ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ - When disaster strikes, “How can I help?” is often the question that is immediately asked.  For some it is a question that is asked hundreds of miles away and for some it is looking to their neighbor.  I hope that it is a question asked of ourselves often and even beyond the immediate week of the storm.  For help will be needed for months to come.  In the past, I have driven the truck of supplies and now I find myself accepting those trucks of supplies and coordinating the volunteers and items.  It is a strange turn of events.

Right now, people need certain items to handle the immediate crisis and they will continue to need help in the coming days, weeks and months. For right now it is a matter of cleanup, so the need is for bleach, Lysol, sponges, gloves, work gloves, mops, buckets, respirator masks and febreeze.  It is also a matter of lack of power so we need flashlights, batteries, hats, gloves, scarves, and blankets.  Clothing for those who lost everything is important but especially socks, new packaged undergarments, and long johns as the weather remains cold. Non perishable food items and paper products are also needed in the coming days and the coming weeks.

Accepting these donations can be overwhelming as you realize how much people care. When I drove the trucks, I always liked to bring cards from my students. Words of comfort from strangers are always helpful and often make people realize there is hope and caring in the midst of the crisis.  A rosary, a prayer card, or a medal are appreciated in different ways than the immediate need.

In the coming weeks there will be a need for gift cards as people have tapped into their savings for immediate needs following the storm.  Also as they begin to pay for repairs and may have not received checks from their insurance or for items that may not have been covered, cash and gift cards will be a need.  The St. Vincent De Paul society of local parishes will be asked to help more families and in more ways.

There is HOPE. Always we must have hope and that hope is fueled by seeing the generosity of all around us.  There will be new life which will grow from this tragedy.  The area will rebuild and people will become stronger.  When we love one another and share the love of God with others we are able to heal and remember that God loves us always and forever.  The hurricane while it may have damaged the Jersey Shore, it has not damaged the spirit of those who live here. So how can you help, share a word of comfort, donate an item, or volunteer at a donation center. “Do not wait for leaders but do it person to person” (Mother Teresa).

Items in bold are being accepted at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Highlands, NJ.  Checks can be sent to the St. Vincent De Paul Society at the church, 141 Navesink Ave., Highlands, NJ 07732.  The donation center is open this week from 12-5 pm daily as well as the church’s food pantry.  Families in need are encouraged to come to the center and volunteers are welcome during those hours.

Melissa Whelan Wisk, principal at Mother Teresa Regional School and catechetical leader at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish and Saint Agnes Church, has been helping to coordinate donations for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. For more information email her at principal@mtregional.com