Corrections or additions?
This column by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the April
20, 2005 issue of U.S. 1
Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Digging Out from the Flood
Not more than two weeks ago I was cleaning out my front porch,
planning to rid it of every bit of clutter ahead of the spring porch
sitting season. A big white bucket, sporting the logo of the Salvation
Army, sat in one corner, untouched since the floods of September
invaded my neighborhood, the Island section of Trenton. I was quite
sure that I would never use the bucket, and in my quest for porch
purity, picked it up and headed for the curb. Halfway there, I turned
back. I couldn’t throw it away. Its connotations as a symbol of the
kindness of strangers were just too strong.
Now that bucket has company. When the water receded after the most
recent flooding, on April 2, the Salvation Army delivered another
clean-up kit, and the Red Cross gave us one too. Chipping in cleaning
supplies were Home Depot, which also provided store discount coupons,
Both organizations put dozens of volunteers and staffers into my
neighborhood and into the other communities inundated by the Delaware
on its most impressive rampage since 1955.
Diane Concannon, public relations director for the American Red Cross
of Central New Jersey, says that her chapter dispatched 60 volunteers
and 20 staff members, and called upon its national headquarters for 9
more volunteers. "Some of them were doing 8 to 12 hour shifts, and
coming right back again," she says. "It was incredible to see. I don’t
know if some of them slept."
In addition to providing clean up kits – full of sturdy gloves,
garbage bags, clotheslines, and lots of Clorox – the Red Cross fed
residents, emergency responders, and the scores of electrical and
plumbing contractors who were working long hours to restore basic
Volunteers also went door to door, finding out which families needed
more extensive help. Pam Weiss coordinated that effort. A resident of
West Windsor until a recent move to northeastern Pennsylvania, she
made the three hour trip back to help out the chapter at which she had
received her volunteer training in 1994. She had traveled extensively
as the wife of a Proctor & Gamble executive, Stephan Weiss, and now
travels to aid disaster victims.
"Let’s see," she says, trying to recall where she has gone to help
disaster victims. "I’ve been to Texas for floods, and to West Virginia
for floods. I’ve been to New Orleans on a hurricane. And during
Hurricane Floyd, I was in Bound Brook."
A former book store owner and emergency medical technician (EMT), she
enjoys the work. "It’s exciting to head off somewhere you’re not
familiar with," she says. "It’s very satisfying to help somebody." At
every disaster, she recounts, there is someone who hugs her and says
"’I couldn’t have gotten through this without you.’"
Early on, there was not a lot of gratitude in Trenton. At least not
from residents. One volunteer, an exceptionally friendly man, met
little more than blank stares as he attempted to lure residents to his
stash of hamburgers. Watching the rising water from behind barricades,
few were in the mood for good cheer – or burgers. A day or two later,
as we attended one in a series of update meetings at Trenton High
School West, we had to be bullied into accepting Red Cross
hospitality. "Those people worked hard to get you dinner. Get in there
and eat it!" one police woman barked at us.
But as we were allowed to return home, and began mucking out, Red
Cross dinners quickly became highlights of the day. On Saturday night,
two days after we began the clean-up, many of us drifted down to the
Red Cross canteen. Sitting on the grass overlooking the slowly
retreating river, we feasted on ziti and green salad, which the Red
Cross put together with the help of Amici’s restaurant. It was an
opportunity to pause and to catch up on how friends were faring. And
many of us, after a full day of hauling muddy cellar contents, swore
that it had been a long time since we had tasted anything so good.
Throughout the day, as we were ferrying soggy Christmas ornaments and
ruined appliances to the curbs and into dumpsters, Red Cross
volunteers walked the streets, carrying boxes filled with Oreos and
bottles of water. Beyond sustenance, they offered a most upbeat form
of sympathy, cheering us along.
By prior arrangement, the Red Cross anchored the southern end of the
Island, while the Salvation Army took the northern end. Russ
Hendrickson, the organization’s disaster manager for the state,
coordinated the effort. But, he says, the lion’s share of work was
done by the Trenton Corps, headed up by Captain Chuck Balcom and his
wife, Rose Balcom, who lead the Salvation Army church on West State
Street. The Corps relied on both staff and volunteers to serve three
meals a day.
While the Red Cross was the staple for dinner – Amici’s pasta
alternating with Chicken Holiday’s fried chicken and salad – the
Salvation Army’s canteen became the place to meet for breakfast. Its
made-to-order egg sandwiches were an instant hit, but there was also
cereal, fruit, and low fat milk.
The canteen from which the meals were served had been purchased in
2000 by the Trenton Corps. Six months after it was delivered it went
to New York City in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. "It was at the
medical examiner’s office for four or five months," says Hendrickson.
Not content with manning the canteen, the Salvation Army staffers and
volunteers, like their Red Cross counterparts, roamed the Island
looking for people who were too busy to stop working. "We like to be
mobile," says Hendrickson. "People need to stop and eat. If they’re
not coming to us, we go to them."
Weiss says that the meals the Red Cross and the Salvation Army serve
give a whole new meaning to the term "comfort food." Sure, most
residents could have gone out and gotten meals. It wouldn’t have been
easy, what with the curfews, the police check points, and the narrow
streets chock-a-block with fire engines and utility trucks, but it
would have been entirely possible.
But, Weiss points out, "you would have had to clean up before going
out." Ture. Few supermarkets, let alone restaurants, would have
welcomed our top-to-toe brand of slick, sticky, deep-brown mud. More
importantly, the effort that the Red Cross and the Salvation Army went
to "shows that someone cares about you," she says, "that someone will
bring you something. It’s the epitome of comfort food."
Yes, and the residents of the Island, and of all the river communities
in Mercer, Hunterdon, and Bucks Counties, are deeply grateful to both
organizations and to every one of their volunteers.
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.