By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT – Sea Bright Rising has hit a significant milestone and now is offering even more help from professionals in various fields to those impacted by Super Storm Sandy.
The organizers for the recovery organization, working to assist residents and businesses struck hard by Sandy, have raised more than $1 million.
“I think it’s a huge accomplishment, no doubt about it,” said Chris Wood, co-owner of Woody’s restaurant and bar in the borough, who, with his business partner, Peter Forlenza, established the organization.
So far, Sea Bright Rising has distributed roughly $470,000 of the funds raised to about 160 families and four local businesses, said Ilene Winters, a member of the organization’s board.
The organization has obtained a $250,000 grant from the Robin Hood Foundation, which was the recipient of funds raised during the 12.12.12 concert in Madison Square Garden for Sandy Relief. Sea Bright Rising also has been given a $100,000 donation from an anonymous donor, another $100,000 from Fairmont Specialty, a local insurance brokerage agency, and individual donations, according to Winters.
While the fundraising and dispersing of money will continue, the organization is working on “the next phase of this,” Wood said.
“Obviously, there is still a great need” for those impacted by Sandy, he said, including obtaining information and direction on how to move forward with rebuilding.
To that end the organization has established the Sea Bright Solution Center, which will open for the first time at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 16 in borough hall.
The center will be staffed with volunteers from a variety of fields who will offer advice and counseling to the public. “We have so many who have lined up to offer their services,” including lawyers, insurance specialists, building and computer experts and others, Wood said.
The center will be open the second Saturday morning and third Wednesday evening of the month, as demand requires, according to Winters.
The Sea Bright Solution Center initially was set to open Feb. 9 but the opening was postponed because of the winter storm.
“Whatever we can do to help has been well-received so far and we’ll look to continue it,” Wood said.
Wood, along with his business partner Forlenza, started out by providing hot food and beverages for the National Guard members and other emergency workers on site, as well as for those who began to return to their homes and property in the days after the late October storm.
From there, Wood said, their efforts morphed into what has become Sea Bright Rising and includes on its board Wood, Forlenza, Winters and Robert Long, husband of Mayor Dina Long.
The organization’s mission is to primarily help the approximately 1,400 borough residents rebuild their lives, because, as Wood said, “everyone lost something.”
The organization has been offering assistance with rent and security deposits for those who were displaced and down payments for cars for those who lost their vehicles in the storm, Winters said.
The second leg of the group’s mission is to assist businesses in reopening and revitalizing the community. “If the businesses don’t come back there isn’t going to be a town,” Winters said. To a lesser degree, the group will work on restoring the community’s infrastructure, Wood said.
As the need to assist residents eventually winds down, possibly in the next few months, Sea Bright Rising may find itself concentrating more on working with the business community, Winters said.
“We’re eternally grateful to the people who have donated already. Everyone has been exceptionally generous with their time and with their financial resources,” Winters said.
That appreciation also goes for those who have received donations, Winters said, displaying a note the organization recently received. The handwritten note, from a recipient who Winters declined to identify, said, “Like the first warm breeze of spring after a cold, grey winter, your gift was a ray of hope when we were most discouraged. Rest assured your kindness will be remembered.”