There are about 6000 homes in the town of Hopatcong and not one of them has power. Four days after Sandy blew through the area work has begun on repairing the multitude of telephone poles that were snapped in two or taken down as the result of the hundreds of trees that blew from their roots as a result of the high winds.
The town’s high school has been turned into a shelter of sorts. Residents are invited; encouraged even, to take refuge from the cold and enjoy a hot shower, hot food and a warm place to rest, and even a place to stay until power is restored. Since Tuesday, when the town’s C.E.R.T. organized and opened the school as a shelter, 1200 people a day have been taking advantage of the space. As of Wednesday, the American Red Cross is overseeing the operation, adding 21 new Red Cross volunteers today. Along with the Red Cross, 15 Hopatcong C.E.R.T volunteers are working around the clock to provide a safe and comfortable environment for its fellow citizens said Tony Chinea, assistant team leader for C.E.R.T.
Also working with the Red Cross and the C.E.R.T. volunteers are seven young members of AmeriCorps, a national volunteer service organization who provides help when needed.
According to Alexandra Ogilvie, AmeriCorps Media Representative, the Atlantic Campus members who are in Hopatcong were working in Brownsville, Pennsylvania just before Sandy stormed into the area. By Tuesday they were making their way to the state Red Cross headquarters in North Brunswick (moved from New Brunswick due to damage from the storm) who then dispatched the group to Hopatcong H.S. The group has been working around the clock ever since.
“The Red Cross and FEMA love us (AmeriCorps) because they know we will always respond to a disaster,” said Olgilvie.
According to Olgilvie, an AmeriCorps volunteer signs up for a 10 month stint. Most only ever see service for non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity, local food banks, or non-profit children’s camps. For this group, based out of Perry Point, MD, the work in Brownsville was for the local downtown revitalization organization and the work was mostly about sprucing up and cleaning up the local parks and public areas.
It was to be their last assignment. But that was before Sandy. Their 10 month commitment to AmeriCorps ended on November 2.
“We are not going anyplace. The whole team is committed to this place,” said Olgilvie said of her and the team.
In addition to Olgilivie who hails from Salt Lake City, Utah, there is Oliver Dougherty, 25, from St. Paul, MN, Ox Clamann, 19, from Austin, TX, Chelsea Pennucci, 23, from Mamaroneck, NY, Cynthia Maddox-Byrd, 18, from Fredericksburg VA, Quin Baine, 19, from Santa Cruz, CA, and Dan Clesowich, 25, from Lebanon, CT and the team leader.
The team provides much needed assistance to the effort said Hopatcong Mayor Sylvia Petillo, who has been helping at the shelter around the clock. The group has been instrumental with keeping the children occupied with games, keeping the coffee brewed and hot and plentiful, and providing a helping hand whenever and wherever needed.
And the town of Hopatcong needs the help.
“Our entire town is without power,” said Mayor Petillo. “The transformer infrastructure has been destroyed. There are crews are at two substations as we speak. And there are crews putting up new telephone poles. Our DPW is working seven days along with crews from JCP&L to get the roads cleared. They ‘re in town and working,” she added.
According to a C.E.R.T. volunteer, the oldest person at the high school is Josephine Hartmann, 98. She was rescued from her home by Hopatcong police and brought to the shelter on Tuesday. There are two six-week-old babies, making them the youngest visitors at the center. Also in temporary residence are four dogs and three cats, all in crates, separated from the humans.
“I just got so cold. My hands were turning white. My house is okay but I don’t have any electric,” said Hartmann who gets around with a walker.
“In the beginning I got lost (being in the high school) but now I’m used to it. People are so nice here and so accommodating. I’ve even met a few new people,” she said.
Donations are being accepted at the front door. C.E.R.T. is asking for clean shower towels, coffee and filters, milk, paper plates, and treats for the kids. They do not need donations of clothes.
800 meals a day are being delivered by the Red Cross all cooked by the Southern Baptist Conference.
Tony Chinea, C.E.R.T. assistant team leader, uses a walkie talkie to communicate with other C.E.R.T. volunteers.
Kathy Ferrentino, C.E.R.T. volunteer, sorts through donated food and dry items, ready to distribute to guests at the shelter.
AmeriCorps member Oliver Doughtery, center, lugs supplies to the coffee room.