over the nation have come to Sea Bright's aid. In the middle of it all, Woody was trying to get a bus to take the Mississippi troopers into New York City to visit Ground Zero, but, he said, they were called back before that could happen. He felt bad. He wanted to do a little something for them.

Some newly-assigned soldiers arrived.

Sunset fell on the oceanside tent city. The smell of home-cooked food lingered in the air. Bright orange Xs on condemned buildings seemed to stand out more. The droning, comforting beeping of trucks at work started to wane. Dinner would soon be served.

Another day was done in a mission that's enduring.

A nonprofit, Sea Bright Rising is being set up. Click here to like its Facebook page and get updates. Stay tuned to Patch to find out what's needed next for Woody's Food/Tent City.

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