Helping Superstorm Sandy victims two years later

Chelsey Morgan and Thea Hartzell, with New York City in the background.

Chelsey Morgan and Thea Hartzell, with New York City in the background.

Chelsey Morgan (and Thea Hartzell) were only allowed to use battery-operated tools on the mission trip.

Chelsey Morgan (and Thea Hartzell) were only allowed to use battery-operated tools on the mission trip.

By Marcie Klomp

“I’d like to do Peace Corps some day. So I thought I’d try this,” is what Chelsey Morgan, 16, said after the mission trip she took to New Jersey with her childhood friend, Thea Hartzell, also 16.

“I just wanted to go and volunteer. Anywhere was okay with me,” she continued. “I approached Pastor Mel (Melanie Greengo of Lime Springs United Methodist Church) about doing a mission trip for Jesus. She said, ‘Let me take a look’, and she found this. This is A Future with Hope. I asked Thea if she would like to do it as well, and she was excited!”

The girls left Minneapolis on Aug. 9 around 5 a.m. in seven 12-passenger vans, with a group of 70 people, aged 14-78. They drove 18 hours the first day, staying overnight in a sister-Methodist church. Sunday, they drove 10 hours until they reached their home-away-from-home, a Methodist church in Highlands, N.J.

The New Jersey shoreline was one of the hardest hit places by Superstorm Sandy, on Oct. 29, 2012. It caused over $65 billion in damages in the United States.

The group was split into seven different sections, with each person being put on a project where their skills could best be utilized. Somehow the girls got separated, each working a different project. They were surprised at how much more needed to be done, even after nearly two years.

In the Highlands area, Chelsey explained most houses were unfinished. “The average house still needed work. The closer you got to the ocean, the houses were bad.”

Chelsey was in a house where volunteers were still working on framework. Thea’s house was a little further along, and she joked she is now an unofficial expert on drywall!

The Midwestern girls learned the value of the dollar. Chelsey explained how contractors would be hired to do a job, then quit midway through to work on a higher-paying job. It seemed to them that the million dollar houses along the beachfront were all fixed up. It was the middle to lower-class homes that still needed repaired.

“The really rich people had their houses done. The average person was still getting theirs worked on,” Chelsey said.

Thea agreed. “It was very eye-opening as far as how many people still need to be helped. It was a huge difference between upper class and lower/middle class. The lights weren’t even on in some of the upper class homes, like they were vacation homes.”

The contrast between rich and poor was a big difference Chelsey and Thea noticed. It was also peculiar how the eastern shore differs from the Midwest. Thea observed how Iowa has snow that needs plowed and New Jersey has sand. “One day it downpoured, and the next day they had to shovel sand off the roads!”

The girls found it interesting that if the homeowners are getting insurance or federal aid, they are required to raise their houses 8-13 feet (depending on the county or organization helping), which is an added expense to an already costly venture.

“My team did framing and sometimes fixed other people’s mistakes,” Chelsey smiled. In the five working days there, her group put in a front door, did framing and put up some siding. “I don’t feel like we got a lot accomplished. Those 18 or older could work with power tools. I could only work with battery-operated tools. We were only there for a week. As soon as you got into the groove, then you leave.”

“We hung sheet rock. I spent the whole week sanding and spackling,” Thea noted. “The highlight of my week was just being able, in a small way, to help a couple get back in their home. They were living in a camper in their front lawn. When they get back in their house, they said they would never camp again!”

Just as the Future With Hope group helped, so did the people of New Jersey. Chelsey recalled, “The neighbors around us would bring us snacks and food. They said, ‘This is God’s work.’ On the last day, even the inspector brought us pizza.”

Thea’s family was also very appreciative of the work being done. “On the last day, our people made us lunch—Jersey dogs and egg plant parmesan casserole.”

Although the crews worked hard, they also were able to get away and spend half a day in New York City. Several different trips were planned. Chelsey and Thea chose the Chinatown/Times Square/911 Memorial trip.

Chelsey commented she liked the 911 Memorial best because it had more tourists, ie. non-New Yorkers. “New York is weird, and the people are creepy. People dress in an Elmo costume and say, ‘How about a picture for money?’ There aren’t any public bathrooms, and I bought a hot dog and a Snapple for $16.00!” The kind-hearted girl also gave some sort of change to every beggar who asked.

Thea’s experience was much the same. “I never want to live there. It was insane. It is hard to describe how many people are there. It is very unsanitary, and you feel very small.”

Chelsey was sorry to leave. “I wanted to do more. Next week, there was nobody who was going to work on our house.”

Thea recommended everyone should volunteer.

(Editor’s note: I was excited to do this story for Chelsey Morgan. I was and am proud of my curly-haired, beautiful, sassy [in a good way] and happy niece. Sadly, she went to be with Jesus just two-and-a-half days after we talked about her great adventure. She has left a deep void in my heart, as well as many others. She will be missed.)

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