By DAN NATALE
Forget the wet tee-shirt contests and beer-soaked bacchanals of spring break in Florida. Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long has another offer for college students:
Come to the real Jersey Shore to get your hands dirty and your shirt soaked in your own sweat, for a good cause.
Frustrated by Congressional foot-dragging on post-Hurricane Sandy funding, and looking at the prospect of another six months before the town sees a dime of the $60 billion package lawmakers finalized this week, Long said it’s up to the town to rebuild itself. And to do so, she hopes to tap into the good will of people who are aching to help and don’t mind smacking their own thumbs on occasion with a hammer.
“We’re trying organize a volunteer effort that mirrors what happened here two months ago, when thousands of volunteers organized to clean out” storm-wracked homes and stores, Long told a packed town hall meeting Wednesday night. “We want to bring in groups of skilled volunteers that will hang Sheetrock, do subflooring, and do light carpentry.”
There are service groups, church groups and college students “who are willing to come out and do this work,” said Long, who dubbed the outreach “Operation Sheetrock.”
The passage of the Sandy aid package is no panacea for this narrow spit of sand that is home to 1,800 residents, town officials said. The federal money will be apportioned among agencies and states, which have yet to devise programs, rules and procedures for its apportionment. A small fraction of it is expected to trickle down to Sea Bright.
Finally, some money is gonna be coming, said Long, but “were looking at four-to-six months before we see money from that aid package.”
In the interim, she said were basically gonna have to help ourselves.”
Long said she hopes to integrate the volunteer outreach into the town’s participation in the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) pilot program rolled out by the Christie Administration in December. The program provides up to $10,000 per household to restore basic electrical service, heat and other necessities to make damaged homes functional, if not habitable, with the town hiring the contractor and paying the bill.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration will pick up 75 percent of the bill; Sea Bright Rising, the charity that has raised more than $500,000 to help restore the town, has promised to pick up the town’s 25-percent obligation, Long said. So far, a state-leading 115 borough homeowners have signed up, putting Sea Bright Rising’s tab at nearly $290,000.
Sea Bright STEP administrator Nancy Sherman explained to about 160 residents gathered at borough hall Wednesday night that if a house is deemed structurally sound, then residents are allowed to dwell inside of their damaged home while basic elements such as water heaters, furnaces, boilers, electrical outlets and doors are replaced.
But even with that, “you still have a gutted unfinished house, with no appliances,” Long said. “So we’re going to work on getting those supplies donated, and organizing trained volunteers into teams” and mobilized in time for annual college spring breaks, starting in mid-March.
Long said she’s hoping to get building materials donated, and is hoping to also attract donations of major appliances. The appliances could be shared among town residents by lottery, she told redbankgreen.
Long said she’s hoping to time Operation Sheetrock to the availability of college students. First, though many homes have to be dehumidified in order to prevent mold formation, which means bringing in blowers and dryers weeks in advance of the arrival of hammer-toting volunteers.
She urges good Samaritans, both donors and volunteers, to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two months ago, we did the unthinkable here, said Long, in one of her characteristically rousing speeches. We literally dug through seven thousand tons of debris to get back to our homes and our streets, and we pretty much did this before anyone even thought to call to see how we were doing here in Sea Bright.”
It’s time to do it again, she said.