Never underestimate the strength of coal region generosity.
As the lights knocked out by Hurricane Sandy finally come back on in Carbon County, locals are quick to rally to help those hit hardest by the deadly storm, people who live on the Jersey shore.
Summit Hill residents Kevin Steber and his fiancee, Kira Michalik, are spearheading a donation drive, Carbon County Helps Sea Bright, NJ, to help residents of the coastal borough of Sea Bright, Monmouth County, New Jersey.
Residents of the devastated community are being allowed to briefly return to what's left of their homes to pick up essential items. The borough is on lockdown, patrolled by the National Guard and local police. Anyone caught wandering around will be arrested.
Hurricane Sandy slammed into the sea wall, breaching it in two places, allowing tons of sand to pour into the streets of the small 1.1 square mile borough. At least 56 homes were utterly destroyed by heavy rains, high winds and flooding.
Now, residents face another storm, expected to strike on Wednesday.
Steber and Michalik are being helped by Franklin Klock of the Carbon County Environmental Education Center; the Batter's Box Sports Bar & Grill, Summit Hill, and owners Danny and Val Matika and Danny's sister, Beth Turner; volunteer firefighters, including John Poko; Scout troops; Carbon County employees; St. Luke's and Gnaden Huetten hospitals; Lehighton, Jim Thorpe and Panther Valley school districts; KME Fire Apparatus, Nesquehoning; and individuals too numerous to name.
Donations of cleaning supplies, canned foods, clothing, shoes, blankets, pet food and toiletries are being taken at the Diligence Fire Co., 114 W. Ludlow St., Summit Hill, after 6 p.m. each evening this week.
Organizers will haul the donations to Sea Bright this coming weekend.
It was Steber who started the ball rolling.
Steber had gotten to know Sea Bright Fire Chief Chad Murphy through his work with KME, and the two remained friends.
"While watching news of the hurricane, I felt a need to do something. I felt so sorry for all these people," he said. "Yeah, I mean, a couple of power outages around here, not that bad. Homes missing? Bad."
He asked Michalik if she'd help take some items "a couple of cases of water, and whatever we could fit in my Jeep," he said to Sea Bright on Saturday. She readily agreed.
Steber posted mention of the couple's plans on Facebook, figuring on getting some help from a couple of friends. Within five minutes of the posting, Matika contacted him, and suggested that he create an event page on the social media site. Steber reluctantly followed the advice, and immediately contacted Klock to help.
They created the page, and were immediately inundated with offers of help. Within days, more than 200 people had signed on to help.
By Monday evening, a small mountain of donations crowded the dining room of the Batters Box, and filled half of the meeting room of the Diligence Fire Co.
Carbon County Judge Joseph Matika spread the word throughout the courthouse, and the county commissioners also got on board, Steber said.
As they firm up plans for the Sea Bright trip on Saturday, Steber said volunteer fire chief Murphy has no inkling of the coming donations.
Michalik said Murphy has enough on his plate without worrying about organizing the donations. The town's mayor, Dina Long, and Murphy's girlfriend, Maddy Boersig, also know.
"I don't want him to have to worry about us. He has enough to worry about on the home front," Steber said. "I want to show him that people 140 miles away have got his back."
Steber said the group is working with trucking companies to haul the donations to the shore. KME has offered the use of a 15-passenger van.
"We're not doing this for recognition," Michalik said. "We're doing this to help the town of Sea Bright, hoping that some day, God forbid, we ever have a tragedy, someone would be just as kind to help us."
To help, or for more information, access the group's Facebook page at Carbon County Helps Sea Bright, NJ (https://www.facebook.com/events/164281397047312/).