Fran Bendack had tears in her eyes as she welcomed the dozen University of Scranton students who arrived at her house early Saturday morning to help clean up the yard of her Oceanport home.
The students had set off from their Pennsylvania campus at the crack of dawn that morning, stuffed into two minivans, to spend their spring break helping borough residents whose homes sustained significant damage during Hurricane Sandy, and Bendack's house was their first stop.
Bendack, 73, emerged from the Serand Avenue ranch she's lived in for 43 years to greet the group and was visibly overcome with emotion. She told them that everything that could go wrong, had go wrong as she and her husband tried to return to the life they knew before Sandy brought four inches of floodwater into their home and displaced them for almost five months.
Just that morning, she had to deal with a gas leak scare, which came on top of clogged toilets and new shower doors that wouldn't close the night before. There's also a big patch running across her roof that now needs to be replaced. She and her husband, Joe, 77, are trying to move back into the house where they raised their family that now has freshly painted walls, hardwood floors and new kitchen appliances, but little furniture.
Bendack said that the list of things that needs to get done is often overwhelming as they navigate the strange new world of insurance, FEMA and rebates. "I really do try to take things one day at a time," she said.
They alternated staying in the house and the makeshift shelter at Maple Place for a few days after the storm until it got too cold at home, she said. They moved in with friends and enjoyed the "smell of coffee and wonderful dinners," but at some point she said she knew, "You've gotta move on." They lucked into a rental through friends that they moved into at the beginning on December and focused on cleaning up their storm-damaged home.
Initially, she said, "We were like little turtles doing everything ourselves." But with the help of friends and borough volunteers, they were able to remove debris from the sodden interior and make the home -- almost -- livable.
the group formed following Sandy to assist residents in Bendack's shoes, helped arrange for the college students to come to Oceanport for five days and help out where they could. According to Chrissy Ellam, one of the driving forces behind the group, Oceanport Cares is assisting approximately 170 homeowners -- focusing mostly on seniors and singles -- recover from Sandy.
Ellam said that the university had contacted her in December to see if Oceanport could use some helping hands and arranged for the group to arrive for spring break. They're staying at a local hotel until Wednesday.
Dorian Skinner, a sophomore at Scranton from Upstate New York, said that he came to Oceanport as a way of "seeing things from a different perspective."
"I think we often take things for granted," he added, "and this is a way to appreciate what we have."