When Tom and Lisa Pollaro returned to their Sunrise Beach home days after Hurricane Sandy struck, it was uninhabitable. The Barnegat Bay had surged into their home leaving little to recover.
“We went to the police station and said we’re homeless,” Lisa Pollaro, 49, said.
The couple was directed to the Lacey United Methodist Church, a place that had become a safe haven for locals offering showers, laundry machines, food, supplies and a place to sleep.
One month later, the shelter has become a home for some, including the Pollaros. Over a penne pasta and chicken nugget dinner, the new dwellers of the church joked and exchanged stories.
Nine people are still staying at the church as their homes sustained severe flood damage. More than 30 were residing there at one point.
“We walked into water,” Tom Pollaro, 73, said of when they returned home. “We lost everything.”
Three feet of water filled the Pollaro’s home. The carpets were drenched; a steel door was broken. Although most of their belongings were not salvageable, without contents coverage, they’re also not redeemable.
William Keyworth, 72, returned to his Laurel Boulevard home on the Wednesday after the storm.
“A lot of people were emptying their homes,” he said. “I couldn’t open the door. The fridge was on the floor. Everything was turned upside down.”
Needing a place to stay, Keyworth was also steered to the Lacey United Methodist Church.
“I just came for a shower, was invited for dinner and never left,” Albert Johnson, 78, of Beach Boulevard said. The backside of Johnson’s home had five feet of water. “I just felt the warmness here.”
At one point, Johnson returned to a friend and slept on a recliner chair only to go back to a warm bed at the church.
“This place is great. I owe a lot to them,” Pollaro said.
Those staying at the Lacey United Methodist Church sleep on cots and air mattresses in rooms in the church’s Parish Center.
During the days, when they aren’t gutting their homes, they do chores around the church as well as deliver food to other residents with damage.
Yesterday, Johnson did laundry.
“Whatever can be done, we do,” he said.
The Lacey United Methodist Church continues to send out teams to clean homes.
“I didn’t have the devastation others had so I have to give back to the community. It’s the right thing to do,” Rob Jorgensen, 41, said. Jorgensen wasn’t a member of the church but heard about the work they were doing and wanted to get involve.
“I was very lucky. I just got water in the yard. People are in need,” he said.
Jorgensen has been helping gut homes as well as assisting around the church.
A resident on Capstan Drive was on his last can of soup and broke down as Jorgensen handed him a warm meal, he said. A woman was heating her house with the stove and ran out of formula for her baby.
“All this stuff is still going on,” he said. “They’re struggling to make ends meet. I want to make a difference.”
But where do they all go from here?
“That’s it, we don’t know,” Johnson said.
Those displaced but staying at the church registered with FEMA but are still going through the process, step by step.
Keyworth was given $19,000 from FEMA but an estimate for work on his home was $51,000.
Pollaro was a $5,000 deductible to meet and was told to raise his home would cost more than $30,000.
“We’re at the bottom, most of us. There’s only one way to go and that’s up,” Johnson said.
One thing they do know is they’ll be forever connected to the Lacey United Methodist Church, although they weren’t originally members of the worship place.
“I am now,” Pollaro said.
“They’re stuck with us. We just love them,” Pastor Linda Applegate said of the temporary residents. “I’m so grateful. Even in a tragedy, it’s such a beautiful experience.”
The Lacey United Methodist Church will continue to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to the public through Sunday, Dec. 10.
A Christmas party will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 19 for all the families that the church serviced over the last month.
Those interested in volunteering on a clean up team can call Greg Edgecomb at 609-290-3643.
Although the church is no longer taking in donations, they are keeping a list of items. If you have any furniture, household supplies or other donations, call 609-693-5222.