By John Burton
RUMSON – Volunteers at Bingham Hall have seen the number of people coming for help in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy begin to dwindle but those appearing now have needs that are more extensive and more long-term.
“We’ve gone from survival mode” following the massive Oct. 29 storm. “Now it’s more complex issues,” said Joyce Shine-Mattis.
She has been volunteering at the borough-owned community center that was opened almost immediately after the storm to assist those impacted by Sandy with aid and support.
Shine-Mattis, a borough resident, was among a group of volunteers recently on hand at Bingham Hall, 40 Bingham Ave., who were sorting clothing donations, hunched over laptops and using cellphones to field calls from those seeking assistance and from those wishing to offer some help.
When the storm ripped through the area, its high winds and tidal surges caused catastrophic damage along the coastline, including portions of the borough, and especially in neighboring Sea Bright and the Bayshore area in the northern portion of Monmouth County. People with uninhabitable homes and no power began coming to the makeshift comfort and aid area set up in the hall.
Shine-Mattis and some of her fellow volunteers noted that during the initial weeks, they addressed immediate needs – getting people fed, finding warm clothes, charging cellphones and other electronic devices and passing along information. At that time, the volunteers saw a couple of hundred people a day.
Now they see about 30 to 40 and the needs are more complex and it takes much longer to try and help resolve the issues, Shine-Mattis said.
After the initial shock, people now realize this will be a protracted event and will require them to make long-term plans, especially for housing. Therefore, the work of the volunteers is evolving.
Kathy Grabowy, a Rumson resident, compared what people are feeling to the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. “Now we’re in the anger and bargaining stage,” as people take stock of what to do next, she said.
The group of volunteers is reaching out to the numerous organizations – every group from the Red Cross to the Salvation Army and Love Inc. – to compile lists of services available.
The volunteers function as facilitators, and determine where best to place the cash donations they receive.
The No. 1 issue, they said, is the need for housing and, likely, financial support so people can afford decent places to live. Those severely impacted by the storm are realizing, that not only will their houses not be safe to live in and that they have to deal with insurance adjusters and the accompanying bureaucracy, but also they still have mortgages to pay, Shine-Mattis said.
People have been very generous, donating their belongings, their food, their money and their own homes, inviting people to stay with them, Shine-Mattis said. They have given tens of thousands of dollars in donations. Along with that, area real estate agents are providing time and resources to help place people in available housing.
Unfortunately, such assistance will be needed for quite a while as people continue to seek help, she acknowledged.