Montoursville Presbyterian group assists Sandy victims

When the heaviest heat of the summer smothered the East Coast this past July, 10 members of Montoursville Presbyterian Church were sweating down on the New Jersey shore.

As representatives of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), the group spent a week working to restore homes in Seaside Park, N.J., damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

The storm happened last October. The end of relief efforts have no end in sight, according to Mike Cillo, Faye Konkle and Don Konkle, three people who made the trip.

“We found out as we got there the need was everywhere,” Cillo said. “The outside shell of a lot of buildings looks OK, then you go inside and the devastation is awful.”

Even people in that area of New Jersey weren’t all aware that people still need help recovering from Sandy.

“People we talked to from there said ‘oh, they’re still in a mess up there?’ ” Faye said.

That’s not an uncommon occurrence after disaster – people around here were similarly ignorant when victims of the flooding in Sept. 2011 still were homeless months later, Don said.

Montoursville Presbyterian hosted groups of PDA workers after that flood, so this group figured they would return the favor.

“It was a total learning process, a trip of faith for us. We knew it was going to be New Jersey. We weren’t sure where we would go,” Cillo said. “We had people who had never really done construction, and it was 100 degrees every day.”

The Montoursville crew stayed in Toms River, N.J., about a half-hour commute from Seaside Park, at a church that put them up in the basement – the accommodations were simple, but felt luxurious after the hot days of work.

“They had Army cots in the basement and there was air conditioning,” Faye said. “It was like going to the Hilton in the evening.”

The Sandy victims still waiting on assistance were delighted to have their help. They had waited on assistance from the government and insurance companies for months, they had hired contractors who didn’t fulfill promises, and some of them were in danger of losing their houses, since in that region many people who own homes have landlords who own the property underneath.

“People need to see something’s going on,” Cillo said. “A lot of folks, they were bamboozled. There were a lot of fly-by-night contractors who came in, took money and didn’t do anything. They waited so long for government and the insurance companies, and they were just overwhelmed. Everyone was so gracious, they trusted us.”

During their week in Seaside Park, the group did a great deal of work on the home of Michelle and Paul.

“They had 10 different contractors work on their home,” Cillo said. “The beam on the kitchen floor was stripped down to the joists. The plumbing was off. They had to have a rewiring, and they had new knobs and didn’t have working lights.”

“They loved to see us come,” Faye said. “They were tired and just beat up. They lived three months in a motel, and went night by night to find rooms that were available.”

Another man who the crew worked with had a rough year: he had broken his neck in the ocean, had three heart surgeries and then his wife died all in one year. He had the house on the market when Montoursville showed up.

“Once he saw it starting to be restored he took it off the market,” Cillo said. “It was where his family had all their memories.”

Cillo will return to the New Jersey shore for a third stint of relief work this week.

“There’s hundreds of other stories like these,” he said. “They need more help.”