“(Mare Johnson, back left): I grew up in this house with my parents since I was 13. I went to High School North, I went to my senior prom while living here. I got married really young and moved away for a few years, but after we got divorced I moved back with my new, great husband, John, whom I have known since before I met my first husband. When I married John when we moved back I added on to this house for my parents to live in. John and I had just finished the painting and putting the floors down and got our Certificate of Occupancy when Sandy came.
“When I started hearing about Sandy, I paid attention. I was thinking, ‘This doesn’t sound good.’ At the time my father was 67 years old and still pretty strong. But just before the storm hit, I said to him, ‘Ok Pop, I think you and mom should go.’ I work in healthcare, so I couldn’t go. And he said, ‘I’m not leaving, I have never left my home.’ As we are discussing it, I see our neighbors packing up their cars to evacuate. The sky was this steel gray, ominous color. I told him, ‘Pop, all of our neighbors are leaving too. And I am worried about our three fur-babies, Macaroni, Rigatoni, and Alfredo. I know you don’t you want to be evacuated, but if you had to be rescued, they will save you first, not the dogs.’ And he said, ‘No one is going to hurt my babies!’ So we packed their cars and they left.
“I went to work at the nursing home in Whiting the morning before Sandy hit, and I knew I was going to have to stay overnight. So I packed up three days worth of clothing and went to work. My next door neighbors John and Cindy were staying, and promised me they would send texts on how things were going on our street.
“I was camped out in my office at work for the night, but never fell asleep. I was glued to my computer all night catching the latest on Sandy. I was so worried about our home. My neighbors Cindy and John as promised were texting me. Everything was going well in the first few texts, but around 3am they sent me a text that their house just got hit by a wall of water. I was in shock when I heard that.
“That Thursday I came home, and I had to park my car between 10th and 11th street because the street was still flooded up that far. My house was between 14th and 15th. I managed to get to my house, and I can see the water line on my house. It was up the middle of my picture window. It had receded at that point, but I could see how high it got. When I opened my front door, and as I walked in, every chair was either on its back or on its side, the kitchen cabinets were wide open, the living room furniture was soaking wet.
“I am walking around, and I am just in this haze. It was so surreal to me. Everything is ruined, everything smells. Everything… just destroyed. Then I had to go back and tell my parents, tell my dad, who moved us down here for a better life, who built this house for us… It was destroyed. I had to tell my husband that our dream home, that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives in, was ruined.
“Fast forward 20 months later. I find out about Jersey Shore United from my neighbors. I contacted them and they send this group come over our house a few days later. A bus showed up half filled with senior citizens, and half with young men along with older sons. They were so happy and cheerful, is was like a Disney movie, ‘whistle while you work’ at my house. This one woman, we called her ‘Granny.’ She is 70-something years old, and she has her knee pads on, and she is screwing in hardboard into the floor to make it nice and level to get the tile on.
“So I am asking some of the men, why are you doing this for me? Why are you doing this for any of us? And they just tell me, ‘Why not you? This is our life. We spend part of our vacation time every year helping the less fortunate that need help.’ And I was dumbstruck. They just lived their faith in their work. It was amazing. They came in the same happy mood all week long. They finished the day before Thanksgiving and I had my turkey roasting for our Thanksgiving dinner the next day.
“I have worked in hospice taking care of others for 15 years. I have never thought of myself as someone who needed help. I was stymied. But Barry was simply, ‘You need help, we have help, we are in all the way. And Barry was great. He was always happy, our cheerleader. And now I am looking for ways to help him and Jersey Shore United give back to others. Whether it is helping put together Hope Chests, or helping run meetings, or help with contacts. I love Barry, he has become a part of our family. When we were at our lowest point, I was so ready to quit, but Barry took the load of a million pounds off of my shoulders. Jersey Shore United changed our life.”
(POTJS is doing a 4-part series on Jersey Shore United this week. There are still hundreds of families without homes at the shore. To find out how you can help, or to find more information about the exciting Day of Hope at the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove this Saturday… (Where I also happen to be speaking this Saturday), please click here: http://
~ Toms River. Homeowners Mare and Jon Johnson, and Mare’s parents Don and Camille Fiorito