By John Burton
HIGHLANDS – Saturday is all about helping friends, fellow business owners and maybe total strangers who are in need after what Super Storm Sandy has wrought.
That’s the intent of the 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. event Saturday, April 27, organized by the Highlands Business Partnership. The partnership’s Hope for Highlands project is expected to draw more than 400 volunteers who will offer their assistance to help the community so devastated by the October storm, according to Carla Cefalo-Braswell, president of the partnership, which oversees the borough’s business improvement district.
“It’s amazing to me how many people who have pulled together and organizations that have partnered with us to really get the town moving,” Cefalo-Braswell said of this and previous efforts to assist the community.
Saturday’s effort will involve volunteers from among such corporate entities as Comcast, Sherwin-Williams and Raymour & Flanigan, along with members of the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association and Love, INC, who all will be offering their sweat equity to help residents and businesses.
Volunteers will be asked to help with cleaning, gardening, raking, doing some Sheetrock work and painting. Some skilled volunteers will work on rebuilding homes damaged and destroyed.
Along with the physical help, Cefalo-Braswell said Sherwin-Williams is donating paint, which will be used to refurbish the exterior of a couple of restaurants and residences. Raymour & Flanigan will offer some furniture and Comcast is expected to make a cash contribution to be used by residents and businesses, as they continue to rebuild and restore in Sandy’s aftermath.
“It really will be a day of celebrating volunteerism – that’s what it’s all about,” Cefalo-Braswell said.
Along with those efforts, the firefighters benevolent association has selected the borough’s Veteran’s Park at Bay and Shrewsbury avenues as the site of its next Where Angels Play playground, Cefalo-Braswell said. The organization is working to build playgrounds in honor of the 26 victims in last December’s Newtown, Conn., shooting.
The group plans to construct 26 playgrounds in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; the first was built in Sea Bright last month.
Association members will tear up and haul off the destroyed boardwalk located along the shoreline at Veterans Park to make way for a new boardwalk, Cefalo-Braswell said.
Among the local businesses expected to be helped will be two restaurants, the Inlet Café, 3 Cornwall St., and Chilangos, a Mexican restaurant located at 272 Bay Ave. Both locations were hit hard by the storm and their owners have been working feverishly to open in time for Mother’s Day and Cinco de Mayo, respectively, and for the important summer season.
Volunteers will paint the restaurants’ exteriors, Cefalo-Braswell said.
Chilangos had about 6 1/2 feet of water rush through the structure. Owner Leo Cervantes has been wading through insurance headaches as he tries to get the business up and running, he said.
“It’s been really nice getting help from friends and family” and he appreciates what the others are willing to do, he said.
Doug Lentz, Inlet Café’s owner, called the damage to the café, his other location – the Original Oyster, 1 Willow St. – and his home, which is attached to the café, “catastrophic.”
Work at the café, which was flooded with about 5 feet of water, is now about 75 percent complete, Lentz said. The Original Oyster, however, “took a pretty good hit and that will not be reopening as it was,” he said.
Lentz is considering other opportunities for the location; a tiki bar is one possibility, he said.
“This is a town with a lot of potential,” Cervantes said of Highlands, where he is also a resident. “In the long run, it’ll be a better town, definitely 100 percent better.”
Lentz, on the other hand, appeared a little more introspective about the future. “I think it’s a town in transition,” with a number of residents and businesses deciding to not return. But with the café’s reopening, “we’re looking for a good season,” he said.
“I think a lot of people need to hang in there,” Cefalo-Braswell said, though she acknowledged “there are a lot of people still undecided, proceeding with caution” for the future.
“There’s help available,” both financial and physical, through the Hope for Highlands effort and the generosity of organizations like the Robin Hood Foundation, which has contributed a $250,000 grant for repairs.
“There’s always a friend, there’s always someone to lend a helping hand,” she said.