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AFTERMATH: Travelers Hope To Save Ortley Beach From Sandy

Craig Sternage and Sharon didn't have time to help after Hurricane Katrina; now they have loads of time to help after the superstorm

Craig Sternage and Sharon, his "significant other," had wanted to visit and help with the recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

But the Washington state natives couldn't get away from work, and spend countless hours to help save the Louisiana area that was swallowed by the devastating storm.

Now semi-retired, it was time. Only New Jersey - specifically Toms River, and its maligned Ortley Beach section in the aftermath of Sandy - would provide the setting, as well as the moment of opportunity.

You see, this is something Craig and Sharon do, looking for moments of opportunity to assist others in need. That it was in New Jersey - a state that was so far off the radar of places that would get slammed by a hurricane - didn't make them bat an eyelash.

In fact, the whole tour - which included visits with people sleeping in cars, and getting them food; removing sand from people's houses; and doing whatever general cleanup was necessary - was merely a matter-of-fact event for two people who spend a lifetime helping others.

"One of my Rotarian buddies suggested we raise some money as a group," he said. "Sharon and I decided to just go."

Sternage said he picked Toms River after doing "a bit of online research" to assess where help would be most needed.

"We were going to rent a motor home for best flexibility, but decided that a regular car and a hot shower at end of the day would be a creature comfort we'd spoil ourselves with," he said.

Sternage said he and his family have done cleanup work before in Washington state area, and thoroughly enjoyed the relationships they could build with people. They do it for any "sense of satisfaction for providing something meaningful."

This is no church-sponsored event, either; no do they consider it a moral obligation. It's just what they do.

Before they came to New Jersey, Sternage "passed the hat" at his Rotary and other area clubs on short notice. He collected $1,745 before he left. 

They then connected with the Surfrider group, which held a cleanup at Ortley on Saturday. They then then got a "contractor's pass" so they could visit every zone.

In their travels:

They met "Liz" at People's Pantry, a retired teacher, who put word out at her former school about families with extra special needs.

"She got two families for us to invest the balance of our money," he said.

If you haven't visited "Cassandra" yet at the Bucket Brigade station at 6th and Route 35, Sternage said, you should - if you can get into the area.

Sternage spent an hour or so helping her repair her sign that had been run over. She has no financial assistance, he said, but plans to be on site indefinitely.

He called Cassandra an "amazingly resourceful young woman who, while we visited, had large collections of new wheelbarrows, buckets, shovels, bleach, gloves, facemasks, etc."

"She's a remarkable young lady," he said. "She's collecting supplies and food on her own, without any financial assistance. She's a real inspiration ... Plans to be on site indefinitely."

The stories of families that touched the Sternages were endless.

One involved Maureen Erickson, a single mom of three or four kids who lost everything in Silverton. They have no car for transportation, so she lost her job, Sternage said.

The family has been split up; they haven't been together since the storm. She and her youngest were sent to Monmouth County; her eldest son with friends, until Friday, when they were going to go to Brick and get an apartment, and finally reunite family.

"She might be able to pull herself out of desperate situation if someone would loan her a car, so she could go to work and hopefully job be offered back," Sternage said.

Second story is of Ed, or Eddie Scarinzi. He lives on the bayside, nearly 70 years old and a Vietnam vet. He lived in his home with a duplex unit in front.

"We helped him one day. He had no help, no car ... used clothing from a shelter," Sternage said. "He moved to a couple of shelters, before given a place to stay with one of his neighbors.

He rode out the storm, Sternage said. "We left concerned that he didn't seem to have any support, other than concerned neighbors who have big challenges of their own," he said.

Eddie's home is 9 Bayside Terrace in Ortley Beach. He was given a temporary phone to use.

His neighbors, whom the Sternages helped earlier, alerted them to Eddie's plight.

"We wanted desperately to go back and help him on his next visitation day, but we were homeward bound, he said. "So we called all contacts so I could to get him help."

"My favorite," Sternage said of Eddie. "I cajoled Eddie to show me that Marine spirit. He couldn't believe all we got done in just a few hours."

shorefriend December 03, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Spent the weekend helping to clean family homes, It's unimaginable damage in Ortley, I hope to never see this type of damage ever again. I don't know how long this is going to take to get back to even an operational level of normal, it's going to be a long and messy ugly road of heartache to get there!!
Common Sense in Silverton December 03, 2012 at 02:44 PM
These are the types of human interest stories that it does the heart good to read. I thank the two of them for all of the help they've given, and to the many others from out of state or from lightly affected areas here in NJ. It's a much-needed glimmer of hope in between the various stories of looting, gouging, and other low-life scumbags that invariably crawl out of the woodworks during a time of need.
Minden Yo December 03, 2012 at 03:08 PM
I had the pleasure of meeting this fine couple. They are amazing! The best of the human spirit still exists in our country! Namaste to Craig and Sharon.
Lori McCutcheon December 04, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Beautiful people like this is what makes the world bareable sometimes.Let's all take a lesson in helping thy neighbor. GOD Bless you wonderful people, those mentioned here and those that are selflessly doing good deeds without recognition. We appreciate you all!

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