More than three decades of accumulated family possessions and mementos lay in curbside mounds Saturday outside the ochre-colored home of Gloria Woody, 72, and her son, Frank, 48, just two blocks from a small boatyard in Atlantic City.
Church volunteers had come that morning and continued willingly into the afternoon to remove sodden belongings and still-damp drywall from the Woodys’ basement and garage, which had been invaded by the floodwaters of Hurricane Sandy. Only with their removal could repairs begin.
“There’s a whole lot of stuff,” Gloria Woody said softly, almost as though praying, as she surveyed the piles.
A lot indeed: old Bibles, luggage, a Crock-Pot, clothes, jigsaw puzzles, Christmas wrap that will never be used.
But when she spied some angel figurines nestled among the debris, instead of feeling bereft, the retired keypunch operator and former national guardsman said, nodding toward the volunteers, she felt blessed.
“It’s like God sent me angels,” Woody said, leaning on her walker, “to help fix this.”
Judging from Saturday’s helpers, angels come in all shapes and sizes, from points south and north.
Since the first weekend after Sandy struck, wreaking terrible damage on the Jersey Shore, volunteers with New Covenant Community Church in Somers Point, along with those from other congregations, have been helping storm-affected households clear out ruined carpeting, furniture, and building materials.
So far, they have helped more than 40 homeowners who would have had to hire laborers to do the work, according to project organizer and church elder Bob Wytupeck, 50.
“That could eat up to a third of the money these folks are getting from their insurance or FEMA,” Wytupeck said.
In addition to carting away damaged goods, the volunteers were there to minister to sunken spirits, praying with homeowners who feel that need, Wytupeck said.
“It’s in our DNA,” said Max Fisher, 63, who works in tool rental and who was leading a team of volunteers from First United Methodist Church in Moorestown that has been helping with New Covenant’s efforts. “We are a Christian group. It is our responsibility to help the least of, those in need. That’s what we do.”
He said his church was among congregations around the state that are part of a Methodist help effort.
On Saturday, what more than 40 volunteers were doing was helping homeowners at three properties on North Connecticut Avenue in Atlantic City.
“I don’t know what I would do without it,” said Helen Reddish, 79, a retired casino worker and a neighbor of the Woodys whose basement recreation room and powder room were flooded during the storm. She has stayed in her home with only partial electricity and space heaters for warmth out of fear of burglars.
Next door, helping the volunteers, was Don Craig, 60, an auditor with the State of New Jersey, who had already moved his mother, Ethlyn, 87, to his Morrisville home.
“Top-notch,” Craig said of the efforts on his mother’s behalf. “I don’t know what it would have cost to get this done. A pretty penny.”
Some of the volunteers have known better times themselves.
Wytupeck said he was laid off from his sales representative job several months ago and had been looking for work. Social media, he said, have helped get the word out about the volunteer effort, which will extend from Brigantine to Strathmere.
Michael Chester, 40, taking down damaged drywall at the Craig residence, said he was laid off from his landscaping job.
Why was he volunteering?
“Because it needs to be done,” Chester said.
Elmine VanDenBerg, 51, a Mount Laurel resident volunteering through First United Methodist in Moorestown, said she wanted to give back to the larger South Jersey community.
“Everybody travels to Ocean City and Atlantic City for vacation,” said VanDenBerg, who is originally from South Africa. “We need to be here in the hard times as well.”
Gloria and Frank Woody appreciated that they were. For the first 10 days after Sandy sent about four feet of water surging through the walls of their basement, they held on in their home, despite having no heat or hot water. But in the end, they relented.
“I was so cold in here, and my knee and hip hurt so bad,” Gloria Woody said. They have been staying at a hotel recently, and instead of having dinner at home, they went to the Golden Nugget on Thanksgiving.
On Saturday, she took a last look at all the things saved over the years since she moved into the house in the 1970s. Some belonged to loved ones who have moved or passed on.
A faux leopard-print hat, in particular, seemed to elicit a memory and a laugh, but, Gloria Woody said, “I’m going to let it all go.”
Her helper angels, she said, were welcome to whatever they fancied for all they had done:
“I told them, if they see anything they want, take it.”[teaser url=”https://www.fusionchurch.cc/heart-for-the-house/” title=”HEART FOR THE HOUSE” src=”https://www.fusionchurch.cc/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Screen-Shot-2012-12-06-at-8.34.42-PM.png” target=”_blank”]learn more…[/teaser]