I look outside today and it is beautiful calm and sunny. Slight chill in the air to represent the upcoming holiday season. The temperature drops in the evening which is no problem since I can just turn up the heat and watch a little T.V. This past Friday made me realize how fortunate I am and opened my eyes to both the giving and selfish side of people in the world.
Two weeks ago Hurricane Sandy came to the Northeast with great destruction in her path. Here in Maryland we had four days of rain and some strong winds. Flash floods in many areas and power outages to hundreds of thousand residents. I lost a few shutters but never once lost power. Animals were all safe and we all stayed very warm in the house. This is NOT the case in many areas of New Jersey and New York.
Of course you have seen the destruction on T.V and maybe even donated to a major organization like the Red Cross or FEMA. Sadly a few days after the storm the Presidential Election was the main focus of most of America. People who had no homes, electric, clothes or food were no longer the main focus. Once the election was over, people became angry and self absorbed for days.
A week after Sandy tore through the Northeast my sister game me a call and we chatted about the relief efforts that were lacking in many of the areas. She said that we needed to do something and fast. No More Strays our non profit would accept donations from all around the world and I would shop everyday for items that were needed in the areas that were still waiting for help. If you know me at all or follow my twitter at all you know by now I am very passionate about what I believe in and my expectations are very very big. I figured we would be so overwhelmed with donations that I would have to rent a large U Haul to take the supplies to them.
Our dear friends from Inspired By Ian who I might add are wonderful people and also want to save the world like myself, immediately started campaigning for donations for the victims in need. I was so happy and grateful for the donations that came in from Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland and Nevada. I have to admit there was some disappointment that we did not have a greater response from people. While money may not be something that someone could give, a Facebook share or Twitter retweet is free but sadly many did not share. That said we were able to take over $1000 in new items that were badly needed for both pets and people.
November 16th comes and thanks to our good friend Nicole who lives in New Jersey we had three designations to visit. My son’s friend and mother went grocery shopping the night before and brought bags and bags of groceries for our trip. Now I have a Civic so keep that in mind when you think of $1000 of items to fit not including the groceries.
My son and I took to the the road at 730 am to head to Rutgers University in New Jersey where the shelter that housed many of the victims were. In just under 3 hours we were welcomed by Red Cross Disaster relief team, Nicole and her squad. Due to certain Red Cross restrictions even thought the donations were all new we could not distribute in the shelter but people could come out to the car. Ok so that was not planned but we rolled with it and met some fantastic people. We met a woman that has terminal brain cancer, two kids and a dog named Nanook. She lost everything! Yes EVERYTHING. No house left, no clothes other then what she packed and no where else to go. We had new fleece throws, socks, toiletries, food, scarves, gloves, jackets, and tons of other necessities. While speaking to her she was telling me that many people left their pets in their homes which led to many dogs and cats floating dead down roads. So that started me crying just thinking about the animals floating down the road with collars on them. She said they had plenty of time to plan for their animals but they were left to drown. During our conversation her four year old little girl came up with her sister. She gave her daughter the Penguin fleece throw that I gave her earlier and she walked up beside be and hugged my leg and looked at me and said “Thank You”. This is what totally makes me go into a sobbing crying mess just thinking about how grateful and positive these people were. So while the victims of Sandy are now consoling me, my son is still handing out supplies. I met this guy who said in just 20 minutes the flash floods came and he ran to the upstairs of the house. He was later rescued by jet ski during a rescue mission in the area. The stories I heard, one after another, were nothing that I was prepared for.
Our next stop was to the Animal Shelter in Edison that had a trailer of animals that were rescued from the storm. We hit the road once again and reflect on the people we met and their stories. At the shelter we are greeted by officer Tom of the Middlesex NJ police and a great group of people that run the local shelter. Once inside the Disaster Relief trailer we met the sweetest women ever from Cincinatti Ohio that have been taking care of the animals for a week. This is also where the comedy side of the trip actually happened with out pet donations. The distribution center was our last stop so the car was still very packed and the dog supplies were under it all. So while I am pushing stuff to my son on one side he is pushing to my side. If we had a camera it really would have been quite a funny video moment with everyone laughing at us. Finally we get all the supplies and load everything back into the car for our next stop.
While visiting the animals I got to meet Nanook the Chiweenie dog that the really nice woman in the shelter owned. The ladies let us meet each one of them and gave us their history on how they were rescued or brought in. There was a very adorable black kitten that was a stray that was rescued during the storm. My son who is so allergic is the only thing that stopped me from bringing her home. It was wonderful to meet them and to also tour the facility and see the animals. It reminded me why I do animals rescue in the first place.
Our final stop was to Sayreville, NJ a place that was not only hit hard but taking donations and distributing to all the hard hit areas on the Shore of NJ AND Staten Island NY. We were not really sure what to expect other then we were going to give them the remainder of the donations in hopes that it would help people that have been forgotten. We pull up into an industrial area and follow the signs to the back where we were so surprised by the organization of everything. Scott, one of the main volunteers there was on a forklift with pallets of Joy dish detergent. He greeted us with his Brooklyn accent and could not thank us enough. He then said we needed to see how things were run and grab a bite to eat. We had a few bags of gently used clothes and Scott told my son to take it into the bay on the right. Scott took me a few bays down and showed me the warehouse full of Pampers and Bounce paper towels all donated by the supplier. Nyquil, water, dish and laundry detergent also by suppliers filled the other bay. I was so overwhelmed by what I saw and the amazing generosity of companies all started by one little Facebook group. So now we all have to take the donations into another bay in the warehouse. My son comes out with eyes wide as saucers and tells me that t it looked like a store where all the clothes were. Scott introduces us to several volunteers that were so grateful and kind that my heart was warm right away. Scott takes us to the front of the warehouse to eat. The local Greek church makes food everyday along with others that feeds the volunteers and those that STILL do not have power. The food is delicious!!! I mean real home cooked food and tons of it!. The most amazing thing to me was the process in which people get their donations. If they are local they come in and show their license, similar to how you would at Sam’s Club. They give you a shopping cart and you go through the grocery side and get what you need. This is totally organized like the grocery store to where things are grouped and laid out nicely. They can then go next door to the clothing bay and get what they need there as well. You need to think Marshall’s for this clothing bay as far as how it is set up. Its not just in a pile where you have to sort it, it is all sorted and hung up and divided by sections. So once they get what they need they can go pack plates of food to take with them. Not one person left there feeling like they just took charity, they left like they went to the store just without the paying portion of it. People came in that had no electric still and some had no home at all. These are stories that you don’t hear on the National news. You hear that Red Cross and FEMA are handling it and thank you for donating. This is not a blog on bashing either organization but I can only go by what we saw and heard while we were there. People taking care of people and donations coming in from all over the country from people like us. People drove from North Carolina, Ohio and Michigan to donate and volunteer there. They have donated trucks to takes shipments to other locations that are still in need of relief. I asked Scott how long the center would be open and he said at least til March. As I yelled MARCH so loud people looked at me from across the room, he said people have no homes and condemned homes and they would be there as long as they needed to be to help everyone. Around 3:30 pm it was time to head home and remember how lucky we were that the storm wasn’t a tad bit south or that would be all of us here on the shores of Maryland.
We met some amazing people and it was something that I am so glad we did. Inspired by Ian and few other close friends of ours were able to help others. I didn’t just donate and assume all was going to the right place. We got out there and went to heart of it to see first hand the tree’s on houses, downed power lines, half built houses and most of all the people and animals that now must rebuild. Sayreville, NJ you are lucky to have such caring people in the town. We are so happy to have met each and everyone of you and hope that the donations we were able to bring helped a little bit more. My dear friend Dina, thank you for being a MAJOR part of this trip. You may be 2500 miles away but there is a lot of your heart in New Jersey right now with people who appreciate all that you helped us with.
This is not something that is finished or fixed. These people will still need help for quite a long time. When people are not involved directly it is easy to forget about the help they still need. Let’s not forget about Haiti, New Orleans and other places that have been hit by disasters. I haven’t saved the world yet but I still plan on working on it. Animals have and always will be my main focus for so many reasons but we will try to continue to help as many people as we can.
This year our non profit donated to the animals of the High Park CO fires, Feed and hay for neglected horses that were rescued in Alabama, sponsored animals all across the country to get them into a forever home, vetting expenses and transportation fees for animals to get to their new homes. We also raise money for an organization that I love Dogs for the Deaf. The year is coming to an end and we do rely on donations so we may continue our efforts. If you would like to donate please do so at http://www.no-more-strays.org