By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN – Nearly five months after Super Storm Sandy pulverized the region, township officials are winding down the Croydon Relief Center with volunteers feeling the time is right while acknowledging the need for assistance remains.
“All the services available, all the resources out there – it’s a full-time job,” said Tracey Keogh, a member of the Middletown’s Volunteer Corps, who has been working at the center since it opened.
During the time the center has been available, Keogh believes it helped “fill that gap,” for people, providing them with their immediate needs in the storm’s aftermath and helping them obtain long-term assistance as they struggled to get their lives back.
Now, though, she believes it’s time to allow organizations that specialize in offering assistance to take the lead.
The center will close April 1. Until then, it will continue its operations from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, March 27 and Saturday. March 30.
Once the center closes its doors, the remainder of the donations at Croydon Hall will be given to Project Paul, a not-for-profit public assistance organization, 211 Carr Ave., Keansburg.
Project Paul has the largest independent food pantry in Monmouth County, and has been providing food, clothing and help for the needy with things like living expenses since 1980, according to information provided by township spokesperson Cindy Herrschaft.
As work to close the relief center is in progress, “We’re really trying to direct residents to Project Paul,” Keogh said.
The Croydon Hall Relief Center came about after Sandy battered portions of the approximately 40-square-mile township. The mayor and township committee formed a volunteer corps to coordinate the outpouring from residents who wanted to help their neighbors.
Township residents Keogh and Michelle Reda started out by volunteering at the Port Monmouth firehouse. It had sustained considerable flooding and damage from the storm but immediately became one of the locations established to help those in areas hard hit, like the “wet side” of Port Monmouth, east of Highway 36.
Eventually efforts were consolidated in the gym at Croydon Hall, a municipal-owned complex at 900 Leonardville Road, in Leonardo.
During their time there, Keogh and Reda said, they have worked with residents offering help and representatives from numerous organizations, including the federal AmeriCorps, Project Paul, Red Bank food pantry and soup kitchen Lunch Break, Habitat for Humanity, plus Monmouth County and state organizations, churches and religious-based groups and private-sector businesses.
Keogh noted there is still a considerable need with about 100 people coming to visit during the center’s twice-a-week hours of operation.
Middletown, possibly because it’s so large and sprawling, didn’t seem to get some of the attention that some, clearly devastated areas attracted. Some residents did not realize the extent of damage in some township sections, Keogh said.
Leonardo, Belford, Port Monmouth and some locations in North Middletown, overlooking the Raritan Bay, were hit hard. Impacted were 1,200 township homes; 250 with substantial damage, meaning with more than $50,000 of damage; and 50 homes that were completely destroyed, she said.
The initial need was for cleaning supplies as people mopped up from the flooding, as well as food and clothing.
While people are still requesting those items, the emphasis has moved toward longer-term needs, including rental assistance and construction contractor information, volunteers said.
What has struck Reda is how something so simple can mean so much to people who are strained by circumstances.
“Just to listen, to say ‘I’m praying for you,’ letting them know somebody cares – that’s what they need,” Reda said.
For Kathy, an Atlantic Highlands resident who wouldn’t give her last name, the need remains. While her home may not have been damaged by the storm, the storm caused her to lose weeks’ of work and pay, making what had been a financially difficult time worse. She said she has relied on the food from Croydon Hall to carry her through.
“It’s really helped me a lot, helped me pay my rent,” she said.
“It will be missed. It’s helped me tremendously,” she said, adding she will likely look to Project Paul for continued help.