Some 834 miles from Chicago, lies the town of Brick, New Jersey. It is hard to find on the map, but this ocean town lies sleepily on the coast. Hit hard from Hurricane Sandy nearly six months ago, Brick is just starting to piece together the fallen bricks of houses and bring the people home again.
Our journey to Brick, was the 13th mission of Hope’s on the Way since our inception in 2006 after hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana, causing massive devastation to New Orleans, and the surrounding communities. By some standards it was the hardest mission made thus far. It was not the work as much as the difficulties getting there and the living conditions once there that made this trip more difficult. Of course our team survived.
A group of twelve had signed up. Because of medical problems two men had to decline dropping out the week before thus reducing the number to ten. We prayed and continued our mission. Only minutes before we were to pick up our rental vehicles, we received a call saying no vans were available for us. We prayed. God answered our prayers giving us vehicles from team and board members to use. Thanking God, we continued our mission.
On arrival we were housed in a convent with no beds or air conditioning. Sleeping on the floor; no problem. Weathering high temperatures in the house; no problem. Working in almost 100 degree temperatures with little or no water to keep hydrated; it was a problem, but we weathered through it all. From lack of proper sleep to working in extreme conditions, this group of volunteers whose average age was 70 showed the younger generation just what they were made of. Their faith and prayer sustained them.
The mission was simple; do as much as we can for the folks in Brick. Looking around at the homes in Brick, the interesting part was that very few homes were made of brick. Mostly all the homes were sided with wood or vinyl type covering. Only the chimneys were brick. In any case this town had received a wallop from Sandy and after six months’ time, were just beginning to put the pieces back together. Because of red tape many homeowners had not received permission to do any major work. Gutted homes sat idle waiting for the word to rebuild. Some were told to raise their homes above a flood line that was established. We were told that line was three to four feet above where the homes presently sat. Because of this stipulation homeowners waited to do any remodeling until their homes were raised to the proper height.
Hence our work in Brick was not the normal rebuilding effort we were used to accomplishing. Instead the work varied. On Monday we began at the Visitation Relief Center. There volunteers installed 80 feet of gutter on the second floor of the building that separated the office area from the garden center. Originally this site was run by a landscaper. Others went to assist at a home that was to be demolished. The task, to cut out all the copper piping from under the house in a crawl space. At 98 degrees the crawl space was extremely hot; still the team completed the project.
The rest of the week had similar projects. Remove slate from the backyard of a home to be demolished, repair a broken storm door and make safe a falling porch by replacing two stairs, install bi-fold doors, remove and install an exterior door for a food pantry. We even had a request for administrative assistance, doing typing and filing. Our administrative team was asked to formulate operational protocols. We even moved linen and pillows from an armory to the Relief Center.
While we were in warm and sunny Brick, those in Chicago, experienced howling winds and violent storms. Calls from home filled us in about the violent weather. We thanked God that our homes were spared damage.
The team continued sleeping in the 80 degree weather and daily work temperatures in the high 90s. Through it all we were focused on helping anyway we could. Other projects completed were: Ceramic tile in a bathroom, heating/air conditioning venting for a new office space, drywall installation, and painting. The days seemed filled with one little project after another.
As the remaining projects on the board required permits that were still not received, we bid Brick farewell and began our 18 hour trip back to Chicago, stopping in Newton Falls, Ohio, for a restful evening; enjoying a hot shower and a real bed; the first good night’s sleep in many days.