Relief Effort Making Waves

Published 4:38 pm Wednesday, November 21, 2012

CUMBERLAND – “I have had people tell me that it is worse than any nightmare you can have, worse than any horror movie,” said Stephanie Tkach Orem regarding the devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to friends in the Seaside Heights area of New Jersey. She went on to describe how the ocean and bay met during the storm, devastating the thin barrier peninsula that separates the Barnegat Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. She explained how displaced residents had to be bused across one of the still operable bridges to visit their homes and carry back only what they could fit on their laps.

When Orem first heard how Sandy had devastated the area, she knew she had to do something. A nail technician by trade, Orem grew up in Island Heights, New Jersey, a small borough of Ocean County, situated on the banks of the Toms River, about four miles inland from Seaside Heights, New Jersey.

She also lived in Seaside Heights for four years: “It's my home, you know? That's where my people are. I still have friends up there. And I just felt the need to help.”

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Orem expressed her frustration about how some people and companies have used the situation in New Jersey to their own advantage. She has carefully chosen four organizations with which she is working: The Island Heights Fire Department, Operation Jersey Shore Santa, Central Regional High School and the Jersey Shore Animal Center.

A Cumberland resident, Orem has been in the Farmville area for 17 years now. Until recently, her grandparents lived in New Jersey and she would go up every year for family reunions. She says that her family is grateful that their children were able to create memories of the place before it was changed forever by Sandy.

With the help of family and friends, Orem has begun a hurricane relief effort here in the Farmville area. Her assistant in the project, Cheryl Ann Rundstrom, has helped her organize fundraising events and approach local business for support.

“My Home Too”

Rundstrom has never been to the Seaside area in New Jersey where the hurricane relief she is helping to raise will be going. Instead, with family roots deep in Cumberland soil, she is a lifelong resident of the county and a member of the first graduating class of Fuqua School.

When asked why she decided to help Orem with the hurricane relief project, Rundstrom replied: “I love helping others. That's just something I've always done. I am the mother of three kids. And Stephanie is my best friend; we've known each other for 17 years. She's my sister. And if that's her home then that's my home too.”

Charity work and volunteering are in Rundstrom's blood, a habit she claims to have picked up from both her mother and father. She seems to be passing it along to her children as well, who are helping with the relief effort, along with Orem's son.

She added that she had always wanted to visit Orem's home, “but now I can't see it the way it used to be. I love history and I love where you come from and now, it's gone.”

Orem told The Herald that Rundstrom “has been a big help to me through all of this.”

A Flood of Support

Rundstrom says that she has truly been amazed at the amount of support the people in the Farmville area have given, “more so than I have ever seen them do.”

And, the effort has expanded beyond the Farmville area as donations have been picked up by Orem from North Carolina and plans have been made to help transport donations from a group in Keysville.

As word has gotten out about the relief effort, Orem has received calls from all sorts of organizations. A food drive is currently being held at Hampden-Sydney College for the project and a group of students have volunteered manpower both here or in New Jersey over their winter break.

Orem also stated that Farmville's Heartland Outreach Ministries has also been a big supporter and Levi Baptist Church in Green Bay is sorting and delivering a room full of donations. A Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as far away as Richmond will be collecting donations for the relief project.

Last Sunday, a fundraiser was held at Main Street Lanes in Farmville. Raffle items were donated by local business and four vehicle loads of donations were dropped off during the event.

During the event, $350 was raised which will go toward expenses for transporting the donations to New Jersey. Joe Swett, who is donating both the semi-truck and the time to drive it to New Jersey, calculates that fuel and tolls will cost around $650. This does not include gas for the car that will also be driven to New Jersey to help deliver the donations.

One gentleman brought tears to Orem's eyes when he refused to buy a raffle ticket, choosing instead to write a check for $100.

From close friends and family, to local business owners and community members offering to donate time to the cause, “It's been a lot. A lot of people have helped me out,” said Orem.

Orem and Swett will be leaving on December 7 with a trailer donated by Scott Transport, hopefully full of donations. In fact, while the 10 by 15 foot storage unit donated by ABO Storage is not yet full from floor to ceiling, it is full from front to back, primarily with used clothes donations.

Choosing Who To Help

Orem is aware of people who are taking advantage of the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy for their own gain and she wanted to make sure she was giving to causes that would actually make a difference. So, she carefully thought about and researched her options. She ultimately chose the four organizations because, “I know they are all legitimate organizations, not scams or anything.”

She said she chose these organizations not only because she knew they were legitimate, but also because she personally knows people in the area. She added that although she wanted to help everyone, “my heart is there.”

Because she grew up in Island Heights, Orem said the fire department first crossed her mind. She thought, “They've got to be doing something. They've got to be housing someone.” She contacted the fire department and found out they were housing the first responders from Seaside Heights and Seaside Park who where displaced by the storm.

Orem is collecting new clothing, such as socks, underwear, sweat pants, shirts and gloves for the fire department as they continue clean-up work. Bottled water, Gatorade, dry pasta and coffee is also being accepted. Gift cards for local stores such as Wal-Mart and Dollar General, as well as pre-paid Visa or MasterCard cards are a final option.

Operation Jersey Shore Santa was started by a woman that Orem grew up with in Island Heights. Orem added, “I know her very well. I know her family very well. I knew it wasn't a scam.”

The founder is a preschool teacher who is actively involved in her church and whose family has been involved with charities “for as long as they've walked the earth,” said Orem. “They were pretty much a no-brainer for me.”

Operation Jersey Shore Santa's goal is to help families affected by Hurricane Sandy still celebrate Christmas. They are seeking Christmas related decorating items such as artificial Christmas trees, wrapping paper and gift tags. They are also accepting new, unwrapped gifts for children. Any unopened toys, such as games, dolls, puzzles and coloring books, are welcome. Monetary donations that are not used for transporting the donations will be given to Operation Jersey Shore Santa to help them deliver gifts to those in need.

Recently, Orem has added non-perishable foods to the list of requested donations, after finding out that her former high school was doing a non-perishable food drive. The school is making food baskets for 90 families that have been displaced by the storm.

In fact, the current superintendent of Central Regional High School was Orem's Senior Class President. He is also a resident of Seaside Park and has been affected personally by the storm. The high school has also served as a shelter for those who were evacuated along the shore.

The Jersey Shore Animal Center is Orem's final needy organization. She knew she couldn't help every shelter, so she went to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) website to locate animal shelters in the area affected by Sandy. She chose the Jersey Shore shelter because they were through the ASPCA and located in Brick, NJ, which she knew was evacuated during both Sandy and the northeaster that followed it.

She also found out that the shelter is providing housing for pets which are unable to stay at shelters with their displaced owners. Orem is collecting dry dog and cat food, blankets, bleach and paper towels for the shelter.

All donations will be carefully sorted and marked, to make things easier on the recipients.

Orem also is separating the donations according to which organization they will be given. On December 7, Orem and a group of friends plan to deliver supplies to Operation Santa and the Jersey Shore Animal Center. On December 8, her group will bring the food items to the high school. In between, she hopes to bring supplies to the fire department building in Island Heights from the truck, as the streets are too small to accommodate the truck itself.

Those interested in helping are encouraged to bring donations to Davis GMC of Farmville, Farmville Auto Parts, Hair by Mary and Company or Merk's Place until November 30.

For more information or to make other arrangements for pick-up or drop-off of donations, Stephanie can be reached at 434-547-5011. She also encourages those interested to contact her via her Facebook page with any questions or for more donation details: Stephanie Orem Tkach.