Ilene Winters and Chris Wood reviewing requests for help from Sea Bright Rising in Wood’s office Thursday. Below, a mudline shows the height of the water that inundated homes and businesses in town during Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Wil Fulton. Click to enlarge)


Nearly 70 days after Hurricane Sandy washed the Atlantic Ocean into his Sea Bright restaurant, Woody’s Ocean Grille owner Chris Wood hunkered down with Ilene Winters in his loft office, sifting through aid requests from residents whose homes were flooded or destroyed in the storm.

The two executives of Sea Bright Rising were prioritizing applications for help with repair and replacement expenses from their neighbors as part of an effort to dole out nearly $500,000 in donations collected in the aftermath of the October 29 storm.

“We need two things from those reaching out to us: specificity and priority,” Wood said. “We don’t give out direct personal checks, cash or Visa cards, but we are more than happy to write checks to contractors, landlords or electricians for a portion –usually around 25 percent, of their bill, for example. We can’t write a check for ‘help’.”

Among the charitable organizations that arose in the wake of Sandy, the one Sea Bright residents have been able to lean on perhaps more than any other is a home-grown effort dedicated to the town’s return from the wreckage.

In terms of community outreach, involvement, and most importantly, results, it’s doing the job, its founders say. And in a period in which many Sandy-related charities are losing steam, Wood and Winters insist theirs is just getting started.

Wood, a soft-voiced but commanding presence who quickly conjured both a temporary tent city as well as a juggernaut charitable organization from the storm’s wreckage, co-manages Sea Bright Rising with Winters. Like Wood, she’s a seasoned Wall Street vet, but also has extensive experience with non-profits. She founded and subsequently became the executive director of the Cancer Support Community of the Jersey Shore – an organization she started after her mother was diagnosed with stage-4 ovarian cancer. Because of her experience, Winters was called in to help run Sea Bright Rising, working with residents, officials and the borough itself since the earliest days of Sandy recovery.

To generate funds, Sea Bright Rising has hosted fundraising events such as the ‘Beach Bash’ in Long Branch last month, and charity concerts, including VH1’s ‘Christmas in Sea Bright’ featuring Grammy Award winners Train. Two checks of $100,000 have come in from donors who asked not to be identified, said Wood.

At a recent Sea Bright council meeting, Winters laid out Sea Bright Rising’s three-step approach to recovery efforts.

“First of all, we are helping residents and anyone who lived in Sea Bright get what they need to get back on their feet,” she said. “Then we’ll move on to assisting local businesses, and finally we’ll attempt to help the overall infrastructure of the town in any way possible.”

According to Winters and Wood, who sat down with redbankgreen in their unofficial headquarters above Woody’s this week, only residents have applied for aid thus far, filing 60 requests. Wood stressed the need for a direct approach from applicants.

“We’ll give out gift cards and vouchers to Raymour and Flanigan if they need new furniture or bedding, or Home Depot and Target if they need supplies or pots and pans,” he said. “But we need to get specific requests from people, as well as what they need most, in order to do what we can to assist them as much as possible.”

Although there is no specific limit on aid in individual cases, the average amount of aid given is somewhere around $3,000, with over $150,000 funds doled out to around fifty families so far, said Wood. He and Winters said they are willing to offer aid in any way possible.

Donations may be made, and applications for aid found at Sea Bright Rising’s website or at Sea Bright Borough Hall.

Though it’s been two months since Sandy smashed into town, Sea Bright Rising has no plans on slowing down or letting up, according to it’s founders.

“People need to know that, basically, if you’re from Sea Bright and you were affected by the storm, we’re the people you need to talk to. We’re here to help,” Wood said.