The call came in on the afternoon of June 28. The Delaware River was moving rapidly to flood stage and the Island district was once again facing the prospect of being under several feet of water. Neighbors began helping neighbors for what had become an annual ritual — move everything in your home to higher ground — for the third time since the fall of 2004.
The Salvation Army called United Way of Greater Mercer County’s president and CEO Craig Lafferty for assistance. Captain Rose Balcom explained that extra help would be needed if the flooding was as bad a predicted.
“We’ve worked together before,” says Lafferty, who has been with United Way for 24 years, the last 12 of them in Mercer County. “We work with the Salvation Army on feeding residents of Trenton housing projects and, on September 12, 2001, we went with their mobile canteen to New York City.”
Calls were quickly placed to volunteers and staff was assembled to workout a schedule. Floods have a timetable all of their own and the fact that a long holiday weekend was coming up didn’t change the fact that flood waters would soon be inundating the city of Trenton.
One volunteer who answered the call was Eugene Marsh, chairman of the United Way’s board and president of Construction Project Management Services on Alexander Road. “He handed out sandwiches and cleaning supplies and made supply runs,” says Lafferty. On the Monday of the sweltering hot 4th of July week-end, Marsh worked all day long in the Salvation Army canteen. “I didn’t let him go until 7 p.m.,” says Lafferty.
The Salvation Army’s mobile kitchen was deployed to the immediate vicinity of the Island district in Trenton and the Salvation Army began its work immediately, feeding police and fire personnel deployed to protect the property of the flood victims. Then the families and owners began to return to the neighborhood. United Way staff and volunteers arrived on the scene on Sunday, July 2, and were there for the duration of the week.
Among the volunteers was Lafferty’s wife, Anita Lafferty, who works for Princeton Nassau Pediatrics, and his son, Ben Lafferty, who is a winter employee at the Princeton Ski Barn. Among the United Way staffers who pitched in were Diana Wilson, Andrea Bobst — and her nine-year-old daughter Kaylee — Jodi Inverso, Carolee Kueller, Laurie Hopkins, and Darlene Abate.
Cleaning kits were handed out. Bleach and paper-towels went fast. Food needed to be purchased and prepared. Hungry residents needed to be fed and first responders were working 12 and 16-hour days.
United Way staff started the mornings started at 6 a.m. with the mobile kitchen cooking breakfast. Fried egg sandwiches were the order of the day. “Would you like that with pork-roll, turkey bacon, or ham?” was asked repeatedly. Hungry people came — breakfast went from 7 a.m. to nearly 9:45 a.m. Then it was time to clean-up breakfast and prepare for the task of fixing lunch. The familiar phrase at lunch became “white or wheat bread?” How about a PBJ for the little one?” Island residents arriving with their dogs also found a warm welcome — and offers of bologna for their four-footed companions.
Lunch ran from about noon until 2:30 p.m. And then it was time to think about fixing supper. Something hot and nutritious; maybe spaghetti or hamburgers and hotdogs grilled out. In the end, everyone ate well. Nothing fancy — just good solid food. And when it was done, everyone was grateful.