There was a sense of holiday cheer at the Lacey United Methodist Church as opposed to the downcast that Hurricane Sandy has left on those displaced, as they were served a dinner by ShopRite volunteers and former New England Patriot Jarvis Green.
Dottie, who declined to provide her last name, held hands with Denise Vacarro as she cried over the devastation of the superstorm and the generosity of volunteers.
“It’s overwhelming,” Vacarro said.
Vacarro was standing in her yard crying as she took in the damage caused by Sandy when Dottie and a friend — total strangers at the time — pulled up to her Beach Boulevard house and offered help. Dottie drove up from Cape May to volunteer at the Lacey United Methodist Church.
“When this happened, I knew that there were people in need,” said Dottie, who had volunteered during the time of Katrina. “This is where God led us. We gutted houses and served where we could.”
The process since Hurricane Sandy has been “emotionally draining,” Vacarro said over a plate of pasta, shrimp, meatballs and salad. Today she registered for the food bank and she is temporarily living with a neighbor. Her house was “almost condemned.”
“The only thing standing in my house is the toilet and the tub,” she said.
“There was so much more than gutting her house,” Dottie said, adding that emotional and spiritual work was also done.
Mid-conversation, Vacarro and Dottie admired the Christmas cookies that had been placed on the table as more than 12 children sang Christmas carols.
“This is Christmas,” Dottie said.
Approximately 50 came out to the holiday dinner, including Green.
The Jarvis Green Foundation united with Wakefern Food Corporation, owner of ShopRite, and the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties to provide a warm meal to Ocean County residents.
ShopRite donated all the fixings of a holiday meal to complement the 5,000 pounds of shrimp donated by Green, whose hometown of Donaldsonville, La. is not too far from New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We lost a lot of family, a lot of homes,” he said, relating Katrina to the impact of Hurricane Sandy. “We knew the product would help people.”
Jarvis went on a tour of Seaside Heights and Ortley Beach Wednesday to see the devastation firsthand. Although the extent of damage is different from Katrina, the people are still in need, he said.
During Katrina, New Yorkers and New Jerseyans offered assistance, so Green wanted to “give back,” he said.
Since the hurricane, ShopRite has provided between 100 to 200 meals daily to first responders on the barrier islands among others in need, said Jennifer McMahon, Director of Human Resources for Perlmutter Family ShopRites.
“It’s been a great and unfortunate experience to meet so many people,” she said.
Ted and Francis Kessler of Lanoka Harbor looked forward to the shrimp scampi meal, they said. The church invited the couple to the dinner.
The church had sent one of their clean-up teams to help empty their crawl space, Ted Kessler said.
“They were very helpful to us,” Francis Kessler said. “They came the first day we asked for help. They were very good.”
The church had invited all who it had serviced since the superstorm — many who remain connected, including Vacarro and Dottie — to the holiday dinner.
Many new friendships have come out of the hurricane and the work the Lacey United Methodist Church has offered, Vacarro said, as well as faith, hope and prayers.
“This happened for a reason though. It brought a lot of people together,” Vaccaro’s neighbor Armand Caruso said. “Everybody’s saving everybody around here.”
The storm also was a “reality check,” minimizing the importance of material possessions, Vacarro said.
“Though I won’t have the Christmas I want, it doesn’t matter,” she said, marveling at the fellowship room in the church.